Nari Contractor turns 85: The amazing life of Mumbai-based former India cricket captain

Updated: Mar 07, 2019, 19:36 IST | Clayton Murzello

India's oldest living Mumbai based former India cricket captain has reached 85 when it could have been all over by the age of 28 in 1962

Nari Contractor turns 85: The amazing life of Mumbai-based former India cricket captain
Former India cricket captain Nari Contractor on the eve of his 85th birthday at his residence in Colaba, Mumbai, yesterday. Pic/Suresh Karkera

Clayton Murzello

Nearly 60 years ago, Nari Contractor returned to the Lord's Cricket Ground dressing room via the Long Room to a standing ovation.

His 81 against England's Fred Trueman and Brian Statham turned out to be the highest score in the India v England 1959 Test. Balls flew off the famous Lord's ridge and one of them — from swift Statham — broke a couple of Contractor's ribs in the fourth over of the Test. Contractor had no business to continue his innings, but he did and even when he complained of breathlessness later in the day, he gave in to requests to continue. He even went out to bat in the second innings at No. 8 — in a plaster — and stayed unbeaten on 11 before England won by eight wickets.

Keith Miller, the Australian great of the Bradman era, who was reporting on the series, felt Contractor deserved to be presented the Victoria Cross. Such was the bravado displayed on a burning deck as India were shot out for 168.

Three years later in the West Indies, this time as captain of India, Contractor suffered his famous skull fracture that needed intricate surgery.

Today, he turns 85, when a fiercely-hurled cricket ball could have proved fatal at 28 years of age. The injury during the Indians v Barbados tour game put Contractor out of Test cricket. This was no way to end an international cricket career especially since he was not supposed to play that match. He only did so because the Indian team were freckled with injuries. How deeply misfortune is embedded in the March 17, 1962 Barbados incident is manifest in the below points.

Firstly, he played on his off-day. Secondly, Conrad Hunte dropped a sitter before the Griffith delivery. Had Hunte caught it, Contractor would have been in the dressing room. Contractor was also upset with teammate Rusi Surti for protesting to him about Griffith chucking when he should have been informing the umpire. And then, someone opened a window in the dressing room, which disturbed his vision while facing that delivery.

Contractor will not use the word chucker to describe Griffith. Never has, never will. He hasn't blamed him. In fact, he points to the fact that his concentration was not at its best when it came to facing the delivery. Probably, it was destiny. And destiny also played a hand at the very beginning of his life. "My mother was visiting my kaka [uncle] in Dohad [near Baroda]. She was travelling to Bombay for my delivery and felt uncomfortable in the train. My other uncle, who lived in Godhra, was the engine driver and since he was ending his duty there, advised my mother to get off with him and stay at his place before boarding another train to Bombay the following day. As luck would have it, my mother delivered in Godhra itself," Contractor told me yesterday.

Despite performing well on the Bombay circuit, Contractor couldn't break into the team. And when an offer to play for Gujarat came along, he had no qualification issues since he was born there. The Gujarat Ranji Trophy team had every reason to feel they would lose his services after his injury. But they didn't. Contractor returned from surgery and scored runs for them till he ended his career in 1970.

How did Contractor return to first-class cricket? Destiny? Miracle? Probably due to some induced grit and determination. Post-surgery, Contractor was lying in his hospital room at Vellore in Tamil Nadu. The surgeon Dr Chandy calls for him. A weak Contractor is made to take the 300-metre walk to Dr Chandy's room. One of the first questions the doctor asks him is, "When will you start playing cricket again?" A stunned Contractor replies, "I can't even see properly and you are asking me to play cricket?" Dr Chandy goes into direct mode: "If you want to be a vegetable for the rest of your life, don't ever play cricket." Contractor gets the message. Within a few months he is at the Cricket Club of India taking baby steps in the game under a solar hat. He resumes his first-class career on January 19, 1963.

Contractor believes he scored enough first-class runs to make an India comeback under MAK Pataudi, the man who took over from him in the West Indies, but that return proved elusive. Yet, there is no bitterness in Contractor's tone. He served the game well, encouraged youngsters, wished the very best for them and when it came to choosing the right man to head the Bombay Cricket Association-Mafatlal Fast Bowling Scheme for Mumbai in the early 1990s, he convinced former England pace terror Frank Tyson to come and coach.

Contractor's service to cricket has been genuine. When Sir Don Bradman was asked, in the evening of his life, what he was most proud of, he simply replied: "Integrity." Contractor has earned the right to say the same on his 85th.

And just like the Marylebone Cricket Club members applauded him for his 81 at Lord's in 1959, we too must give him a standing ovation. Naribhai, Nari uncle, Mr Contractor or just Nari… have a good one!

Also Read: Unlucky Hoshang 'Hoshie' Amroliwala deserved an India cap: Nari Contractor

mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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