Ever since Indian cricket’s premier domestic competition the Ranji Trophy started in 1934, Bombay had almost become an invincible side with a 15-year non-stop winning record from 1958-59 to 1976-77. Such was Bombay’s dominance in the first class cricket structure of India that most rival teams gave up the contest even before the first ball was bowled.
The cricketing culture of Bombay was so rich, its bench strength so powerful, that at times it was a no contest. It is said that on many occasions during the match, if Bombay were batting, their tail enders would often go to the Eros Cinema house to watch the matinee show. Such was the confidence they had in their top order batsmen.
However, things took a complete U-turn in the mid 1980’s. Bombay cricket was in crisis. It had been five years since Bombay had last entered a Ranji Trophy final. Things came to such a state that rival teams were scoring 600-plus runs against Bombay. The problem was not as much with the batting, but in the bowling department.
Bombay’s fast bowling strength had diminished and they simply could not bowl rival teams out. It raised an alarm in Mumbai cricket. One person who was disturbed was a gentleman by the name of Makarand Waingankar. Makarand was a top-notch columnist and someone whose heart beat non-stop for Bombay cricket. He and other experts of Bombay cricket concluded that something had to be done about the fast bowling reserves of Bombay.
Just a few days back, it was the 92nd birth anniversary of Frank Tyson. It is time Indian cricket thanked everyone who launched BCA-Mafatlal and particularly the boy from the Municipal Borough of Farnworth, England, for what he did in Mumbai.
Why Bombay cricket was on a decline
There were many reasons for Bombay’s decline but amongst all of them was a cultural one. The city had seen a movement of its residents from South to the suburbs. A city that lived in the ‘chawls’ in joint families was spreading out with better prospects of employment. From a cricketing point of view, the youth of Bombay had legitimate distractions in the form of better economic prospects rather than playing cricket.
The bottomline was that something alarming had happened. Bombay had not reached the Ranji Trophy final for five years. The columnist Makarand had a deep association with a unique Parsi gentleman, who also happened to be a cricketer. He was none other than Nari Contractor. Like Makarand, Nari too was disturbed by the state of the fast bowling reserves of Bombay cricket in the mid 1980’s.
Together, they and many other experts of Bombay Cricket came to the conclusion that what was needed was a new fast bowling coach with a completely fresh approach that could only be given by a foreign coach. Nari sought the advice of Peter May of England, who suggested that if Bombay really wanted an expert coach, it had to be none other than Frank ‘Typhoon’ Tyson.
Enter the ‘Typhoon’
Frank was initially reluctant as he had a bad experience during a brief sojourn in Bombay when his ship docked there midway during his journey from Australia to England. There was another problem too. Bombay Cricket was not as financially rich then as it is today. Nari needed a sponsor to hire Frank Tyson.
Nari at that time was employed with the Mafatlal Group of Industries. Both he and Makarand approached Hrishikesh Mafatlal. Mr Mafatlal, being a philanthropist at heart, readily agreed to help. He suggested that Nari should take the first flight to England to procure Frank Tyson. But it was not as easy to fly then as it is now.
Another hurdle came in the way. The BCA (Bombay Cricket Association as it was called then) failed to get foreign exchange and this dashed the spirits of all concerned. Those were the days when forex had to be acquired through paperwork prior to a trip. It seemed the project would have to be stalled. However, a breakthrough came in the form of a senior politician who was in Delhi and well-known to Nari. Nari flew to Delhi and this senior politician guided him to a senior bureaucrat in the Department of Foreign Exchange.
This senior officer happened to be an ex-cricketer who had played against Nari in the All-India Inter-University Cricket Championship held for the Rohinton Baria Gold Trophy. Needless to say, the foreign exchange was arranged in no time and in the year 1990, in the humid heat of Bombay, Frank Tyson arrived in India and the BCA-Mafatlal fast bowling programme was launched.
Tyson did not sign a contract and instead suggested he would stay for three weeks and analyse things before signing something permanent. The most unusual thing he brought with himself was a copy of the ‘Bhagavad Gita’. He was of the opinion that if he had to work with Indians, he must understand Hindus.
The sprint down Marine Drive & return to glory
Tyson was a hard task master, and very soon, he was disappointed with the fast bowling culture he saw. He found out that there was no running culture in the fast bowlers of India. Those who followed cricket in Bombay never forget the sight of Frank Tyson instructing a bunch of bowlers to run all along the beginning of Marine Drive at the Oberoi Hotel, right up to the end of Chowpatty.
Bombayites then, now known as Mumbaikars, were amused to see the likes of Abey Kuruvilla, Salil Ankola and Paras Mhambrey running in the rain out in public. There were whistles and cheers. Frank Tyson at that time had said something that was unheard of — “Strong legs are the mother of outdoor sports.”
Frank had a simple piece of advice for those who had weak legs. Men with weak legs are better off playing a game of cards. Frank Tyson changed the fast bowling culture of India. Soon he started speaking basic Marathi and Hindi. He taught the importance of diet and proper nutrition. He was also the first coach in India to teach life skills.
Frank stressed on the importance of building strength through training and diet. No wonder he was called ‘Typhoon’. According to Sir Donald Bradman, Tyson was the fastest bowler he had ever seen and Richie Benaud echoed the same sentiment. Sir Geoffrey Boycott once asked Richie Benaud what skills Tyson has with the ball, and Benaud replied in his unique way, “Didn’t have to do anything with it, Geoffrey.”
That quick? “That quick,” Benaud said. Benaud would later describe Tyson as slightly faster than even Jeff Thomson. Ritchie Benaud knew what he was talking about. He had seen more live test matches than anyone else ever. Frank started his work in Bombay in 1990. Within a year, Bombay returned to where it belonged and stormed into the finals of the Ranji Trophy.
Kuruvilla and Ankola, both students of the BCA-Mafatlal Programme under Tyson, were amongst the highest wicket-takers in the final. Had Mumbai not had three run-outs in their second innings, they would have not lost the final by two runs. The legacy of Frank Tyson impacts Indian cricket positively even today.
In 2002, Tyson did a KSCA camp in Bengaluru with Paras Mhambrey who was his disciple in the BCA-Mafatlal Scheme. Fast bowlers have rarely led Mumbai to glory as Bombay cricket has always been about their batting greats. Mhambrey, who now coaches the Indian team, holds the distinction of captaining Mumbai to Ranji Trophy glory.
Abey Kuruvilla and Salil Ankola made immense contributions not only to Mumbai cricket but also Indian cricket. Columnist Makarand went on to launch the TRDW scheme for BCCI which unearthed MS Dhoni. Hrishikesh Mafatlal continues to do charitable deeds. Nari Contractor had his famous metal plate removed from his head recently and Frank Tyson was a great cricketer much before he helped Indian bowlers to bowl fast as never before.
Kush Singh @singhkb is founder, The Cricket Curry Tour Company. Views are personal.