Frank Tyson – Indian cricket owes much to the ‘reluctant Bombay coach’ who taught bowlers to run

ESince India’s first national cricket competition, the Ranji Trophy, began in 1934, Bombay had almost become an invincible team with a 15-year non-stop winning record from 1958-59 to 1976-77. Bombay’s dominance in India’s top-class cricketing structure was such that most of the rival teams dropped out of the contest before the first ball was even played.

Bombay’s cricketing culture was so rich, its bench strength so powerful, that sometimes it was a no contest. It is said that many times during the game, if Bombay beat, their tails would often go to the Eros Cinema house to watch the matinee show. Such was the confidence they had in their top batsmen.

However, things completely changed in the mid-1980s. Bombay cricket was in crisis. It had been five years since Bombay had last taken part in a Ranji Trophy final. Things got to such a state that rival teams scored over 600 runs against Bombay. The problem was not so much with the bat, but in the bowling department.

Bombay’s fast bowling strength had waned and they simply couldn’t eliminate the rival teams. It has set off an alarm in Mumbai cricket. One person who was disturbed was a gentleman by the name of Makarand Waingankar. Makarand was a first rate columnist and someone whose heart beat unceasingly for Bombay cricket. He and other Bombay cricket pundits concluded that something had to be done about Bombay’s fast bowling reserves.

Just a few days ago, it was Frank Tyson’s 92nd birthday. It’s time for Indian Cricket to thank everyone who started BCA-Mafatlal and especially the boy from the Borough of Farnworth, England for what he has done in Mumbai.


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Why Bombay cricket was in decline

There were many reasons for Bombay’s decline, but among them all there was a cultural reason. The city had seen a shift of its inhabitants from the south to the suburbs. A town that lived in chawls in mixed families was expanding with better job prospects. From a cricketing perspective, the youth of Bombay had legitimate distractions in the form of better economic prospects rather than playing cricket.

In the end, something alarming had happened. Bombay had not reached the Ranji Trophy final for five years. The chronicler 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 was also troubled by the state of Bombay cricket’s fast bowling reserves in the mid-1980s.

Together they and many other Bombay Cricket experts came to the conclusion that a new fast bowling coach was needed with a completely new approach that could only be given by a foreign coach. Nari sought the advice of England’s Peter May, 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 stay in Bombay when his ship docked there midway through its voyage from Australia to England. There was also another problem. Bombay Cricket was not as financially wealthy as it is today. Nari needed a sponsor to hire Frank Tyson.

Nari at the time worked for the Mafatlal Group of Industries. He and Makarand approached Hrishikesh Mafatlal. Mr. Mafatlal, being a philanthropist at heart, readily agreed to help. He suggested that Nari take the first flight to England to procure Frank Tyson. But it wasn’t as easy to fly then as it is now.

Another obstacle came in the way. The BCA (Bombay Cricket Association as it was then known) failed to secure foreign currency which wiped out everyone involved. It was the time when forex had to be acquired through documents before a trip. It looked like the project had 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 high ranking politician guided him to a high official in the Foreign Exchange Department.

This senior officer happened to be a former cricketer who had played against Nari in the All India Inter-College Cricket Championship held for Rohinton Baria Gold Trophy. Needless to say, the change was arranged in no time and in 1990, in the humid heat of Bombay, Frank Tyson arrived in India and the BCA-Mafatlal fast bowling program was launched.

Tyson didn’t sign a contract and instead suggested he would stay for three weeks and work things out before signing anything permanent. The most unusual thing he brought with him was a copy of the “Bhagavad Gita”. He was of the opinion that if he was to work with Indians, he should understand Hindus.

The sprint on Marine Drive and the return to glory

Tyson was a master of difficult tasks, and very soon he became disillusioned with the fast-paced bowling culture he saw. He discovered that there was no racing culture among the fast bowlers of India. Those who have followed cricket in Bombay will never forget the sight of Frank Tyson instructing a group of bowlers to run all the way from the start of Marine Drive at the Oberoi Hotel, to the end of Chowpatty.

Bombay residents, now known as Mumbaikars, were amused to see Abey Kuruvilla, Salil Ankola and Paras Mhambrey running in the rain in public. There were whistles and cheers. At the time, Frank Tyson said something unheard of: “Strong legs are the mother of outdoor sports.”

Frank had a simple tip for those with weak legs. Men with weak legs better play cards. Frank Tyson changed the fast bowling culture in India. Soon he started speaking basic Marathi and Hindi. He taught the importance of diet and good nutrition. He was also the first coach in India to teach life skills.

Frank emphasized the importance of building strength through training and diet. No wonder it’s 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 Tyson’s skills were with the ball, and Benaud replied in his unique way: “I had nothing to do with it, Geoffrey.”

It’s quick ? “So fast,” 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. Frank started his work in Bombay in 1990. Within a year, Bombay returned to his place and stormed into the Ranji Trophy final.

Kuruvilla and Ankola, both students of the BCA-Mafatlal program under Tyson, were among the top wicket takers in the final. If Mumbai hadn’t had three run-outs in their second set, they wouldn’t have lost the final by two runs. Frank Tyson’s legacy has a positive impact on Indian cricket even today.

In 2002, Tyson did a KSCA camp in Bengaluru with Paras Mhambrey who was his disciple in the BCA-Mafatlal program. Fast bowlers have rarely led Mumbai to glory as Bombay cricket has always been all about their big hitters. Mhambrey, who now coaches the Indian team, holds the accolade of captaining Mumbai to Ranji Trophy glory.

Abey Kuruvilla and Salil Ankola have made immense contributions not only to Mumbai cricket but also to Indian cricket. Columnist Makarand then launched the TRDW program for BCCI which unearthed MS Dhoni. Hrishikesh Mafatlal continues to do charity work. Nari Contractor recently had his famous metal plate removed from his head and Frank Tyson was a great cricketer long before helping Indian bowlers bowl like never before.

Kush Singh @singhkb is the founder of The Cricket Curry Tour Company. Views are personal.


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