Ex-India captain Nari Contractor on the 50th anniversary of his skull injury caused by a Charlie Griffith ball in 1962
Indian cricket's biggest body blow is 50 years old. On March 17, 1962, Nari Contractor suffered a skull fracture off a Charlie Griffith delivery that nearly killed him on Day Two of the Barbados vs Indians game at Kensington Oval. At 28, Contractor's Test career was over although he played first-class cricket with a steel plate inserted in his skull. If there is proof of Contractor well and truly moving on from his near-fatal injury, he provides it when he reveals his 2009 reunion with Griffith did not result in any talk of the injury.
Whack: Nari Contractor is hit on the head by a Charlie Griffith delivery
in Barbados. Pic courtesy: Pageant of Cricket by David Frith
Half a century later, there is nothing that reminds him everyday of the blow to his head. "If that was so, I wouldn't have played cricket after the injury," says Contractor, who played for West Zone and Gujarat with success. Contractor's injury is a perfect example of destiny playing a cruel hand.
Terror: West Indies and Barbados' fast bowler Charlie Griffith is all set
to send down a thunderbolt. Pic/Getty Images
Firstly, he was not supposed to play this game against Barbados, but had to take the field because the others were ostensibly not fit to play. Secondly, one delivery before the fatal one bowled by Griffith, Contractor was dropped by Conrad Hunte at forward short leg. Had he been caught, he would never have got injured. And finally, while Griffith ran in to bowl, Contractor was disturbed by some movement in the dressing room. He decided to sort out the problem after that delivery, but it was too late. He had already played his last delivery as an India player.
Picture this! Former India captain Nari Contractor turns back the clock
at his Colaba residence in Mumbai. Contractor captained India till 1962
when he suffered a skull injury in a Barbados vs Indians tour game just
before the third Test match at Bridgetown, Barbados. The blow on his
head ended his Test career, but he continued to play first-class cricket
till the 1970-71 Indian season. Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi took over as
skipper of the team at the age of 21. Pic/Bipin Kokate
Contractor is a lovely man. Firstly, he holds no grudges where Griffith is concerned. In all his interviews, he has always said that his concentration was not total while facing the West Indian quick because there was some disturbance in the dressing room. He did not go telling the world that Griffith was a chucker and has never made a big deal of not being allowed to play Test cricket again.
The 78-year-old former India captain has kept himself abreast with current-day cricket. He despises poor technique, marvels at talent and is amused at the amount of protective gear players have nowadays and still get dismissed awkwardly.
He has come to accept what happens in current-day cricket. "We see a lot of batsmen pushing their bats outside the off stump. It could fetch you four runs in one-day cricket. In Test cricket, this shot will get you out.
"Batsmen are not learning the art of staying at the crease. They cannot develop it with so much of limited overs cricket being played. Look, no one is going to equal the feats of Sir Don Bradman because he scored all his runs and centuries in only 52 Tests and no one can surpass Sachin Tendulkar's feat of 100 international centuries. There won't be so many Tests played," says Contractor.
"It was pleasing to see Virat Kohli score 183 against Pakistan on Sunday. He hardly played a one-day shot. His flicks, pulls, drives were all correct." Not surprisingly, Tendulkar ranks as the greatest Indian batsman in Contractor's book, but there is a flip side to his rating. "Sachin dominated both forms of the game, something which Sunil Gavaskar didn't.
But technically, Sunil was superior. I have never seen him being hit on the head while I have seen Sachin get hit several times. And Sunil never wore a helmet although he used the skull cap towards the end of his career. Both batsmen have been tremendous and we must never forget Sachin taking on that responsibility of opening the innings in one-day cricket during the 1994 tour of New Zealand. He was just 21."
Back to the injury. There are some people who Contractor will never forget in his darkest hour. His surgeon Dr Chandy is one. "After the operation, he asked me when am I going to start playing cricket again. I was shocked because I could barely walk then. But he insisted that I get back to playing else I would be a vegetable," says Contractor.
Less than a year later, he walked in to bat at No 5 in his first first-class match after injury for Maharashtra Chief Minister's XI against Maharashtra Governor's XI in a Defence Fund match at Nagpur. He scored 37 before being bowled by Ramakant Desai. He played first-class cricket for Gujarat till the 1970-71 season.
Griffith's captain Sir Frank Worrell, who succumbed to leukaemia in 1967, is held in high regard too. In 2009, the Sir Frank Worrell Memorial Committee invited Contractor to inaugurate blood banks all over the Caribbean in honour of the West Indian legend and Contractor's reading material on the flight included two books on Worrell, his opposing captain in the 1961-62 series.
With inputs from Gulu Ezekiel
Charlie Griffith's account of barbados, 1962
On that Saturday afternoon, with the Kensington crowd behind me, I bowled him a ball just short of a good length and rising about bail height. He was struck on the head. The blow resounded all round the ground. I was stupefied. His skull was fractured and I did not know what to do.
The other members of the team were almost as sorry for me as they were for Contractor. Few could speak. Even Conrad Hunte, who is usually calm and seldom short of words, was speechless for some time. When finally he (Hunte) did speak, he said to me, 'Charlie, I am very sorry that this has happened. I know you are very upset. Just try and carry on bowling and pitch it up a bit more.'
The evening of the accident, it was reported from the hospital that Contractor was in a critical state. Every day I went to visit Nari in hospital. For most of the time he was unconscious. When he regained consciousness, it was as though a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders.
After the Contractor incident and its attendant controversy had died down, I discussed my future with Everton Weekes and Wes Hall and told them that I was going to give up the game. They both persuaded me to continue playing. Everton asked me to try and banish the events of March 17, 1962.
Excerpted from Chucked Around by Charlie Griffith published by Pelham Books (1970)