Parsis have been the pioneers of cricket in India, paving the path from 1886, showing future generations the way forward to progress in the sporting world of cricket, through their innovative vision and passion for the game. It is a huge honor for India and a matter of absolute pride for our Zoroastrian community, that after 135 years, the first ever dynamic Parsi cricket team of 1886, now features at the MCC launched ‘Lord’s Father Time Wall Top 100 Greatest Milestones’. Parsi Times Sports Reporter, Binaisha M. Surti brings to you exclusive insights into this fabulous achievement and the success story about the Parsi connect with cricket, along with exclusive quotes from legends of our country and community!
Reminiscing our rich history, Parsis were the earliest community in India to take up cricket, playing this game since 1840. The first Parsi Club – ‘The Oriental Cricket Club’ – was founded in 1848. Later, in February 1885, a group of eminent Parsis met at Bombay’s Ripon Club to discuss the setting up of a Gymkhana which could meet the needs of Parsi youth for physical recreation and outdoor sports. This eventually led to the establishment of the ‘Parsee Gymkhana’ in 1885, with Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy being its first President. The Gymkhana came to be regarded as the world headquarters of Parsi Cricket.
The year 1886 is extremely noteworthy in history, as the first ever cricket team from India to tour England consisted of an all-Parsi unit, led by captain Dr. Dhunjeeshaw Patel, along with team-India members Bomanji Baria, Jamsetji Morenas, Ardeshir Limboowala, Muncherji Framji, Mancherjee Banaji, Shapurjee Bhedwar, Ardeshir Major, Pirojshaw Major, Jamasji Pochkhanavala, Sorabji Bejonji, Sorabji Harvar, Dinshaw Khambatta, Pestonji Dastur and Burjorji Balla. This team played 28 matches, losing 19, with 8 draws and winning 1 played with Normanhurst, in a one-day limited overs fixture. The second match of the tour was against MCC, for which WG Grace played at the request of the tourists, in 1886.
Back then, it must be noted, the Parsi team had played no international cricket at all. England had already played 7 series against Australia by the time the Parsis arrived in 1886. Winning and losing was part and parcel of the game, but true glory came from the Parsi dedication, determination and desire to achieve success. From here on, the Parsis never looked back and continued their foothold in cricket. It’s because of the head-start provided by them that today’s ‘Team India’ dominates the world of cricket.
To recreate the golden moments of the anniversary of this precious piece of history, Khodadad Yazdegardi, the dynamic Vice President and Cricket Secretary of Parsee Gymkhana (PG) as well as MCA Apex Council Member, came up with the brilliant idea to honour the Parsi cricket team of 1886. He collaborated with English businessman and cricket enthusiast Matt Greenwell to birth ‘The 1886 Trophy’, which was played between the Parsi team and the Englishmen. Sponsors promptly showed support, with the trophy being sponsored by SPENTA.
After much research, Khodadad found out that the then secretary of Surrey CC – Charles Alcock, had hosted the Parsi team of 1886. Hence, later, the English team played as ‘Charles Alcock X1’. It was decided that one year this historic event will be played at Parsi Gymkhana and the following year, it would be played in England at Kia Oval. The first edition was won by the Parsis, which was played on 12th November, 2016, while the Englishmen won the second edition. The third edition of the 1886 Trophy was played at the iconic Kia Oval in England, (Parsi Tour of UK 2019) where the PG team created history by winning the contest by a massive 68 runs, on 23rd August, 2019. Thanks to this fabulous initiative of the 1886 Trophy, the original Parsi team of 1886 came back into prominence and were voted for by the MCC members and staff, amongst the top 100 milestones at Lord’s and history was revived yet again!
Today, the Parsi team of 1886 has created ripples in the cricketing circuit, having found an eminent place in the newly launched ‘Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) Lord’s Father Time Wall, showcasing the Home of Cricket’s Greatest Milestones’. The Lord’s Father Time Wall, behind the Grand and Compton Stands, is a stunning new installation which celebrates the 100 greatest milestones to take place on the ground. These historic milestones were voted for by the MCC members and staff.
The redevelopment of the Compton and Edrich stands at the Nursery end, presented the club with a fresh, blank canvas in the form of the wall behind the Grand and Compton stands. The project to utilize this space has two main aspects – first, is the 100 Greatest Milestones at Lord’s; and second, is the chance for supporters and fans to purchase plaques to go on the wall. These milestones showcase the ground’s rich history, involving many of the world’s greatest cricketing nations and giving visitors the opportunity to experience the fabric of Lord’s and many special moments which it hosted.
This great project was led by Andy Muggleton, MCC Assistant Secretary (Commercial) and also the Heritage and Collections team and committee. It was launched in December 2020 via a unique website that allowed MCC members to vote online for their favourite milestones from a selection of 206 events, identified by the Heritage and Collections team. A separate website was created for the purchase of plaques for members and the general public.
Speaking exclusively to Parsi Times, Tarah Cunynghame, Head of Retail and Tour, Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), Lords Ground said, “It has been wonderful to be a part of such a fantastic new installation celebrating MCC’s rich history. As every new plaque is sold, a personal story is shared with other cricket-loving fans, creating an enormous homage to the Home of Cricket.”
The Lord’s Father Time Wall takes its name from the famous Father Time weathervane, which overlooks Lord’s from its position between the Mound and Tavern Stands. It was a gift to MCC from Sir Herbert Baker in 1926. Father Time has overlooked many of the ground’s greatest moments, hence the wall being named in its honour. The installation of phase one began in June 2021 and some plaques and milestones were up in time for public viewing during the first Test Match of the season. It’s due for completion by June-end. This is truly a magical moment which will go down in history, where our great Parsis who played cricket in 1886, have been acknowledged with such a huge honour.
Here are the reactions shared by some of our stalwarts and legends, exclusively with Parsi Times:
Ramachandra Guha – Cricket Historian: “Delighted that the first Parsi Team to England has been chosen to feature on Lord’s Father Time Wall. Parsis were the true pioneers of Indian cricket, not just as players, but also as organizers and patrons. Indeed, even the first histories of Indian cricket were written by Parsis and arguably the greatest cricket broadcaster in India was a Parsi too! As with other fields such as science, literature, entrepreneurship, philanthropy and public affairs, in cricket too, Parsis have made a colossal contribution to Indian life and Indian history.”
Nari Contractor – Former Indian Cricket Captain: “We Parsis have been in the forefront of everything, so also when it comes to the game of cricket! We too have followed in our ancestors’ footsteps. It’s a very proud achievement to be recognized at Lord’s!”
Farokh Engineer – Legendary Former India Cricketer: “It is a great honour for our country and specially our community as Parsis were the first team that went to Lord’s – the Home of Cricket. It’s lovely to be remembered in such a glorified way! What better honour can there be than getting featured on the Lord’s Father Time Wall, in top 100 milestones! When India plays England, I’m invited to Lord’s and I will make it a point to have a look and pay my respects to those wonderful cricketers who set the platform for cricketers like us. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for people the world over to see how great a community we are. All those great souls must be smiling down at us and giving us their blessings!”
Sunil Gavaskar – Evergreen Icon of Indian Cricket and Popular Cricket Commentator: “It’s terrific to know that the Parsi team of 1886 has made it to the list of 100 cricketing moments of the Lords Father Time Wall! Parsis have always been enterprising – be it industry, business or sport. They live life large and are a community who not only love a laugh but can also laugh at themselves. When I was growing up, I would watch great Parsi cricketers like Polly Umrigar, Nari Contractor, Farokh Engineer, Rusi Surti to name a few. Their team – Parsi Cyclists – in the Dr. HD Kanga (another great Parsi) league, was full of entertainers and fun, and to just stand outside their tent at Azad Maidan and listen to them having a good-natured go at each other, was full entertainment! Make no mistake, sledging very much existed with Parsi cricketers even before the Australians could lay claim to being the pioneers at it! It’s just that Parsis sledged each other instead of the opposition! Even the one sledged, thoroughly enjoyed it, giving back as good as he got it! A Parsi and a Sikh in the team meant great fun and there would never be a dull moment in the changing room with them around. Even amid tense situations, they would find something funny to say that would ease the pressure. Congratulations to the Parsis for the recognition and may your tribe increase. The world needs achievers with a sense of humour who can laugh at themselves too!”
Dilip Vengsarkar – Illustrious Former India Cricketer, popularly known as ‘Lord of Lord’s’: “It’s a great honour for India that Parsis have been featured at Lord’s Father Time Wall. The contribution of Parsis, on and off the field, has always been tremendous. There are a lot of good clubs including Parsee Gymkhana, whose contributions towards Mumbai and India have been huge. I remember we played a match 10 years ago at the same club in England, where Parsis too had played in 1886. We played that game as India V/s England, and I was captaining old India – that was a very big privilege and honour for us. We won that match on the last ball and Farokh Engineer was the manager of our team.”
Lord Karan Bilimoria CBE DL, Patron of ZTFE and Co-chair of the Zoroastrian All-Party Parliamentary Group: “The Parsi Tour of 1886 was a historic occasion, with them being the first Indian cricket team ever to tour England and had a huge impact at the time, coupled with a lasting legacy. The recent visit was a terrific way to commemorate these pioneers. I am privileged to be able to call Farokh Engineer a wonderful and close friend and through him, have learned so much about the contribution by the Parsi community to Indian cricket; at one stage, 4 of the 11 players of the Indian Test Team were Parsis. To think, that from a tiny community which today makes up less than 60,000, the Parsis have always punched well above their weight and their contribution in every facet of India’s culture, economy and life, is something every Parsi in the world is proud of!”
Ron Kalifa OBE – Board Member of ECB: “It is a wonderful honour and recognition that the Parsi team from 1886 has been given a permanent home at Lord’s – the iconic home of cricket. The Father Time Wall has some wonderful snapshots from the history of cricket and this team rightly deserves this recognition. As we eagerly await the forthcoming England-India Tests, it’s worth spending a moment to reflect on the Parsi Pioneers from 1886 as they were the first Indian cricket team to tour England.”
Dr. Makarand Waingankar – Renowned Journalist, Columnist, Cricket Administrator, Talent Spotter and Researcher: “The contribution of Parsis to Indian cricket is enormous. Various historical documents and correspondence between British and Parsis indicate half of the 18th century both played matches at the Esplanade ground, now known as ‘Azad Maidan’. I must say the correspondence available is very interesting. The British realized Parsis can be a good opposition who also can make the game popular. They preferred to play with Parsis because they followed cricket etiquettes. In the Indian team that toured West Indies in 1962, there were 4 Parsis. In Bombay, Parsi Cyclist club fielded a formidable side. The 1886 all-Parsi Team that toured UK were the pioneers of cricket in India and have made it to the Lord’s Father Time Wall, top 100 cricketing milestones. Indian cricket has reached great heights today, all thanks to its humble beginning in the year 1886.”
Diana Edulji – Former Captain of the Indian Women’s Cricket Team: “Lord’s, the Home of Cricket… recognizing the Parsee team of 1886 in the top 100 milestones is something which every Indian should be proud of, as it is a big achievement for the community and country. With Lord’s recognizing their efforts, I hope even India does the same. The achievement of the 1886 Parsi Team should be widely publicized, so that people are aware of the history of our cricket.”
Boman Irani – Iconic Theatre and Bollywood Actor, Producer, Singer and Photographer: “Parsis were the first team to leave Indian shores for England. They laid the foundation for future teams from India to follow, as it opened the route for many others, to the Mecca of Cricket – Lord’s. It became significant for the teams that followed, up to the current Indian team now touring England, to play the World Test Championship Final V/s New Zealand. The 1886 Parsi tour was the building block of that journey which we are experiencing today. It is a great milestone for the Parsi community, a significant moment in history for us, as well as for India.”
Fredun De Vitre – Former Cricket Commentator and Senior Lawyer: “The inclusion in the Lord’s Father Time Wall, of the first Parsi Cricket Team to England in 1886, as one of the 100 most memorable events, is a great tribute to the pioneering adventurous spirit of our community, of that era. Just imagine – this was barely a decade after Test Cricket itself started in 1877! It was a momentous occasion. That first team may not have tasted great on field success, but it showed that even virtually invincible odds could be conquered by determined efforts, and it paved the way for the future successes of Indian cricket. It is a matter of pride that these efforts have been recognized by Lords. Hopefully, it may activate India to honour these pioneering cricketers in an appropriate way.”
Freddy Sidhwa – Senior Cricketer, Dubai: “The 1886 Parsee tour of England should be remembered with pride by every cricket lover. It is this tour which instilled confidence among Indian cricketers to fight against the odds, laying the base for many future tours by India to England. The lone victory V/s Normanhurst was achieved due to zest among all the members since the team was made up of cricket enthusiasts. This enthusiasm and ability to challenge all odds guided Indian cricketers in England to conquer victory, including a World Cup win in 1983.”
Mehli Golvala – President, Parsee Gymkhana: “Making it to the Lord’s Father Time Wall at the Mecca of Cricket, as one of the important milestones in the evolution of cricket, is a recognition of the pioneering effort of Parsis in 1886. There were only 2 sporting clubs in Mumbai at that time – the Bombay Gymkhana established in 1875 and the Parsee Gymkhana established in 1885. Spare a final thought for the vision and the foresight of those wise men who sat at Ripon Club in 1885 and decided to form a set-up of the Parsee Gymkhana – pioneers like Sir Jamsetji Tata, his son Dorab, Sir Jamsetji Jejeebhoy and others.”
Matt Greenwell – Captain, Charles Alcock X1 at Surrey CC: “It all started with my interest in the unsung heroes of history. I was reading a book by the great Ramachandra Guha, when I came across the 1886 tour by the Parsis. It became a mission of mine to celebrate with a match against Parsee Gymkhana and the rest is (near) history. It is a huge honour to be a part of the rich tapestry of Parsi cricketing history; and to be included on the Lord’s Father Time Wall has been a public recognition of the wonderful achievements of the Parsi pioneers of cricket in India.”
Gulu Ezekiel – Journalist and Author: “It’s wonderful that the Parsi team of 1886 has been honoured at Lord’s. Though the tour was not a success on the field of play, it was a pioneering effort by the community who were the first to take seriously to cricket in the country. This tour paved the way for not only the second by the Parsis in 1888, but also for the first by an All-India team to England in 1911, also largely due to the effort of the Parsis and then official Test match tours from 1932. This is indeed a moment of pride for me personally and for our community, as a whole.”