The Parsis and Indian cricket
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Parsi cricketers led the way for us!
The Parsi community were the first ones in the subcontinent to fall in love with the English game and then popularise it in the length and width of the country.
1721: The first cricket in India
Played by the sailors, tradesmen and mariners of the East India company, cricket traces its history in the subcontinent as long back as 1721 when on the west coast of Cambay near Bombay (now Mumbai) and in Kutch the Englishmen were seen indulging in it.
The Parsis settled in these areas having migrated from Iran nearly a thousand years before being well suited because of their cool and quiet temperament very similar to the Englishmen.
Therefore, they were the first to adopt the game which later was picked up by the Hindus and Muslims as East India Company spread its wings and British Raj took over which resulted in the soldiers of the army posted in garrison towns making it even more popular.
1845-48: From Sylhet to the Oriental Cricket Club
Inspired and encouraged, the Parsis then formed the Oriental Cricket Club in Bombay in 1846 and then a Parsi Cricket Club backed up by one A.B. Patel to play regularly against the Europeans.
On 3rd March 1845, the ‘Sporting Intelligence’ magazine carried a reasonably lengthy match report between ‘Sepoy’ cricketers and the European ones. The article clearly proved that Indian cricket was underway in a city called Sylhet, in modern day Bangladesh. However the most accepted fact by historians is that the start of organised cricket in India was marked by the formation of the Parsi Oriental Cricket Club in Bombay in 1848. Thus, the Parsis of Bombay became the very first Indians to develop a liking towards the national sport of England. Being a highly-educated and progressive group of people, these Parsi gentlemen appropriately took to the ‘gentlemen’s game’, and their relative proximity to well-placed British officials would have been another factor in initiating the Oriental Club – indeed, many middle class Parsis supported cricket as a means to further strengthen their ties with the British gentry in India. Also, many established Parsi businessmen were in trade relations with the British, making it easier for them to master the complications of the game.
That of course gave them the idea of touring England, the mother country of the game with which they had fallen in love with.
The Game Spreads Further
The game grew in popularity among the Parsis, and within two decades, around 30 clubs were formed in Bombay, mostly named after British viceroys or Roman Gods. The British, only too keen to see an integral part of their culture starting to take root in India, generously supported the formation of these clubs. Later on, Parsi business houses like the Tatas and the Wadias began to sponsor them as well. At that time, the Hindus shared a healthy business competition with the Parsis, and not to be left behind, they too threw their hats into the ring and thus Bombay Union, the first Hindu club was formed in 1866.
The Bombay Gymkhana of yore was an all-white club – no Indian was allowed to enter or play against the club. Their stance however quickly changed, and the club invited a team of Parsees to play a ‘Europeans v Parsis’ fixture in 1877. This more or less became a regular feature though it was a decade before the Parsi’s eventually managed to win. Beginning from 1886, the Hindus also began playing an annual match with the Europeans. Meanwhile, the game was steadily and surely spreading – the first Muslim Cricket Club was formed in 1883.
The First Indian Teams to Tour England
The first two teams from India to leave the Indian shores in 1886 (28 matches) and in 1888 to tour England consisted of only Parsi players.
In the summer of 1886, a team entirely consisting of Parsis became the first team from India to travel to England to play in cricket matches. It was led by one Dhanjishaw H. Patel, an underhand bowler, and also in the team were three Parsis — Pestonji Dinshaw Dastur, Dinshaw D. Khambatta and Burorji P. Balla — from Karachi.
The earliest plan at a tour of England by a Parsi team was made by A.B. Patel in 1878. It fell through when Patel got involved in a libel suit and was unable to proceed with the plans. A few years later Patel, with the help of B.B. Baria and Dr. Dhunjishaw Patel, made another attempt to organise the tour. C.W Alcock, the Secretary of the Surrey Cricket Club served as the agent for the team in England. Robert Henderson, a Surrey professional was named as the coach. Dr. Patel himself captained the amateur team, which could not make an impression on this first tour.
The Parsis played 28 matches on the nearly 3-month long tour, winning only 1 (against the Normanhurst team), drawing eight and losing 19.
Three matches were important
What is important of course is that this team played two very important matches, one against MCC at Lord’s which they lost by an innings and 224 runs and in which W.G. Grace took 11 for 44 runs and scored 63 before being caught by Balla, the Karachi cricketer. Perhaps, Dastur, Balla and Khambatta remain the only Karachiites to have played against Grace.
The other important match that they played was at Great Windsor Park against the grandson of Queen Victoria Prince Christian Victor in which his brother Prince Albert also played.
Not forgetting of course the match against Lord Sheffield XI in which Alfred Shaw, the man who had bowled the first ball in Test cricket in 1877 against Australia also played.
The team’s first ever match on English soil was played against Lord Sheffield’s XI at Uckfield’s Sheffield Park. The two-day match was drawn, with the visitors being all out for just 46 (53/4 in the 2nd innings, following on) in reply to the host’s 142. A few days later, the Parsis played for the first time at the hallowed Lord’s, facing the Marylebone Cricket Club.
The MCC team for this match had among others the mighty William Gilbert ‘WG’ Grace – who was included in the team at the request of the tourists. Grace opened the innings and scored 65 out of a total 313, following which the Parsis were skittled out for 23 and 66 – Grace, with his right-arm medium pace exposed the frailties of the inexperienced visitors by scalping 7/18 and 4/26 in the two innings respectively. For the Parsis, the only silver lining was Ardeshir Major, who bowled wholeheartedly to take 5/91, including Grace’s wicket. As the tour went on, the Parsis took on a host of top counties as well as various amateur elevens, and found the going tough, with many matches resulting in innings defeats.
They had to wait for two months and their 24th game to finally register a victory – their sole win on the tour. That win came at Catsfield on July 22, when the Parsis (126 and 29/6) beat hosts Normanhurst (81) by 45 runs on the first innings. The batsmen severely let the Parsis down throughout the tour – they crossed 200 only once, but the bowlers fared much better. Muncherjee Framjee took 79 wickets at 26.71, while a certain Shapurjee Bhedwar also shone on the tour, taking 59 wickets at 19.57, his high point being a hat-trick against Chiswick Park, where he took 7 wickets in the first innings in a losing cause. The last match of the tour at Cumberland Lodge against Prince Christian Victor’s XII was arranged on the express desire of Queen Victoria. Prince Victor and his brother Prince Albert took part in the game. At the end of the match a garden party was held in honour of the guests. The team left England on August 24.
The historic 1886 team:- Dr D.H. Patel (captain), B.B. Baria, J.M. Morenas, A.R. Limboowala, M. Framji, M.P. Banaji, S.N. Bhedwar, A.C. Major, P.C. Major, J. Pochkhanavala, S. Bejonji, S.H. Harvar, D.D. Khambatta, P.D. Dastur, B.P. Balla
The world’s first great cricketing icon W.G Grace, who played against them while representing the MCC at Lord’s, later said in his autobiography – ‘During this season, a team of Parsi cricketers paid us a visit, but met with little success, even against second and third-rate clubs’. The Parsis themselves knew their limitations, and upon the team’s return from England, captain Dhunjishaw Patel said, ‘ It was not with any object of gaining victories that we made the voyage to England, but we decided to pay homage to the centre and home of a noble game, and we desired to learn some useful lessons in its play’. Indeed, it was this humility and the keenness to master the game that led to their further success.
The Karachi Parsis
Dastur of Karachi, whose highest score on tour was 89 against North Riding at Middlesborough in Yorkshire, also had the honour of leading the batting averages of the tour.
Writer Qamar Ahmed managed to discover through Iqbal Umar, a former president of Karachi Gymkhana, the 79-year-old grandson of Khanbahadur Pestonji Dastur. Darius Dastur, the grandson, was delighted when Qamar Ahmed told him of his grandfather’s achievements which he did not seem to know.
He moaned the fact that he did not even have his picture in the family. He was over the moon; even more happy when Qamar Ahmed presented him the group photo of the 1886 Parsis in England.
The 1888 Tour Of England
The Parsis made their second tour of England in 1888. The 15-member team played mostly against amateur teams and was more successful than the team of 1886 – they played 31 matches, winning 8 and losing 11. Like the 1886 tour, these games too were not considered as first-class. The tour was arranged by Pestonji Kanga, D.C. Pandole and J.M. Divecha – all of whom were part of the team (Kanga also captained the team). The only two players who were also part of the 1886 squad were Jal Morenas and S.H Harvar. Their first win of the 1888 tour came in the 8th match, when they beat the Gentlemen of Hastings by 9 wickets at Hastings. As in 1886, the Parsis again faced the MCC at Lord’s (twice), managing a draw in the first game and a 10-wicket defeat in the second. Their victory against the Gentlemen of Eastbourne was quite remarkable – the opposition was bowled out for just 56 (despite having a 134-run 1st-innings lead) as the Parsis won by 66 runs. Another exciting match was played against Scarborough – the game was drawn with the scores level when the tourists restricted the hosts to 70/7 in the 2nd innings.
Mehellasha Edulji Pavri
Part of the 1888 team was the right-arm fast bowler Mehellasha Edulji Pavri (1866-1946). Born in the town of Navsari in Gujarat, Pavri is regarded by many as the first great Indian cricketer. On his debut 1888 tour, he became a sensation, and was a major factor in the Parsis’ improvement from two years ago. He took as many as 170 wickets at a stunning average of 11.66. A story goes that at Eastbourne, he sent a bail flying 50 yards while in Norfolk, when he uprooted a stump, it flew nine yards and pitched itself the right way up. A righted-handed batsman and a right-arm fast bowler – one of the fastest in those times – Pavri played 26 first-class matches from 1892 to 1913. Besides the Parsis, he also turned out for the All-India XI and Middlesex in 1892 and 1893 respectively.
The book ‘Parsi Cricket’, was written in 1906 by Mehellasha.E Pavri, India’s first great fast bowler (
1889: The first Parsi, Indian and non-white victory
For a decade or so, the Europeans dominated their annual Bombay Presidency Match against the Parsis, but that changed in 1889. Facing the strong, all-white Bombay Gymkhana team, the Parsis scored a surprising 10-wicket win (Bombay Gymkhana 86 and 79, Parsis 136 and 31/0). In January 1890, Pavri took 7/34 in the 2nd innings against the touring G.F Vernon’s XI, a historic match that the Parsis won by 4 wickets. (G.F Vernon’s XI 97 and 61, Parsis 82 and 77/6). Matches from 1892–93 were given first-class status. The match that began at Bombay Gymkhana between the Europeans and the Parsis on 26 August 1892 is considered the earliest first class match in India (it was drawn). In December 1892, the Parsis scored a famous 109-run win over the touring Lord Hawke’s XI (Parsis 93 and 182, Lord Hawke’s XI 73 and 93) – Pavri took 6/36 in the 2nd innings. By 1900, the Presidency Match was the highlight of the Bombay cricket season, and until this point, the Europeans and the Parsis had won 8 games each out of a total of 19 matches. Pavri’s importance can be seen by the fact that his rise coincided with that of the Parsi team’s ascent. He also dominated the early years of the Bombay Quadrangular tournament.
1906: Hindus beat Europeans; Parsis lose dominance
In 1906, the Hindus challenged the Parsis to a match, but the communal differences between the clubs led the Parsis to decline. The Bombay Gymkhana stepped in and accepted the challenge, leading to the first Europeans versus Hindus match, played that February. The Hindu side ended up recording a stunning 110-run victory over the Europeans. The Hindus boasted Palwankar Baloo, who is regarded as India’s first great spin bowler, and perhaps the first person from the ‘lower’ Dalit caste to make it big in Indian cricket. The next year, 1907, saw the first Triangular tournament featuring teams from the Bombay and Hindu Gymkhanas as well as the Parsis. From 1907 to 1911 the tournament was played in September, with the Parsis winning three times and the Europeans twice. In 1912, the Muslims joined the tournament, and it thus became a four-team affair, and known as the ‘Bombay Quadrangular’, and was the first diversified Indian first-class tournament.
As the years went by, the Parsis’ stranglehold on the tournament weakened. By the 1920's, the Gymkhanas (Bombay, Parsi, Hindu and Mohammedan) were recruiting players from all over the Indian sub-continent, making the Bombay Quadrangular the biggest and most influential cricket tournament in India. It also inspired other local competitions, including a Triangular in Lahore and Quadrangulars in Nagpur and Karachi, that led to the rapid development of cricket throughout the region. Later in 1937, a fifth team, the Rest (comprising of Indian Christians, Jews and Buddhists) was added to make the tournament a Pentangular, and matches began to be played at the Brabourne Stadium. The last time the Parsis managed to win the tournament was in the 1928-29 season. From 1938, the Pentangular attracted growing criticism as being divisive because of the communalism evident in the makeup of the teams. Eventually, amid a backdrop of rioting and political unrest across India, the newly formed Board of Control for Cricket in India announced in 1946 that the Pentangular tournament was being abandoned.
In 1926, Dastur’s son Manek Dastur also played at Karachi Gymkhana against Arthur Gilligan’s MCC team scoring 32 and 38 for Parsis and Muslims and 1 and 61 for All Karachi before he died in a motorcycle accident at Macleod Road (now I.I. Chundrigar Road) trying to avoid a Makrani pedestrian.
Karachi Parsi Institute (KPI) formed in 1893 could also boast fine cricketers one of which Rusi Dinshaw toured India with Pakistan team in 1952 but did not play in Tests.
A.H. Mehta was even on the staff of Lancashire at Old Trafford but failed to qualify as their main player. Jamshed Khudadad Irani played for India.
Other fine Karachi cricketers were S.K. Irani, S.R. Mavalvala, Rusi and Homi Mobed the nephew of Minochehr Mobed who was one of the umpires with Daud Khan when Pakistan beat MCC in 1951 in an unofficial Test at Karachi Gymkhana by four wickets to gain Test status.
Minochehr Mobed had played in the Sind Pentangular in 1919 and his nephew had toured England with Pakistan Eaglets.
Not forgetting the services of Bomi Khambatta, Jagus and Jamshed Markar, the diplomat and cricket commentator who as ambassador, high commissioner and Pakistan envoy to UNO excelled in his job.
The contribution to test teams
India’s first Test team in 1932 included two Parsis (Colah and Palia).
In the first two Tests in the West Indies in 1961-62,when four players were part of the team (Contractor, Umrigar, Surti and Engineer)
1975: The last Parsi player (so far)
Farokh Engineer was the last Parsi cricketer to play for India, his 14-year old international career having ended in 1975. Since then, several four decades have gone without a single Parsi playing international cricket for India, and looking at the Ranji circuit, it is unlikely that the drought will be broken soon.
The complete list
Famous Parsi Cricketers Who Played For India
Madan G Singh, 2011-12-13 Madan G Singh
Contractor, Nariman Jahangir: He was a left handed opener who had a classical style. He was also captain of India against Ted Dexter's team which toured India in 1961-62. Contractors record as an opener was just average, but he had a solid defense and the Australian captain Richie Benaud praised him during the Aussie tour of India in 1959. Contractor also hit a century at Bombay. However Contractors technique failed him on the fast wickets of the West Indians and he was hit by a ferocious delivery from Charlie Griffith and only emergency surgery saved his life. Contractor recovered and continued to play for Bombay but his potential was never fully realized as he totaled just over 1600 runs at an average of 31.
Engineer, Farrukh: During the MCC tour of India in 1962 a wicket keeper batsman made his appearance. People now talk of Dhoni, but I would say Farrukh was a cut above most wicket keeper batsmen. He was a flamboyant player who attacked the bowling from the word go. One cannot forget his innings in the third test against the West Indies in 1966. Engineer opened the batting and soon the West Indies terror pace men Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith were pasted all over the ground. Runs flowed like water and Sobers the West Indian Captain was worried. Farrukh was nearing a century before Lunch, when an alarmed Sobers adopted dilatory tactics to deny Farrukh a century before lunch. He was 94 not out at lunch and eventually made 109. Farrukh hit over 2000 runs in test cricket and was also a polished keeper behind the gloves. His keeping to the spinners was exceptional. Farrukh retired from the game and moved to England.
Modi, Russi: not to be confused with the Russi Modi who was chairman of Tata steel. Modi played very few matches, but during the West Indies tour of India in 1948, Modi along with Hazare played many a stellar innings. He totaled 560 runs in that series. But he faded away and was for long the chairman of the CCI.
Umrigar, Polly: One of the foremost Parsi all rounder. During the fifties and early sixties he was India's best batsman. The fact that he scored over 3600 runs at a batting average of 42 is proof enough of his calibre when most other batsmen averaged just 35( Pataudi, Borde etc). He was also the first Indian to hit a double century in test cricket with an innings of 223 against New Zealand during their tour of India in 1956. If Umrigar had a weakness it was genuine pace and as such he was not much of a success in England against Fred Truman during the 1952 tour. But later in his career he got over this weakness and during the 1958-59 tour of West Indies to India, faced Hall and Gilchrist with courage.
The Parsis and Indian cricket