Parsis have played an important part in Indian cricket history.
Parsis were the first Indian side to visit England in 1886. And around 12 Parsis, such as Farrokh Engineer, Polly Umrigar, Nari Contractor, have played for the Indian cricket teams over the years. The last big name being India women’s captain Diana Edulji.
There still exist a few Parsi clubs in Mumbai which play in the famous monsoon cricket Kanga League, but the Parsi cricketers are almost invisible on the cricketing scene.
On Wednesday morning, one Parsi cricketer — Arzan Nagwaswalla must have made his community proud with a heartening bowling performance, representing Gujarat, that bamboozled Mumbai in their own den Wankhede Stadium.
On a grassy pitch, Nagwaswalla not only came up with a five-wicket haul (5/78) but also seemed to indicate that it is not all over as far as cricketing legacy of the Parsis is concerned.
Nagwaswalla was involved in a major batting Mumbai collapse after bringing three wickets down in two overs at 74 of Suryakumar Yadav, Armaan Jaffer and Aditya Tare even as the calls by his teammates of “Well bowled Bawa” went around. He completed his five wickets after dismissing Dhrumil Matkar after dismissing Mumbai’s crisis man Siddhesh Lad.
“This is my first season and third Ranji match. I have played age group cricket for Gujarat and the performances there helped me in my promotion to the Ranji side,” said the 21-year-old cricketer.
Nagwaswalla said he was nervous when he was handed over the new ball to bowl at the Wankhede. “It all evaporated after the first over. It was my first match on this ground, was a good wicket to bow on. I got the rewards for putting the ball on the right place.”
The youngster has not played club cricket, but he has trained under former Ranji Trophy players. “There are no clubs. My village Umbergaon is on the border of Maharashtra. We had a few Ranji players at our players and I worked under them. I got interest and then the opportunities one after another.”
Nagwaswalla isn’t aware if whether Parsi cricketers still play cricket in domestic circuit. “Mine is not a cricket background. I knew there were Parsi players, who played for India and I know some names. However, I don’t know about the current situation…who is playing or not.”
“I am the youngest player in my town. Not many from my community are left back there and they have either moved to Mumbai or migrated elsewhere,” said Nagwaswalla, who idolises Zaheer Khan and Wasim Akram.
Ranji Trophy: Arzan Nagwaswalla reconnects two Mumbai favourites
It was only Arzan Nagwaswalla’s third first-class match to boot, and by the time he got his chance with the ball, fellow left-armer Roosh Kalaria had already knocked over the Mumbai openers with an impressive spell of seam bowling.
Arzan Nagwaswalla is the youngest member of the well-populated Parsi community in the village of Nargal, situated a few kilometers from the border town of Umbergaon in Gujarat. In fact, he’s the only one of his entire generation who’s stayed back. The rest, he reveals, left for the greener pastures of Mumbai a long time ago.
Nagwaswalla’s reason to not follow suit was his cricket. It’s a sport that the left-arm medium-pacer had picked up at an early age from his elder brother Vispi. It’s a sport that his community once dominated and pioneered in the country before losing ground to such an extent that Parsis in cricket became a misnomer.
Nagwaswalla’s decision to stay put paid dividends as he emerged rapidly through the junior ranks in Gujarat. And then on Wednesday, he landed up in a city, where Parsis incidentally once held major sway over what was their sport, to send back half the Mumbai batting line-up on Day One.
Though the 21-year-old’s maiden five-wicket haul in first-class cricket did put the hosts in a spot of bother, it took a starry performance by all-rounder Shivam Dubey, another rare species—in an Indian cricket context anyway—to help Mumbai pull things back towards the end of the day.
Dubey’s 128-ball 110, which came on the back of a seven-wicket haul last week against Karnataka, took Mumbai’s total to 297, a score that would count as competitive considering it languished at one stage on 74/5.The highest point in cricket for Nagwaswalla, Bawa to his teammates for obvious reasons, before his Wankhede performance came a couple of years ago, in Mumbai itself. It was when he won a slew of awards in the Late Maneck Golvala T10 cricket tournament, which were presented to him by Bollywood actor and fellow Parsi, Boman Irani.
“I’m going to frame that picture in my house and will cherish this moment all my life,” he’d told the Parsi Times on that occasion. Running through Mumbai’s middle-order certainly is likely to challenge that “moment” in terms of significance, you would believe.
It was only Nagwaswalla’s third first-class match to boot, and by the time he got his chance with the ball, fellow left-armer Roosh Kalaria had already knocked over the Mumbai openers with an impressive spell of seam bowling. There was movement in the air and off the Wankhede pitch, and Kalaria exploited it to the fullest, bringing the ball back in sharply to the right-handers.
Nagaswalla started in a similar vein, but being slightly slower than Kalaria, didn’t create the same impact as Siddhesh Lad and Suryakumar Yadav steadied the ship. He then shortened his length smartly to have Yadav caught at fine-leg off an attempted pull-shot. Later in the day, he would use the short ball smartly to get rid of Lad—for a well-made 62—and Dhrumil Matkar following a strokeful 47. But his second and third scalps on Wednesday is what will stand out.
They came in the same over, as he got Arman Jaffer and Aditya Tare, edging and getting caught in the slip region. He used the over-the-wicket angle and the subsequent away movement smartly to get both right-handers squared up, and it was this spell that broke Mumbai’s back.
Then in walked Dubey. There’s a little bit of Yuvraj Singh in the tall left-hander’s batting style. It comes through in the accentuated back-lift, and the follow-through once he’s struck the ball, especially when straight down the wicket. It certainly shows up whenever he opens up his stance slightly and air-lifts the medium-pacers straight over the heads towards or over the sight-screen. Dubey did so repeatedly on Wednesday, despite the perilous position his team was in when he walked out to bat.
Dubey had scored a century against Railways two matches ago, but that had come in less trying conditions.Here, the stroke-maker decided to stick to his guns, and keep playing his shots.
And his aggression not only kept the scoreboard on the go, it also made the Gujarat bowlers change their lengths. Despite the ball still moving off the wicket, they now started bowling shorter, but unlike some of his colleagues,
Dubey refrained from playing the pull shot, in his innings that was studded with six sixes, most of which came in the arc between long-off and long-on.
The Lad-Dubey stand brought a semblance of stability to the Mumbai innings before captain Dhawal Kulkarni and Matkar provided enough assistance to Dubey as he powered through. Matkar’s assault, which included a couple of Dubey-esque straight sixes, threatened to help Mumbai edge ahead in terms of momentum.
But it was Nagwaswalla who came back to put an end to it, on a day a Parsi dominated Mumbai in Mumbai, to rekindle one of Indian cricket’s oldest love affairs.