When British colonialists first introduced cricket to India, the first Indians to take up the sport were Parsis. They dominated the game in Mumbai for more than a century. Lately, it seems, the pitches no longer attracts young Parsis to the game.
Now the Parsee Gymkhana, the Parsee Cyclist Club and former captain of the Indian team Nari Contractor have announced a project to revive the game in the community.
The Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP), their apex representative body, will provide grounds at its housing colonies in Byculla, Colaba and Napeansea Road to train young Parsis in the game with former Ranji player Zubin Bharucha as coach.
The first batch of trainees will be chosen at a selection camp at the Rustom Baug playground in Byculla on Saturday morning. The sponsors, who have agreed to finance the project, have created pitches and training enclosures and also provide kits and nets.
During the inauguration of the project on Sunday, Contractor said, “The long-cherished dream of providing some facility to the young generation has come true, which we were planning for past seven years.”
Boman Irani, chairman and managing director of Rustomjee Group which is financing the project, said, “Cricket is an immensely popular sport in India and the world over, and is a favourite among the Parsi community. We are happy to be associated with the cause and sponsor the game among younger generation of the community to further promote cricket.”
To say that the game was a ‘favourite’ in the community is an understatement. When the game reached Indian shores, it created a craze among Parsis. After the Oriental Cricket Club which was set up in 1848, more than two dozen other clubs sprung up in the city’s Parsi localities. When a group of Parsis traveled to Britain in 1886 to play there, they were the first Indians to do so. Players like Russy Mody, Polly Umrigar, Nari Contractor, Farokh Engineer and Rusy Surti played for the national team. In the 1961-62 Indian tour to West Indies, there were four Parsis in the team.
However, the last time there was a Parsi in the Indian team was in the seventies when Farokh Engineer kept wickets and after Bharucha in the 1990s, there has not been a player from the community in the Mumbai Ranji team. “Once upon a time, we had cricketers like Contractor and Surti. Now, there is not a single Parsi cricketer on the horizon,” BPP chairman Dinshaw Mehta said, adding that youngsters are more on Facebook than on sports grounds.
Neville Wadia, a former Kanga League player who recently got a mention in the Guinness Book of Records when he became the oldest player to score a century in T-20 cricket at the age of 64, said, “While Parsis still play at the club level, they have not been able to reach international and national levels for some time.”
The lack of interest shown in the game by young Parsis is illustrated by the fate of the Spencer Trophy given out by the 137-year-old Elphinstone Cricket Club. For almost 80 years, only Parsi teams competed for the trophy. But 15 years ago, when there were few Parsi teams left to compete, the club approached the Maharashtra Cricket Association for permission to open up the tournament to clubs from all communities.
“Earlier, young Parsis would travel from Surat and Navsari to take part in the event. But it seems that our young people do not want to play cricket anymore,” said Dadi Antia of the club.