Zubin Surkari is, always, at home in Mumbai — a city where his father hails from, though he was born in Toronto, Canada. In fact, he’s much sought after at the team’s training at the Cricket Club of India by distant friends and relatives who’ve come asking for him, because Mumbai’s Parsis are excited that the rare-breed of a Mumbai Parsi cricketer has re-surfaced. So what if this Parsi dikra was born in Canada’s cold climes, the 31-year-old’s presence at the cricket World Cup is still a feat to celebrate, and talk animatedly about.
Zubin himself recalls a short stint at the Elf Vengsarkar Academy at nearby Oval Maidaan in the late 90s, right before he was picked as an elegant top-order right-handed batsman for his national team. “There’s many aunts and uncles and family connections here. Dad loves the game, and it must’ve all started in Mumbai. Playing at the Wankhede was always an aspiration then as a kid, and it’s a dream come true now,” he says staring sea-wards and pointing in the general right direction, where the newly reconstructed Wankhede stadium stands awaiting its first international match.
The Mumbai Parsi will be mighty pleased to have one from their ilk out there — as the community was perhaps the first to embrace cricket in colonial times, and produced a long list of eminent players like Vijay Merchant, Polly Umrigar and Nari Contractor.
Zubin himself has played in most of Canada’s games over the World Cup summer, and is clinical in comparing cricket in Mumbai and Toronto. “Well, summers there are short for cricket, but not as hot which is good,” he says, the eternal positive Parsi, who loves his cricket at country club and parks back home in Canada as much as the South Mumbai clubs his family left behind.
For the city though, this means much more because the concerns over the dwindling Parsi population have been equal only to the absence of that reassuring one Parsi figure in Mumbai’s Ranji Trophy teams. Surkari’s namesake Zubin Bharucha was the last to turn out for Mumbai in 1996 when the World Cup last happened here, and it’s a happy coincidence that when cricket’s biggest showcase visits the subcontinent again, there’s a Mumbai Parsi in some corner of the world who’s kept cricket in that community alive even as many have migrated to the west.
Zubin’s career hasn’t exactly rocketed off — owing in part to the two-year break when he had to be treated via chemotherapy for auto-immune complications and his less than-healthy average of 18.60 over 19 ODIs means he’s hoping for a late blooming to make good his ethereal talent.
Dad can’t stop harking back to the glory days of the Parsi cricketer in the Mumbai Ranji team. Prodigal, Zubin Surkari isn’t — not in the strictest sense of the term — but cricket-crazy Mumbai will be happy about the return of one of their sons when the city gears up for its tryst with the World Cup.
In some ways, a Mumbai cricket story tends to be incomplete without the Parsis.
Editor’s Note: The article has a factual inaccuracy. Vijay Merchant was a cricketer, however not a Parsi.