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1886

The first team from India to visit England

Fifteen Parsees toured England in 1886, and though the results weren't great, they were well received

Martin Williamson

November 3, 2012

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The Parsees team who toured England in 1886
The Parsees team that toured England in 1886 © ESPNcricinfo Ltd
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India are currently preparing to take on England, 79 years since the first Test series between the two on the subcontinent. That 1933-34 visit by Douglas Jardine's side followed on from India's first foray into Test cricket, which had taken place in England the previous year. But the first trip by a side from India to England had taken place much earlier, in 1886, when a team made up entirely of players from one small community - the Parsees - had toured.

The Parsees are an ethnic group that in India in the 1880s numbered around 80,000, almost entirely located in or around Bombay. They enthusiastically embraced all things English and were the first of the indigenous population to take up cricket. In 1848 the Parsees founded the first cricket club - Oriental CC - and two years later the Young Zoroastrian Club, which still exists, was formed.

The first plans for a Parsees side to tour abroad were floated in 1877 by AB Patel but were scuppered when Patel became involved in a legal case in Bombay. Undeterred, he persevered and in 1886 the scheme came to fruition. A far from representative group of players was picked for the trip; the team was formed exclusively from those who could afford to fund their own passage. Patel managed to get the influential Charles Alcock to act as the team's agent in England, thus ensuring some strong fixtures. Alcock was secretary of Surrey and the man credited with organising the first Test in England, six years earlier.

To help prepare the Parsees, a Surrey professional, Robert Henderson, was recruited to coach them, but he was only given three weeks before they departed for England. It was soon apparent there was too little time available to bring them up to speed.

A squad of 15 Parsees - 12 from Bombay, three from Karrache (as it was spelt then) - left on April 17. At a dinner on the eve of their departure from Bombay, Sir Pherozeshah Mehta, a noted political leader, said: "As artists go to Italy to do homage to the great masters, as pilgrims go to Jerusalem to worship at a shrine, so now the Parsees are going to England to do homage to the English cricketers, to learn something of that noble and manly pastime in the very country which is its chosen home."

The Parsees arrived in England in mid May, and their opening match was at Sheffield Park, followed by a prestigious game against the MCC at Lord's.

The tour started with a first-day washout against Lord Sheffield's XI, but that proved fortuitous as, in unfamiliar and damp conditions, the Parsees batsmen were bowled out for 46 and, following on, closed at 54 for 4. It could have been worse but Alfred Shaw declined to bowl "out of politeness". This set the tone for the rest of the trip, although the Times did note the visitors' "fielding was excellent and bowling fair".

Parsees who have played for India

Farokh Engineer plays a cut shot, England v India, 3rd Test, The Oval, 3rd day, August 21, 1971
Farokh Engineer, the last Parsee to play for India, back in 1975
© Getty Images
  • Soli Colah
  • Piloo Palia
  • Rustomji Jamshedji
  • Karshed Meherhomji
  • Jahangir Khan
  • Rusi Modi
  • Keki Tarapore
  • Nari Contractor
  • Polly Umrigar
  • Rusi Surti
  • Farokh Engineer
  • There were two Parsees in India's first Test in 1932 (Colah and Palia) and the peak came in the first two Tests in the Caribbean in 1961-62, when there were four (Contractor, Umrigar, Surti and Engineer).

At Lord's, WG Grace led a strong MCC side of amateurs and showed little compassion, scoring 65 and taking 7 for 18 and 4 for 26 as the Parsees were bowled out for 23 and 66, losing by an innings and 224 runs. There was some solace for them as the MCC hosted a dinner in their honour at the end of the first day's play.

The tour continued in the same one-sided way. At Portsmouth, United Services amassed 577 and then forced the Parsees to follow on more than 350 in arrears, Another defeat seemed inevitable when MP Banaji was given out leg-before, much to the anger of the small crowd, who disrupted the game. It began to rain soon after and the visitors escaped with a draw.

There were high points as well. Their final game was against Prince Christian Victor's XI at Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Great Park. The match was arranged at the request of Queen Victoria and on arrival the tourists were greeted by HRH Prince Christian, the Queen's grandson. The Prince made 24 and his brother, Prince Albert, an unbeaten 11 in a score of 90, and then the Parsees were dismissed for 33. A garden party hosted by the Prince concluded the day.

The consensus was that while they had been outplayed throughout, the side had proved extremely popular, and that the captain, Dr Dhunjishaw Patel, had led them well. Some players returned home with reputations enhanced. Muncherjee Framjee, who bowled overarm, took 79 wickets at 26.71, and Shapurjee Bhedwar 59 at 19.57. The best bowling came against MCC, when Ardeshir Major took 9 for 119, and that game also provided a rare batting highlight when Jal Morenas, the only tourist to pass 500 runs, hit Grace for three fours. Only four fifties were scored all trip.

The team departed for home on August 24 with a record of one win and 19 defeats in their 28 matches. Dr Patel sent an open letter to the London newspapers thanking people for "the many kindnesses and friendly encouragement" the players had received. "We have never aspired to pass as good cricketers here. All our defeats were expected. We have had many difficulties, mainly owning to our ignorance and inexperience of the country… [but] we are leaving with strong feelings of affection for the country and its people.

"The visit of the team of native Indian cricketers to England is an event of no small significance, not only from the standpoint of cricket but also from the political point of view," said an imperialist-flavoured review in Cricket Chat. "The Parsee fraternity is the most intelligent as well as the most loyal of the races scattered over our possessions.

"For some years past the Parsees have given substantial proof of their affection for our national game and striven hard, in spite of climactic disadvantages, to acquit themselves with great credit on the cricket field. It is no exaggeration to say the visit of a Parsee team will stand out conspicuously as one of the most pleasant memories of English cricketers of the present generation."

What happened next?

  • A second tour to England by a Parsees team took place in 1888, but it only included two members of the 1886 squad, Morenas and Sorabjee Harwar. Captained by Pestonji Kanga, they won eight of the 31 matches played, drawing ten and losing 11, with two abandoned.
  • In 2010, Dinshaw Mehta, head of the Bombay Parsi Panchayet (BPP), the community's legal body, blamed the internet for the lack of Parsee cricketers, saying today's youngsters spend more time on Facebook than they do on sports grounds.

Martin Williamson is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by India_ANY_track_bully on (November 4, 2012, 11:28 GMT)

A nice divide and rule policy based article... but hey its a 100 years too late (thankfully!).

Posted by AdityaMookerjee on (November 4, 2012, 9:38 GMT)

The Parsee's are very unpredictable. No one knows what they will say, and one has to know, whether they will talk, and then wonder, about the same. I do know of very famous Parsee players, but I can't, and don't want to imagine, how they played Cricket.

Posted by dinosaurus on (November 3, 2012, 20:44 GMT)

One of the most interesting stories I have read on Cricinfo!

Posted by   on (November 3, 2012, 19:26 GMT)

forget parsees being represented in the indian team anymoe, even the ever-present mumbaikar is getting displaced. tendulkar may become the last mumbaikar to represent india for a while. this from a people (the gsb's) who produced gavastar, vengsarkar, 2 manjerekars and then tendulkar.

Posted by   on (November 3, 2012, 18:50 GMT)

Enjoyed reading it, lill lesson in history of Cricket.

Posted by jay57870 on (November 3, 2012, 14:52 GMT)

The Calcutta-born Parsee, Rusi Jeejeebhoy, toured the West Indies in 1971 with the victorious Indian team as a reserve wicket-keeper. That's the series where the great Sunil Gavaskar made his epic Test debut. No Test cap for Jeejeebhoy, though he kept wicket in the non-Test matches. He was excluded from the subsequent successful tour of England. Another Parsee, the great Farokh Engineer, was the primary wicket-keeper in that series. They are part of an inflection point in Indian cricket history: members of the Ajit Wadekar-led teams to win in those two countries for the first time. Sir Garfield Sobers honoured the teams at a special function in Mumbai a couple of years ago. Both proud Parsees were there!!

Posted by   on (November 3, 2012, 12:17 GMT)

Nice post! Mr. Mehta's comment in the last line doesn't really make sense. Why should the internet (and Facebook) affect Parsee kids more than others?

Posted by rahul8148417464 on (November 3, 2012, 11:58 GMT)

its time for the juniors to payback for their seniors defeat.. #bleedblue

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Martin WilliamsonClose
Martin Williamson Executive editor Martin Williamson joined the Wisden website in its planning stages in 2001 after failing to make his millions in the internet boom when managing editor of Sportal. Before that he was in charge of Sky Sports Online and helped launch and run Sky News Online. With a preference for all things old (except his wife and children), he has recently confounded colleagues by displaying an uncharacteristic fondness for Twenty20 cricket. His enthusiasm for the game is sadly not matched by his ability, but he remains convinced that he might be a late developer and perseveres in the hope of an England call-up with his middle-order batting and non-spinning offbreaks. He is now managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group as well as his Cricinfo responsibilities.

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