The first team from India that travelled to England to play cricket was comprised entirely of Parsis. In many ways, they were the pioneers of Indian cricket. Shiamak Unwalla looks at 10 Parsis who played Test cricket for India.
It all started with the Presidency Match — an annual cricket match played between the Europeans of the Bombay Gymkhana and the Parsis (also Iranis) of the Zoroastrian Cricket Club. The matches evolved into First-Class contests, thus making Europeans vs Parsis among the earliest First-Class match played on Indian soil.
The Presidency Match soon evolved into the Bombay Triangular also featuring the Hindus. Soon, it became the Bombay Quadrangular, with the addition of the Muslims. The tournament finally ended up being the Bombay Pentagular, with The Rest being added to the mix.
10 Parsis who ended up playing Test cricket for India:
1. Phiroze Edulji Palia
A left-arm batsman and left-arm spinner, Phiroze Palia was a part of the first Test India ever played — against England at Lord’s in 1932. Having batted at No. 7 in the first innings, he had to drop to No. 11 in the second essay following an injury. He played only two Tests, scoring 29 runs and going wicketless.He was far more prolific in First-Class cricket, playing exactly 100 matches and scoring 4,536 runs at 32.40. In addition he also took 208 wickets.
2. Sorabji Hormasji Munchersha Colah
Sorabji Colah is seen sitting on ground in the middle in this photo of 1932 Test team captained by Maharaja of Porbandar, that toured England. Courtesy – Wikipedia
Along with Palia, Sorabji Colah was the other Parsi in the line-up when India played its first Test. A batsman with the reputation of playing some big hits, he was also a part of the first Test played on Indian soil, but those two matches remained his only international appearances. In his two Tests, he scored 69 runs at 17.25 and did not bowl. He played 75 First-Class matches, and scored 3,578 at an average of just over 29. He did not bowl often, and ended his First-Class career with six wickets bowling medium-pace.
3. Khershed Rustomji Meherhomji
Meherhomji has the distinction of never being dismissed in Test cricket; but given that he batted in only one innings and did not score a run it is perhaps not that enviable a fact. He played his only Test on India’s second tour to England in 1936. He was the reserve wicketkeeper, and got to play the second Test after regular ‘keeper DD Hindlekar was injured. His First-Class career lasted 30 matches and yielded 61 catches and 10 stumpings in addition to 656 runs at 15.61.
4. Rusitomji Sheriyar Modi
Rusi Modi made his debut in 1946 against England at Lord’s. In addition to having a successful — though brief — Test career, Modi was also a huge success in the Ranji Trophy. His 10 Tests brought him 736 runs at 46 with one century and six fifties. He was also a fairly competent medium-pacer, though he never took a Test wicket.He also played 105 First-Class matches — a number of which were for Bombay — in which he scored 7,529 runs at an excellent average of 53.02. He was the first man to ever score five Ranji Trophy centuries in a row, and was also the first to score 1,000 runs in a Ranji season — a feat that remained unsurpassed for 44 years! In addition, he took 32 wickets at 38.31, but this included one five-wicket haul.
5. Jamshed Khudadad Irani
Jenni Irani was born in Karachi, where he passed away at the age of 58. He played as a wicketkeeper for India though, in 1947 when India toured Australia. He played two Tests but was dropped thereafter. He could only score three runs in those games, along with taking two catches and affecting a stumping.His First-Class career lasted 22 matches in which he scored 430 runs at 17.20. He took 23 catches and affected six stumpings as well.
6. Keki Khurshedji Tarapore
Keki Tarapore —not to be confused with the reputed coach of the same name who was responsible for grooming Karnataka cricketers like Syed Kirmani, Anil Kumble, and Rahul Dravid — played a single Test in 1948, against the visiting West Indians. A left-arm spinner, he was unable to take a wicket in what was his only Test.In First-Class cricket, however, he was quite successful. In 40 matches he took 148 wickets at 28.77 with five five-wicket hauls.
7. Pahlan Ratanji Umrigar
Rusi Modi might have been the first great Parsi cricketer, but “Polly” Umrigar was perhaps India’s greatest Test cricketer for as long as he played. When he finally retired he held two of the biggest records: most runs and most centuries. Having made his Test debut in 1948, “Polly Kaka” played till 1962. In his 59 Tests he scored 3,631 at 42.22 with 12 centuries and 14 fifties. He also took 35 wickets with his steady off-spin at 42.08. He is one of only two Indian cricketers to take five wickets and score a century in the same match. For much of his career, he was the man who stood tall amongst the ruins of the rest of India’s batting — though there were rumours that he shied away from excess pace like that of Fred Trueman. He also led India on eight occasions, winning two and losing two matches.His First-Class career was also a distinguished one; in243 matches he scored 16,155 runs at 52.28 with 49 centuries and 80 fifties. He also took 325 wickets with 14 five-wicket hauls.
8. Nariman Jamshedji Contractor
Nari Jamshedji Contractor would have played far more than 31 Tests had it not been for a brutal head injury that cut short his career. In a tour match during the West Indies tour of 1962, nearly a decade after making his debut against New Zealand in 1955, he was struck on the side of his head by a bouncer from Charlie Griffith. He was unconscious for six days and needed back-to-back surgeries. He never played another Test, though he made a First-Class comeback and played for years after the incident.A left-handed opening batsman Contractor, was captain at the time of his injury — a role he held since the young age of 26. In fact, at the time Contractor was India’s youngest ever Test captain. In total, he played 31 Tests, scoring 1,611 runs at 31.58. He also bowled part-time medium-pace, and took a solitary wicket.His First-Class career began in outstanding fashion; playing for Gujarat, he scored twin centuries against Baroda on debut. He played 138 First-Class matches in all, scoring 8,611 runs at 39.86 with 22 centuries. He also took 26 wickets at 40.
9. Rusi Framroze Surti
Sometimes called “Poor man’s Garry Sobers,” Rusi Surti was the epitome of the term “all-rounder.” He was a left-handed batsman who could fit in anywhere in the top or middle order, he bowled medium pace but could also bowl spin, and was an outstanding fielder anywhere on the ground. Surti made his debut against Pakistan in 1960, opening bowling in either innings but going wicketless. He also scored 11 batting at No. 8. He went on to play 25 more Tests over the course of nearly a decade, scoring 1,263 runs at 28.70 and taking 42 wickets at 46.71.He had a good record in First-Class cricket. Playing for Gujarat and Rajasthan in Ranji Trophy, Surti played a total of 160 First-Class Matches (some of these were also for Queensland, off all places) and scored 8,066 runs at 30.90 with six centuries — his highest was 246 not out — and 54 fifties. In addition, he took 284 wickets at 37.07 with 10 five-wicket hauls.
10. Farokh Maneksha Engineer
The last Parsi to play Test cricket for India, Farokh Engineer was also one of the most flamboyant batsmen of his era. He was one of the earliest “wicketkeeper-batsmen” in the country — he once scored 94 before lunch against the dreaded West Indian attack of Charlie Griffith, Wes Hall, Lance Gibbs and Garry Sobers. He also kept wickets to India’s spin quartet of EAS Prasanna, Bhagwath Chandrasekhar, Bishan Bedi, and Srinivas Venkataraghavan. He was one of the few Indians to have a productive County career, and also succeeded the likes of Denis Compton and Keith Miller as a Brylcreem model. Engineer was predominantly an opening batsman, though he has the distinction of batting everywhere in the top 10. In 46 Tests he scored 2,611 runs at 31.08 with two centuries and 16 fifties. He also took 66 catches and affected 16 stumpings. He is played five ODIs in which he scored 114 runs at 38 with one half-century. He took three catches and affected one stumping. He played First-Class cricket for Bombay and Lancashire, featuring in a total of 335 matches. He scored 13,436 runs at 29.52 with 13 hundreds and 69 fifties. He also took 704 catches and affected 120 stumpings.