The name 'Farokh Engineer' would bring back many fond memories for the Indian cricket fans of the 1960s and 70s. As a wicket-keeper batsman he was known for his flamboyant style. He might have settled in the United Kingdom, but as the Parsi saying goes, he is ‘apno dikra’. He is not the one to shy away from giving his views on Indian cricket and more often than not has a story or two to tell. Few days before he turned 83 years young (it’s difficult to associate the word old with him), he was kind enough to catch up with us for a cricketing talk.
Wish you a very Happy Birthday!
Thanks a lot! God has been very kind to me for whatever I have achieved. My family supported me always. I can’t thank them enough.
Looking back at your career, what has been the most memorable moment?
Well, I have had several memorable moments on the cricket field. Being selected for the World XI in 1970 and 1971 was a great honour for me. Then of course India winning the series against England at Oval in 1971 was a proud moment. I also cherish my fastest century when I scored almost 100 runs before lunch against West Indies in Madras (now Chennai) in 1967. I was on 94 at lunch and hit the first ball post the break for a six (eventually scored 109 in 155 minutes with the help of 18 boundaries).
How important was the role of county cricket in your evolution as a player?
John Arlott set the ball rolling for me in County cricket. Lancashire offered me a contract and I spoke to JRD Tata as I was very close to him being a Tata employee. He said without a doubt go and play, it’s a huge honor and you will be a far better cricketer. When I got the offer, I had done my flight course and was in a dilemma. This cricket came in the way luckily for me. As I was quite reckless, my mum was very against me flying as she felt I used to take too many chances.
The county experience did help me a lot. Especially keeping to the fast bowlers. I would recommend county cricket for every young Indian cricketer. You will be a much much better cricketer in a short span.
You have kept wickets to the famous spin quartet of Bishan Singh Bedi, Erapalli Prasanna, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and Srinivas Venkataraghavan. How was that experience?
Wonderful experience! I was hugely privileged to keep wickets to Bedi, Prasanna, Chandra and Venkat. But for me the pick of the bowler was Chandra. I had huge respect for him and will always have. Not only as a cricketer but also as a person. He turned his disability into strength. He had a freak action. Keeping wickets to him especially for a left-handed batsman on a fifth-day pitch, with the ball coming from the rough was very interesting and good fun. To pick his deliveries, was a computerized effect in my mind.
You were India’s Brylcream boy and no discussion can be complete without talking about it.
(Laughs) In those days to be invited to model for Brylcream was like being on the cover of Vogue magazine. They gave me 2000 Pounds. We used to get Rs 50/Day for playing a Test. So, somebody coming and offering that sum of money just to do a little screenshot was lucrative. I am told their sales went up post this. I used to have cartons of Brylcream and all my friends and family used it more than me. It was a wonderful association. We both were loyal to each other.
These days there is a lot of talk of wicketkeepers who can bat. You were one of the pioneers of that. What do you have to say about that?
Tiger said to me, ‘Rookie how do you feel like opening the innings’. I said I don’t mind. I just said to myself, himmat se khelo as we didn’t have any protective gears those days. I thought I am not going to take blow on my body, I will just hit the ball and score runs. Luckily I scored runs. The Test against West Indies at Madras was one of those days when everything went right. It was a great moment. Especially when I hit a six to reach my century. They never found the ball, that ball is probably still travelling (chuckles).
Given your attacking style of batting, any Indian Premier League (IPL) team would have been more than happy with a player like you. But do you think IPL is good for cricket?
I am not at all against IPL. It has done wonders for our young Indian cricketers. It’s so wonderful to read stories of people who have come from meagre backgrounds. The purists may argue that T20 is a slog. But it is not. People forget that. In T20 you can build your innings like Kane Williamsons does. He is not a slogger.
T20 has brought in more spectators. I would have loved to play. Dilip (Vengsarkar) and Sunil (Gavaskar) tell me that I would have earned a lot of money in IPL. It has been the showcase in the world. I know some of my friends don’t like it, but I don’t think I will miss a single game. Some people call it Tamaasha, I don’t agree. But T20 should never ever replace Test cricket. It is the pinnacle and will always be.
How did you find Ajinkya Rahane as the captain of the Indian team in Australia?
Absolutely fantastic. Ajinkya is cool, calm and collected character. The way he handled the bowlers and the team. He was at the front and I don’t think he put a foot wrong. Field placings were immaculate. I was extremely impressed with his captaincy. I do hope that he again gets an opportunity to lead India as he did such a wonderful job.
What’s your take on Rishabh Pant as a wicketkeeper? Off late he has been really successful with the bat and his keeping was also good in the last Test at Chennai.
Dhoni (Mahendra Singh) and Rishabh are very similar. They weren’t great wicket-keepers to start with. There were a lot of flaws. But such players come as a package overall. You take the good with the bad. If they are going to win matches for you with the bat, then it is worth it.
See the thing is that wicket-keepers have a good eye. Having a good-eye is also very important for batting as you can pick up the ball quickly. As far as Rishabh is concerned, he has improved tremendously. He has worked on his obvious defects by practicing. He may not be a purist wicket-keeper, but the ball somehow gets into his gloves and he has got a very good eye. Sense of balance and timing, he has got all that. In fact, it reminds me of my younger days. My approach to batting was very similar to them.
Would you have any advice for him (Rishabh Pant)?
Just keep smiling and keep the spirits up. I wish him all the luck.
In Test matches, would you go for a specialist wicketkeeper or a batsman who can keep?
There’s an argument for that for sure. But tell me, how can you drop Rishabh Pant after these performances. I feel sorry for Wriddhiman Saha because he is a very very good wicket-keeper. In my opinion, purely as a wicket-keeper, he is the best in India. Wicket-keepers are characters, and Rishabh Pant is very jovial who keeps up the spirit of the team. Whereas Saha is a bit quiet. They are different personalities. So, who would you have in your team? I would have someone who encourages the team. My vote will go to Pant even in Test. He is improving all the time.
You have played a lot against England. What’s your take on the two matches played so far?
So far it has been a good series. 1-1 is a good scoreline as both teams are very good. India at home is very strong. I hope we win the series.
Toss was a very crucial factor in the second Test. Had England won the toss and scored 350, we may well have been struggling on that pitch. Whatever you say, the pitch wasn’t really up to Test standards. Although you can argue Ashwin on Day four gets a brilliant hundred. He played very sensibly. He showed everyone that one can bat on this pitch. But that pitch wasn’t a Test match pitch, it wasn’t a five-Day pitch. I won’t blame the England players.
Do you think ‘Pink Ball’ Test is the future of Test matches? Are you in favour of day-night Tests?
Well, I have played cricket in the snow in Switzerland with Tiger Pataudi. I have never played pink-ball cricket, but I am all for changes. It gives people an opportunity to come back from office and go to the stadium. If something makes the game more attractive, then I am all for it. Both for players and spectators.
Any message that you have for Team India?
Keep winning. It’s a very well balanced team. There are so many players in the reserves. Hardik Pandya, KL Rahul, there are so many. Great to see Ishant Sharma in such good form. May our flag keep on flying high and Indian cricket be on the top of the world. That’s my prayer.