IT is unthinkable to talk about the cricket history of the sub-continent and not mention the contribution of the Parsi community to the game which we on both sides of the divide so passionately follow.
The Parsees were the first to learn the game by the sailors of the East India Company and by the British soldiers playing on the beaches of Calcutta (Kolkata) and Bombay (Mumbai) and the first as a team to tour England twice in 1886 and in 1888 to play against stalwarts of the time such as W.G. Grace and Prince Christian Victor, the grandson of Queen Victoria.
Three men from Karachi — Dinshaw Khambatta, Bala and Pestonji Dastur — were amongst them. Dastur topped the batting averages of the 1886 tourists. Karachi Parsi Institute (KPI) also played its part in later years producing players like the Mobed’s, the Irani’s and Mavalwala’s and Rusi Dinshaw to name a few. One Jimmy Irani’s son Ronie Irani later played for England in Tests.
But the Parsees of India did a lot better producing such great Parsi cricketers like Polly Umrigar, Nari Contractor, Rusi Surti and Farokh Engineer who also led India in Tests.
Pakistan unfortunately did not produce a Test player amongst them but they can claim to have one of their first radio commentator of the game Jamsheed Marker who had become a household name along with Omar Kureishi when India visited Pakistan on their first tour to this country in 1954-55.
Although the commentary was relayed on the radio in English language then, the interest was such that from every strata of society people were seen glued to their radio sets to listen to Marker and Kureishi.
As a college student and cricketer I was as much absorbed in what they uttered describing the game.
Young and handsome Marker had played cricket only at school level in Dera Doon in India and later at F.C. College Lahore but knew his cricket well to become a top-notch radio commentator. Coming from a lucrative shipping business background with its offices in Keamari he kept his interest in the game afresh even when he roamed the world as Pakistan’s ambassador and high commissioner in more countries than any other diplomat in the world did before him and after. He was not a career diplomat but his close friend Aziz Ahmed the Foreign Secretary and his brother G. Ahmed were his friends and so was ‘Zulfi’, Z.A. Bhutto who was then the Foreign Minister.
Two calls from Aziz Ahmed convinced him that he should take up the offer to represent Pakistan as their representative. His first assignment being Ghana in 1964 and the last being Pakistan’s permanent representative in the Security Council of United Nation in 1994.
He was awarded with Sitara-i-Quaid-e-Azam and Hilal-e-Imtiaz for his long standing and dignified standing as a.diplomat.His memoirs in the book ‘Quiet Diplomacy’ tells the whole story.
I caught up with the legendary figure at his home in Karachi to talk about his illustrious life as a diplomat and a cricket commentator. At 92 he remains as astute, alert and articulate and handsome of course as he must have been in his younger days.
What made you a cricket commentator I asked ?.
‘One Rashiduddin Ahmed was a teacher at my school in Dera Doon and he later joined All India Radio and then as DG Radio Pakistan. He called me to say that the English commentators that he had like Jack Coles and some other gentleman are not liked by Pakistan public because they can not understand their accent, so why not join us in the box with a newcomer Omar Kureishi. I hesitated, but he was insistent’.
‘I do not have the experience, how would I describe the game? I told him.
Rashid said,’Just imagine you are sitting with a blind friend and explaining to him what is happening in the match and you will be alright as a commentator. I took the brilliant hint and started in the Lahore Test against India.’
Producer Hamid Jalal liked what I said talking about the game.
I clicked with Omar because we had the same sense of humour, Mr Marker said.
Just as Mr Marker was the first and only Parsi commentator of Pakistan, the first cricket commentator of India also happened to be a Parsi by the name of AFS Talyarkhan.
Taylarkhan would not allow any other commentator to share the microphone with him and will talk all day about the game on his own for All India Radio. When offered to share with another commentator he refused and went into exile for five years before emerging again to tour Pakistan with the Indian team in 1954-55.
I asked Mr Marker if he shared the box with him. ‘No, no, he said he will do on his own. Why, I asked he was like that Mr Marker?
‘Would you like a painter painting and joined by another in the same box. He will be disturbed. A commentator is like a painter and he should be left alone in the box and that is why I sit alone’ said Talyarkhan to Mr Marker, the reason why he wouldn’t join us in the box.
In 1979, I had the previlige of meeting Talyarkhan at the Cricket Club of India (CCI) in Mumbai when Sunil Gavaskar greeted him and introduced him to me.
As a commentator Mr Marker developed close relationship with Justice A.R Cornelius and Abdul Hafeez Kardar, Pakistan’s first captain in official Tests.
‘Cornelius was a generator of things, he started the Pakistan Eaglets trips to England and had a great cricket mind and Kardar was a great tactician as a captain. And Imran Khan was as impressive as a leader,’ he said.
Fazal Mahmood was one of the finest bowler of his time and knew things he could do with the ball.
What of Hanif Mohammad then?
‘Oh’ Hanif was a top-class batsman. A master of skills and concentration. He knew his cricket.
Amongst the greats he mentioned were Sir Garfield Sobers and Viv Richards. I also remember Waqar Hasan and Mahmood Hussain on a scooter in Karachi going for net practice.
“I was once watching a Test at Lord’s and Peter May was batting and he could not read the West Indian spinner Sony Ramadin but in front of me was sitting Sir Learie Constantine the great West Indian all-rounder of the past. Every time Ramadin bowled, Constantine would say, ‘Offers’, ‘Leggers’. He could read him from the fence where as such great batsman like May was unable to. I was fascinated Mr Marker said.
What do you think of T20 Mr Marker, I asked. With a wry smile, he said: “It is money which is the attraction for the players and the organisers. As for me, I will always prefer to play Gilli-Danda than T20, he remarked.
My first meeting lasting an hour and a half with Mr Marker was worth every moment as I walked away in awe of him and in admiration of a man who served the game and his country well.