When I was young I wanted to be an air force pilot, but my mother, Minnie, stopped me because she thought I took too many risks. My brother Darius was an excellent cricketer and should have played for India but chose to become a successful engineer instead. My father, Maneksha, a doctor, had been captain of his medical college cricket team. Inspired by them, I began playing school cricket and rose to prominence. I owe everything to my family.
Back in the 1960s and ‘70s, when we toured England and Australia, we were called ‘bloody Indians’. Our cricket team had the reputation of being losers because we rarely won series abroad. You had to overcome that stigma by performing on the field. When I started hitting the English bowlers all over the park in 1967 and 1971, they were forced to swallow their pride. I was given a contract to play for Lancashire and became the first Indian to play professional cricket in England. I was later made vice-president of Lancashire, the first time a ‘kaalu’ had been given such a high post at an English county. I think my success at Lancashire helped lift the profile of Indian cricketers.
I never intended to be a flamboyant batsman. We never had much coaching in those days, so you just played your natural game. I didn’t go out of my way to show off. But, yes, my aggressive style did make people remember me. Sometimes the crowd would chant ‘sixer, sixer’ and I’d hit a six in their direction. Once I was joking around with Geoffrey Boycott, and he was telling me his average was better than mine. I told him, “Yes, but who would people rather come and watch, me or you?”
One thing I always had was a willingness to fight. I was the kind of player who could instill that fighting spirit in his team-mates. On our 1974 tour of England, the team selection was poor, but more than that the players came to England with their heads down. We didn’t fight, and that was devastating. Unfortunately, I saw the same lack of spirit in the Indian team that came to England this year. I was quite hurt that no one consulted me as I know every blade of grass in England. I could have given them sound advice but instead the team was surrounded by a bunch of ‘chamchas’, some of whom have never played cricket.
I became the first Indian cricketer to appear in product commercials when I was selected to endorse Brylcreem. I was quite proud because before me Keith Miller (the great Australian allrounder) and Dennis Compton, the England footballer and cricketer, had endorsed Brylcreem. After me, they had David Beckham as a brand ambassador. So, it’s a pretty good list to be on. It was a bit embarrassing back then to open the papers and see pictures of yourself. But we didn’t get paid much in those days, so the Brylcreem contract was helpful.
I’ve had the opportunity to meet and befriend some of the greatest sportsmen ever. In Manchester, I live in an area where a lot of great sportsmen, Bobby Charlton (the Manchester United great) and Clive Lloyd (the former West Indies captain) among them, live. When I first moved to Manchester, to play for Lancaster, I became best friends with George Best, the famous Manchester United player. I’ve also had the great Muhammad Ali and Pele visit my home in Manchester.
These days, I reflect a lot on my life, and sometimes I find it quite incredible to be living among so many sports legends. For a simple boy from DadarParsi colony to be mixing with the likes of Pele and Muhammad Ali is surreal. I sit back and remember that I was the first-choice wicketkeeper for India, a country of a billion people, and was also chosen to play in the World Eleven. It’s humbling and makes me feel like all my hard work was worth it.
My mother died when I was quite young. In the hospital, she put her hand on my head and promised me she would come back as my first daughter. Years later, I was in England meeting the queen and she told me she had some good news for me. I, guessing what the news was, asked, “Is it a boy or a girl?” She said, “What do you think?”I said, “I know it is a girl” because I knew my mother would come back to me. I named my first daughter Minnie, after my mother. I still get emotional thinking about that story.
I have always been outspoken and never hide my views. That has unfortunately been the reason I don’t get as much work from television channels as I’d like. But I can’t be unfair to the viewers by tempering my opinions.
I’m 76 now but I still live life to the fullest. I dislike the attitude of people who turn 60 and then just wait for death. I still enjoy my life, and I always have. Maybe that comes from being a Parsi. I love meeting people and playing bridge. I also do a lot of motivational speaking.
I am not religious but I do firmly believe in god. I think everyone should be thankful. I’m no priest but I do try to visit the fire temple or any other place of worship when I can. I respect all religions and believe extremism in any form is bad and at the root of so many of our problems.