The first Indian team to tour England: The Parsi team in 1886.

WHILE we celebrate Pakistan’s sensational victory in the Asia Cup against Bangladesh at Dhaka we must also not ignore the fact that the game that we are passionately in love with owes much to the pioneering work initially taken up by the Parsi community who 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.

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 ago 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.

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.

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 first two teams from India, therefore, to leave the shores in 1886 and in 1888 to tour England consisted of only Parsi players.

The one in 1886 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.

Their tour was a huge failure for the fact that they were not trained and experienced to play against the English bowlers and batsmen. In 28 matches on the tour, they lost 19, drew eight and won only once against the Normanhurst team.

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. I suppose 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 bowled the first ball in Test cricket in 1877 against Australia also played.

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.

Keen as I was to trace these Karachi men who pioneered Karachi cricket I managed to discover through Iqbal Umar, a former president of Karachi Gymkhana, the 79-year-old grandson of Khanbahadur Pestonji Dastur only a few months ago. Darius Dastur, the grandson, was delighted when I 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. When I told him that I have it in my collection, he was over the moon; even more happy when I presented him the group photo of the 1886 Parsis in England.

Balla’s and Khambatta’s families sadly still remain untraced.

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.

As cricket established its roots, India produced great Parsi cricketers like Polly Umrigar, Nari Contractor and Farukh Engineer, Rusi Surti to name a few.

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.

Let us therefore pay them a huge tribute for their contribution and wish them a ‘Happy Nauroz’.

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Comments (17)

March 25, 2012 3:17 pm
we should be proud that these parsi team, played by people without and political pressure or force and no betting. we shouls now follow what was then and not what is now
Anwar Iqbal
March 25, 2012 10:02 pm
Thank you, Qamar Saheb, for writing a much-needed article. We do need to keep reminding our nation that history did not start in 1947 and that other religious communities also have made a great contribution to the progress and development of the place now known as Pakistan.
sana rizvi
March 25, 2012 11:23 pm
Paris who faced religious persecution and fled from Iran , have made lots valuable contribution to India and Pakistan both. As their population have been dwelling , this article serves a good reminder to all of us how diversity plays an important role in our society, we might read some article in future about Shias , Ahmadis and Hindus in same way.
March 26, 2012 7:57 am
Wonderful and very informative piece of history of cricket in the subcontinent. Enjoyed reading it.
March 26, 2012 11:09 am
wow some good history of cricket there.
March 26, 2012 2:25 pm
Great Stuff:!
March 26, 2012 5:24 pm
Thanks for the research, Qamer, indeed Parsi communities have made some major contribution, including building some famous cricket grounds which still being used by our sportsmen.
March 26, 2012 6:02 pm
Though I don’t have much interest in cricket history here but I couldn’t resist the picture...kit of team specially caps are really awesome :)
Naeem Husain
March 26, 2012 6:55 pm
Great article! Article like this will bring hearts together and respect for each other regardless their faith. This should open our mind. I wish to see a Parsi cricketer playing for Pakistan. May be one day. Very well written Mr Qamar, keep up the good work and write more about other old cricketers with different ethnic background and faith that might bring understanding and harmony in the Pakistan through sports.
Aspy M. Khan
March 26, 2012 8:37 pm
Great stuff Mr.Qamar Ahmed,and the photo priceless. Could you please put the names of all in the picture to make this a truly remarkable memorablia.Thanks.
Usman Chaudhry
March 27, 2012 10:37 am
I sometimes feel ashamed what will happen to such minorities who brought some name/fame to the game and have no future in Pakistan.
qamar ahmed
March 27, 2012 11:36 am
Sitting second from left is Pestonji Dastur with bat in hand,sitting extreme right is Burorji Balla and in back row with long beard in the middle is D Khambatta,all from Karachi. If you look Dawn e-paper of sunday march 25 the picture has caption and all names are there. Thanks Qamar Ahmed
Khalid Ikram
March 29, 2012 5:33 pm
Dear Mr Qamar Ahmed, Many thanks for a fine article. I am old enough to remember that in the early days of Pakistan's cricket -- before we got Test status -- two Parsis, Rusi Dinshaw and B.G. Irani -- played for Pakistan. We were not always so narrow-minded.
March 29, 2012 6:44 pm
Come to India man
Shahvir Minoo Dinsha
March 30, 2012 10:53 am
Thank You Mr. Qamar Saheb, I am delighted and proud that my community and our family has earned great victory in the game of cricket.
Neville Kasad
May 2, 2012 4:10 am
Thought I'm a Parsi from India, it was really touching to know people of Pakistan have so much regards and respect for our community there. It's people like us who can bring the two contries closer together and not the politicians. Thank-you for this lovely article.
Well Wisher
May 7, 2012 9:14 am
Parsi community today is not even a minority yet they do not appeal or ask for minority status or benefits where ever they are residing and they are loyal to that country & its citizens. Literacy in the community is more than 98% and they contribute to any nation by giving best doctors, engineers, scientist and above all law abiding citizens. The world should take this community's example to stay in harmony by keeping their religion & culture intact yet respecting & enjoying cultures and rituals of all religions they interact by live and let live principles. Parsi or Zoarastrian religion is propounded on basic principles Good Thoughts, Good Words & Good Deeds if one follows this basic principles world would be a paradise. I sincerely wish if this comes true!
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