Farokh Engineer

'I was born to be a one-day player'

Dashing strokemaker Farokh Engineer was a T20 cricketer years before his time. He looks back at life with India and Lancashire

Ijaz Chaudhry  |  
Engineer with his wife Julie

Engineer with his wife Julie © Ijaz Chaudhry

My brother Darius was pivotal in my becoming a wicketkeeper. He was an offspinner and his club's wicketkeeper wasn't gathering his deliveries down the leg side. In desperation, he asked me to keep. I managed to show good anticipation to gather the ball and also made a few stumpings. From then on, there was no looking back.

After the 1967 tour of England, John Arlott wanted to see me play for his beloved Hampshire. Worcestershire and Somerset were interested too. I finally decided on Lancashire for its great history and beautiful ground.

The former British prime minister John Major has always been a great cricket lover. During a Lord's Test, I mentioned my forthcoming biography and he asked if he could have the honour of writing the foreword. I was flattered.

I came to be known as Rooky in England. Fred Trueman gave me the nickname.

I feel honoured to have been part of the Lancashire team that had such a great run. I joined Lancs in 1968, and when I left them after 1976, they had won the Gillette Cup four times and the John Player League twice. Some young, talented players who were already on the rolls, such as Peter Lever, Ken Shuttleworth and David Lloyd really blossomed and other exciting young players emerged.

I was passionate about flying since childhood. I got training and flew little Piper Cherokees or Tiger Moths. I used to fly low and dive under bridges.

My best attributes were belief in myself, and optimism.

I was the first star cricketer to come out of Mumbai's Podar college. Later Dilip Vengsarkar, Sanjay Manjrekar and Ravi Shastri followed me.

My first-class debut was a baptism by fire, for Combined Universities against the touring West Indies at Nagpur. Originally the visitors had planned to field a second string side against the students but the local mayor on the eve of the match bragged that the Universities team was stronger than the Indian Test team. So the West Indians fielded a full-strength side. [Roy] Gilchrist and [Wes] Hall were all over us. Three of our batsmen were hurt. My 29 was the joint-highest for the University side in the match, which we lost by an innings, as expected.

The role of Jack Bond as Lancashire captain was immense. He had the ability to inspire match-winning performances out of average county players. He was one of the first to use spin bowlers as an integral part of a one-day attack. He gave great attention to fielding and fitness. I had a great rapport with him.

I am proud I made significant contributions in some of India's memorable successes. My 59 in the first innings during India's first Test win in England was the team's highest in the match. In the second-innings chase, I shared a crucial partnership with [Gundappa] Viswanath. During the 1972-73 home Test series, when we beat England 2-1, I was the highest run getter on either side.

Lancashire came to be known as the Manchester United of cricket back then. Our Sunday league games were sold out not only at home but everywhere in the country.

My 109 in the third Test against the West Indies in 1966-67 turned out to be a career-defining innings. Before that I had been in and out of the Test team; I was not even considered for the first two Tests of that series. I played regularly afterwards, until my last Test - except the 1970-71 tour of West Indies.

Legendary soccer star George Best was a great friend and also my neighbour in Manchester for many years. He was very fond of curry and we often visited Asian restaurants together.

I was a Brylcreem boy, like [Denis] Compton. No Indian cricketer got endorsements before me.

I did captain my country unofficially. One of the most satisfying was during the second Test of the 1972-73 series against the MCC. At the end of the fourth day, they were chasing a target of close to 200 and were well placed at 105 for 4 with Tony Greig and Mike Denness sharing an unbeaten stand of about 90. On the morning of the last day, [Ajit] Wadekar was ill and I had to lead the side for the day almost. I set attacking fields and applied pressure. Wickets fell at regular intervals and we won an exciting low-scoring match.

Geoff Boycott once said to me, "You have more talent than me, but because of my temperament, I have made more runs." I replied, "But which of us two do people come to watch?"

Sir Don Bradman liked my attacking game. During the 1967-68 tour of Australia, I made 89 in the opening Test. Bradman visited our dressing room. He noticed I played in rubber-soled shoes and gave me a roasting, but he later drove me to his home, where I dined with the great man and also saw a slideshow of his cricketing exploits. From then, he sent me a card every Christmas with a P.S: "Hope you wear spikes these days."

It would be wrong to label the Lancashire of my time as only a great one-day outfit. We twice finished second in the county championships. On both occasions, we could have won the title but for the weather.

Cycling was a passion. I once cycled with friends from Bombay to Poona and back, around 240 miles.

The expected date of delivery for our first child coincided with the India's Lord's Test of 1967. We were staying in a hotel opposite the ground. I was in the Long Room with the Indian team to be introduced to the Queen when a telegram arrived from our hotel. Donald Carr, the assistant secretary of the MCC, read it and handed it over to the Queen. She turned to me and said, "Engineer, good news for you." I replied that I had been expecting it. "What was your wish?" she asked. I said, "I know it is a baby girl." The Queen looked puzzled. I said, "When my mother was dying, I wept at her bed. She consoled me and said, 'Farokh, I will come again in your life - as your first child.' Hence, it has to be a baby girl."

I never regretted my playing style. Geoff Boycott once said to me, "You have more talent than me, but because of my temperament, I have made more runs." I replied, "But which of us two do people come to watch?"

Sir Garry Sobers was my favourite cricketer. He was the complete package.

During my playing days, I always had a job. In Bombay, I worked for Mercedez-Benz in sales and marketing - a cushy job. After joining Lancashire, I found a winter job at Hawker Siddeley. Once my playing days were over, I ventured into business. Presently I am a brand ambassador for Jaguar and Lyca Mobile.

Of my Lancashire team-mates, I always enjoyed a special relationship with Clive Lloyd - we were often room-mates and we both loved parties. The Lancashire committee members spoke to me before signing him and I said, "You don't need to look further."

I was born to be a one-day player.

My most memorable catch came in the Lord's Test of '71 - [John] Edrich off [Bishan] Bedi. It was the last ball of the day. It pitched in the rough, took off, clipped the shoulder of Edrich's bat and hit me on my left shoulder. The ground was wet because of rain, and I was sprawled on the ground when the ball came down. I just managed to flick it up with my left foot, but there was no fielder in catching position and it was impossible for me to take the catch. I kicked it up again, regained my balance somewhat and finally managed to take the catch with a leap.

I still live in Manchester and I'm the vice-president of Lancashire. The people there loved me. I had a record benefit of £26,000.

"My best attributes were belief in myself and optimism" © Getty Images

I bagged a pair in my last Test match. [Bernard] Julien got me both times - a bowler who didn't trouble me much on the county circuit.

I really enjoyed playing limited-overs cricket with Lancashire and did my bit for the county's great successes, but there was very little international one-day cricket in my day.

I was on commentary at the1983 World Cup final for TMS. Brian Johnston asked me if the prime minister, Indira Gandhi, would declare a public holiday if India won. I said in jest that I had no doubt she would, since she was an avid TMS listener. Within minutes a message received from Mrs Gandhi's office was relayed to us - that she had heard our comments and had indeed declared a holiday. A few months later, on a visit to India, when I met Mrs Gandhi, she said, "Thanks for reminding me about the declaration of the public holiday. That will fetch me extra votes in the next election!"

My community, the Parsis, has a population of about 70,000 in India. Yet a number of Parsis have made it to the Test team. Surprisingly, there have been none after me.

Brian Statham often said that if I had kept to him all his career, he would have ended with a substantially bigger bag of wickets.

India were riding a wave in the early '70s, with three successive series wins, but it came to a halt with the disastrous 1974 tour of England. The English batsmen showed mastery over our spinners during that series. Bedi had been playing on the county circuit for last few years. More importantly, they had sorted out Chandrasekhar, who had been England's main tormentor in the previous two Test series.

I have been pulled up for speeding on Manchester's roads, but was always let off by the cops, who recognised me. One of them said, "My father would kill me if I booked you." I was never reckless but I drove fast - perhaps due to my flying instincts.

I had the wonderful experience of keeping wicket to those four fabulous spinners: Bedi, Chandra, Prasanna and Venkataraghavan. All were masters of their craft and offered a great challenge. Chandra was the most interesting. His deliveries zipped off the surface and he had a great variety - legbreak, googly, flipper, topspinner...

The essential qualities for a wicketkeeper include a sense of balance, anticipation, and confidence.

My favourite ground is the Cricket Club of India. I was brought up there and learned the game there. There used to be a reward of Rs 100 for any batsman who hit the clock tower, and I won it a few times. I also made my highest Test score in what turned out to be the last Test at the ground for 36 years.

It was a great honour to be selected for the Rest of the World three times. The selectors who named these teams included the likes of Bradman, Sir Len Hutton and Sir Frank Worrell.

T20 is great entertainment, though it can't produce genuine Test cricketers. I would have loved to play this brand of cricket. Some tell me, "You used to play T20 40 years before its invention."

Ijaz Chaudhry writes on cricket and other sports. For more about him and samples of his published work, visit www.sportscorrespondent.info