"Better late than never": Farokh Engineer on BCCI Lifetime Achievement award
"Mark my words, this current Indian team is collectively the best we have had," adds the veteran wicketkeeper-batsman, considering the series against England ahead
Farokh Engineer, often referred to as the original poster boy of Indian cricket, has a stand named after him at the hallowed Old Trafford as well as a suite — an honour the Lancashire County reserves for its legends.
However, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Indian cricket board, in his own words, is special: ‘’Better late than never. Nothing can beat such an honour being conferred by your own country,’’ guffawed the 85-year-old former wicketkeeper–batter, who had his heyday in the 1960s and 1970s.
Engineer has been conferred with the honour at a BCCI awards gala alongside Ravi Shastri, the former Indian all-rounder and long serving manager of the team, in Hyderabad on Tuesday, 23 January. The Board of Cricket Control's annual awards, which nominated Shubman Gill as Cricketer of the Year for 2023, resumed after a long break because of the pandemic; the last one was in 2019.
Speaking to National Herald over the phone from Hyderabad, where he has flown in from UK, Engineer was his usual witty self: ‘’Quite a few years back, I was asked to present the BCCI Cricketer of the Year award when I had visited India for the MAK Pataudi Memorial Lecture. I had candidly said how I wished that I would be considered for the lifetime award one day."
"BCCI secretary Jay Shah personally called me and I am happy that I am being honoured alongside Ravi (Shastri) as, despite being younger to me in age, we are good friends and believe in enjoying life,’’ he added.
A flamboyant wicketkeeper-batter who excelled as an opener, Engineer played a key role in India’s first-ever away Test win in New Zealand, in 1967–68, and then of course the 1971 series win against England under the captaincy of Ajit Wadekar.
In the decisive Oval Test in 1971, Engineer’s innings of 59 helped India to recover after they found themselves in a spot of bother and won the series on the back of Chandrasekhar’s amazing spell.
During England’s return visit in 1972–73, Engineer continued to prosper as he compiled over 400-plus runs. When he hung up his gloves after the home series against the West Indies in 1974–75, he had compiled 2611 runs from 46 Test matches — including two centuries and sixteen 50s —but interestingly enough, a strike rate of 137.35 in those days.
The figures may not look exactly awe-inspiring in an era when Test cricket was the only format of the game, but Engineer’s stature spoke for itself: he was the wicketkeeper for the Rest of the World squad which toured England and Australia.
Engineer also had a brief fling with one-day internationals (five matches) and, after his retirement, he continued his exploits with Lancashire in county cricket and settled down in the UK for close to five decades now.
As someone who keeps himself abreast of the game in both India and England, Engineer played it somewhat safe in his assessment of the five-Test series starting on Thursday, 24 January: ‘’Mark my words, this current Indian team is collectively the best we have had — be it the batting strength, the quick bowling and the spin department apart from fielding."
‘’It’s very difficult to see them being defeated, but I must add in the same breath that the current England team under Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum have come in with an extremely positive frame of mind. I don’t think they will compromise on their Bazball approach. There could be an interesting battle on the cards,’’ Engineer added.
How feasible will Bazball be in Indian conditions? Engineer goes for a stumper there! ‘’Looking back, I can say I adopted such an approach decades back before such terms were in vogue. Those days, the bat would have a small sweet spot and you had to connect it there to send the ball flying. No offence meant, but I think the quality of bats, the safety equipment and of course covered wickets have made the job easier for the batters now,’’ he says
The significance of building an innings, however, is still not lost on this dasher of the yesteryears! ‘’In Test cricket, you have to look at building an innings — look at the greats like my friend Sunil (Gavaskar), Tendulkar or (Virat) Kohli. There is no other way!’’