Farokh Engineer is one of the greatest wicket keepers to have played for India. A veteran of 46 tests, he was rewarded for his contribution to cricket with the CEAT Lifetime Achievement award in 2018.
In an era where it was normal to let anything down the leg side go, Engineer not only stopped the ball, he caught it, which was something spectators and players alike had not seen before.
It would not be presumptuous to suggest that Engineer laid the foundation for modern day wicket keeping.
You are probably asking yourself why collecting balls down the leg side was such a big deal. The answer is that it was, and still is, a very difficult skill to hone. When the ball goes down the leg side, a wicket keeper’s view of the ball is blocked by the batsman. He/she must anticipate the position of the ball based on what they have seen of its speed and trajectory. To do this well, a keeper must demonstrate great concentration and footwork.
Foakes is one of the best glovemen around. In the recently concluded Chennai test, his work behind the stumps left many amazed.
Pant is a proven match-winner with the bat but has always raised more questions than answers with his wicket keeping. Though we have seen some improvement, his footwork leaves more to be desired.
If only a pioneer like Engineer, with all his wisdom and experience, could mentor and improve someone like Pant.
Well, according to the former India international, he did offer his services to help the youngster, but BCCI politics got in the way.
He said: “Rishabh’s a good friend of mine, young guy. He is a very, very quick learner, is a lovely person and an exceedingly talented cricketer.
“He’s not the greatest wicket keeper at the moment. He has got flaws. I offered to work with him without expecting anything in return when I was in India, but the board were not interested or something.”
Pant has been working with Kiran More, another former Indian wicket-keeper on his glove work at the National Cricket Academy and was seen doing a lot of drills with Indian Cricket team’s fielding coach, R Sridhar, in Australia.
This is not the first time that the BCCI have snubbed Engineer.
During the 1974/75 West Indies tour of India, Engineer was set to lead the side in the second test after injuries to MAK Pataudi and Sunil Gavaskar. However, he recalls how a last-minute phone call from a board official ensured that Srinivasaraghavan Venkataraghavan captained the side instead.
Engineer said: “Clive Lloyd was the West Indies captain and we had our blazers on to go out and toss. And suddenly there was a phone call from the board president, who was so politically in demand that he had the chairman of selectors in his pocket.
“Suddenly, Venkataraghavan comes in with a letter from the board president that he’s replacing Prasanna in the team, who had just taken five wickets, and he’s to captain the team. Nobody could believe the scenario.”
In 1968, Engineer moved to Lancashire with the aim of improving so that he could contribute more to the Indian team. But the board did not see it this way. Since then, Engineer found himself treading on eggshells despite consistently being India’s best keeper.
He further goes on to talk about the time his name was put forward for the Padma Bhushan, the third highest civilian award in India. Once again, politics within the board intervened, this time preventing him from being awarded for his contributions.
Engineer explains: “I’ve got the Padma Shri from India. My name was put forward for the [higher-ranked] Padma Bhushan and only very few cricketers [10 in total] but again someone in the Cricket Board must have objected or something.
“Now, for example, there’s the Lifetime Achievement awarded in India called the CK Nayudu Lifetime Achievement Award. And every year, I’m hoping that they will realise that I haven’t had it. But this is what politics is, unfortunately.
“India doesn’t have a greater ambassador abroad than me. I’m a truly desi truly, you know, Indian at heart, extremely proud to be one. And I make no bones about it, and at every opportunity I fly the Indian flag.”
Other countries would be grateful for Engineer’s experience to develop their young talent. His reception at Lancashire speaks volumes. He is a legend there and continues to be actively involved within the county setup.
India is a superpower in world cricket. This would not have been possible without players like Engineer, who inspired the next generation to take up the sport.
His wealth of experience is something Indian cricket should be grateful for. It should be applied to guide young cricketers to greater heights. His input can only help Indian cricket grow from strength to strength. We must take great care in not forgetting the pillars that helped build the skyscraper that is Indian cricket.