REVIEW – India rediscover their winning ways in style

  With the Border-Gavaskar Trophy safely regained after their victory in the third Test, India rubbed further salt into the Australian wounds by completing a 6-wicket win at the Ferozshah Kotla in Delhi a few hours ago, in the process achieving a historic 4-0 whitewash for the first time ever. This Australian team might have been the weakest to visit India, but given India’s Test troubles over the last two seasons, this victory could not have come at a better time. By doing so, MS Dhoni’s men have at least partially exorcised the ghosts of the twin overseas disasters of 2011-12.

Cricket - India v Australia 4th Test Day 3   The smile is back – M.S Dhoni with the Border-Gavaskar Trophy after India completed a historic 4-0 whitewash of Australia (source – espncricinfo.com)

  What makes this win even more special is the fact that it were the youngsters who were at the forefront. The series was touted by many to be a close battle between two inexperienced ‘in-transition’ teams, but the Australians were simply no match for the hosts, and as the series panned out, their contrast with the great Australian sides of yore became more and more difficult to comprehend. With this milestone victory, India have stretched their undefeated streak in home Tests against Australia to 11 matches, winning 9 of them, the last seven consecutively.

  The Indian think-tank were highly criticised for their tendency to persist with under-performing seniors after the home loss to England in December, but the selectors got their judgement right this time around. A home Test series against a weak Australian side presented the perfect opportunity to give the young players the confidence and match experience ahead of the tough South African tour, and the results are here to be seen. 

  The biggest positive from the series for India was the emergence of a settled top-order. The team suffered quite often against England due to the openers’ inability to provide sound starts, and this had a contagious effect on the rest of the batsmen. However, the selectors finally lost patience with the long-time duo of Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag – the former ignored for the series altogether, while the latter axed after the first two Tests – and re-invested their faith in the talented Murali Vijay.

  Vijay has the Irani Cup to thank, for it were his two hundreds in the two Irani matches that made the selectors overlook his ordinary Ranji Trophy season and include him in the Test squad at the expense of Gambhir. A month later, not only has Vijay leapfrogged both Gambhir and Sehwag to become India’s first-choice opening option, but he also finished the series as the leading run-scorer, logging 430 runs at 61.42, with two classy hundreds to boot. If Vijay successfully curbed his natural style of stroke-play to become a more responsible batsman, fellow opener Shikhar Dhawan had the most sensational of Test debuts known in recent times.

Murali-Vijay-Shikhar-Dhawan     India’s new opening duo of Murali Vijay (left) and Shikhar Dhawan gave a lesson in batting in Indian conditions to the Aussies (source – zimbio.com)

  27 year-old Dhawan had been quietly accumulating runs for Delhi even as his state-mates Gambhir and Sehwag blossomed into a fine opening pair over the past four years. But with the opening slot up for grabs like never before, Dhawan seized the opportunity by the scruff of the neck and bludgeoned the Australian bowlers into submission en route to a memorable 187 off just 174 balls, scoring the fastest ton by a debutant (85 balls) and also claiming the record for the highest score by an Indian on debut, and the 6th highest overall.

  Rarely in the last two years have we seen an Indian batsman bat with so much freedom and confidence as Dhawan did on that Saturday afternoon. He was flawless on the off-side, and each of  his shots had an air of authority and substance in them. His injury, which kept him out of the fourth Test did not put the Indians into a quandary, because the highly dependable and increasingly wonderful Cheteshwar Pujara duly opened for India in his absence, and returned with twin half centuries on the treacherous Delhi wicket.

  Pujara, who was the second highest run scorer in the series forms the backbone of the middle-order along with Virat Kohli, and these two fine batsmen are the leaders of India’s new group of Test batsmen. Once the great Sachin Tendulkar calls it quits, Ajinkya Rahane should be an apt replacement. True, Rahane looked very nervous on his Test debut at Delhi, amply proved by an unbelievable shot he played in the second innings to get out, but this Mumbai lad should be defintely looked at as a long-term middle order prospect. In a few months time, with the possible first-choice batting line-up reading Vijay, Dhawan, Pujara, Kohli and Rahane, India will have reason to believe that the transition period is over; however the tour of South Africa in December will be a different ball game altogether, and the young crop will face the sternest test of their temperament there. 

  The remaining batting position remains a bit of a question mark, with Ravindra Jadeja not really in the team for his batting ability – although he did prove his detractors wrong to an extent with a crucial knock in the first innings of the Delhi Test. Whatever might be his shortcomings with the bat, he was a revelation with the ball. His left-arm spin fetched him no fewer than 24 wickets in the four Tests, and he was a major factor in India’s quick demolitions of the fragile Australian batsmen.

  Eyebrows were raised when India’s best left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha was left out in favour of Jadeja for the first Test, but the spunky all-rounder from Saurashtra grabbed his chance and did not look behind, reserving his best – a haul of 8 wickets – for the final Test. Jadeja has three first-class triple hundreds to his name in just over 45 matches, which means he can bat out the long hours. And if he manages to polish his batting skills a bit, India’s two-fold problem of the elusive No.6 (Dhoni at that position) and the search for an all-rounder (Jadeja at No.7) will be solved, also giving Dhoni an extra bowling option, both at home and overseas. 

jadeja and ashwin_0   India’s spin twins R. Ashwin (left) and Ravindra Jadeja tormented the Australians throughout, taking 29 and 24 wickets respectively (source – deccanchronicle.com)

  Jadeja’s partner-in-spin Ravichandran Ashwin is getting better and better by the day. The off-spinner, who was named Man of the Series for his bagful of wickets – 29 at 20.1 in four Tests – came into his own on the mouth-watering turners on offer. Ashwin was below-average in the home series against England, and was rightly criticised for trying too many variations. His defensive bowling approach and Dhoni’s similarly defensive field setting did not help his cause. However against Australia, Ashwin showed that he has ironed out his flaws, and with Dhoni again backing him with attacking fields, the  greenhorn Australians had no answer to his guile and accuracy. It is evident that Harbhajan Singh’s successful career is all but over, while Ashwin has established himself as India’s leading spinner – 92 wickets in 16 Tests justify that. But again, his biggest test will be to replicate his home successes overseas,, which I believe will happen sooner than later, as he is much more experienced bowler than when he toured Australia last season.

  The pace bowlers were expected to do precious little on the turning pitches, but another debutant Bhuvneshwar Kumar was one of the success stories of the series. It would not be an overstatement to say that this lanky medium fast bowler set up India’s wins at Hyderabad and Mohali – on both occasions he mopped up three top-order wickets each in the first and second innings respectively to help expose the Australian middle-order to spin.

  Kumar’s ability to swing the ball both ways and making it angle at just the right moment was highly valuable for the hosts, and gave them an added impetus in an already one-sided series. Though not one who can bowl at high speeds, Kumar can be deadly with the new ball, and hopefully will be a long-term pace prospect, an area which has been India’s Achilles heel since times immemorial. Ishant Sharma was not as effective, but played his part, particularly taking vital wickets with the old ball in the later stages of the innings.

bhuvneshwar_350_031713034145  Young rookie Bhuvneshwar Kumar regularly rattled Australia’s top-order to make things easier for the spinners (source – indiatoday.in)

  And finally we come to Dhoni, who became India’s most successful Test captain (in terms of number of wins) during the series. His very place in the Test team was a matter of debate following the home defeat to England, but his captaincy coupled with his batting – his stunning 224 at Chennai being the trendsetter for India’s dominance and also one of the highlights of the series – ensured that the critics were kept silent. Former players who were baying for his blood a few months ago, now suggested that he should be the Test captain for five more years – statements that reek of hypocrisy and the fickle-mindedness of our cricket experts – no wonder Dhoni once said that he avoids reading the sports pages. We should all know that this victory over Australia, though special, in no way suggests that things are alright following the struggles of recent times; for only consistent performances abroad will prove India’s true worth. 

  For the time being, India deserves every ounce of credit and applause for the milestone victory. Yes it came at home against a weaker team, but one must not forget that a such a Test victory against a top team like Australia takes a lot of hard work. And the way the team performed, with each and every member contributing, showed that they were determined to put back their earlier losses.

  It was indeed a fitting end to a long home season, a season which saw ten Test matches, and though India won of seven of them, their loss to England was a major disappointment. But looking at some of the performances of the new Indian brigade against Australia, India’s Test cricket future seems to be in safe hands. 

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IN FOCUS – Zimbabwe in West Indies Test series 2012-13 : Preview

  Zimbabwe’s upcoming two-Test series in the West Indies will be their first consisting of at least two Tests since 2005-06, after which they returned to the Test fold only in the 2011-12 season, playing four one-off Tests. Moreover, this will be Zimbabwe’s only second visit to the Caribbean, the first being in 1999-00.

West-Indies-vs-Zimbabwe

The Matches

  The Test series starts with the first Test at Bridgetown’s Kensington Oval (Barbados) from March 12-16, while the second Test will be played at Windsor Park in Roseau (Dominica) from March 20-24. Zimbabwe have played at neither of these venues. Since 2000, West Indies have won only twice in 13 games at Bridgetown (losing 7), while they have drawn and lost the two games played so far at Roseau.

Head To Head and Recent Record

  West Indies and Zimbabwe have played only 6 Tests against each other, with the Windies winning four and two being draws. In the Caribbean, only two Tests have been played, back in 1999-00 when the hosts won the two-Test series 2-0.  Zimbabwe could actually have won twice – at Port-of-Spain in 1999-00 (the very first Test between the two teams) they failed to chase 99, getting bowled out for 63; while at Harare in 2003-04, they were defied by the West Indian last pair for almost 12 overs to ensure a draw. The last time the two teams met was the 2003-04 two-Test series in Zimbabwe, which was won 1-0 by the West Indies.

Form Book and Ranking

  Given their struggles over the last decade or so, the West Indies are enjoying a relatively much better run at present – they have won their last four Tests this season, courtesy identical 2-0 wins at home against New Zealand and away against Bangladesh. At the start of the season, they lost a three-Test series in England 0-2 despite performing impressively, with their tendency to suffer one very bad session making the difference. Ranked 7th, they are just a point behind 6th ranked Sri Lanka. Zimbabwe made a return to Test cricket last season after six years of exile, winning their very first comeback match at home against Bangladesh in 2011, after which they lost one-off home Tests to Pakistan and New Zealand (they lost to the latter by just 28 runs) and a massive innings defeat to New Zealand away. They have not played any Tests so far this season. Due to inadequate number of Tests played, they are not part of the Test Championship table at the moment.

Players To Watch Out For

bravo_bravado_300    The highly talented Darren Bravo will look to carry his good form into the series against Zimbabwe (source – ndtv.com)

  Last season during the tours of Bangladesh and India, left-handed batsman Darren Bravo reminded everybody of his cousin and legendary batsman Brian Lara, but in the home series against Australia last season and this season’s England tour, he could not really convert his starts into big scores. However, he found his touch on the recent Bangladesh tour, averaging 98 in two Tests. He is a real talent undoubtedly, and will look to make the most of this series against a weaker opposition. Zimbabwe have seen tough times since their exile in 2005, but last season’s performances have been encouraging. A major part of their rebuilding process has been Brendan Taylor their captain, wicketkeeper as well as their most reliable batsman. In eight innings since Zimbabwe’s comeback, he has made two centuries and two half-centuries, playing a part in the win against Bangladesh and almost leading his side to an upset win over New Zealand. In an inexperienced batting line-up, Taylor’s confident approach and relative experience will be invaluable for the visitors.

138776.2      Zimbabwe will expect Brendan Taylor – who is their captain, wicketkeeper and most reliable batsman – to rise up to the challenge (source – espncricinfo.com)

Prediction

  Zimbabwe will be playing in their whites after more than a year, and this lack of recent Test match experience has only added to their already existing off-field problems. The West Indies will eye the rare prospect of extended their wining run to 6 Tests – the last time they enjoyed a similarly productive run was in the 1988-89 season, when they won 7 Tests in a row. Unless Zimbabwe display some of the grit they have shown in past encounters against the West Indies, it will be safe to assume a 2-0 victory for the hosts. 

IN FOCUS – Bangladesh in Sri Lanka Test series 2012-13 : Preview

  Bangladesh will be playing an overseas Test series of at least two matches for the first time since the 2010 tour of England when they take on Sri Lanka in a two-Test series starting March 8. The Sri Lankan player contract dispute has mercifully settled at least for now, and the hosts will field their best team, under new captain Angelo Mathews, against their fellow South-Asian opponents who are still way below Test class despite more than 12 years at the top level.

images567

The Matches

  The short Test series will commence at the Galle International Stadium, where the first Test will be played from March 8-12. The second Test will be played at the R. Premadasa Stadium in Colombo from March 16-20. This will be Bangladesh’s first Test at Galle, while at the Premadasa they have played once in 2005, when they were beaten by an innings and 96 runs.

Head To Head and Recent Record

  Bangladesh have played 12 Tests against Sri Lanka, the most they have played against a single country. Sri Lanka have completely dominated Test matches against the ‘Tigers’, winning all the matches contested since their first meeting in 2001. Eight of these Tests have been played in Sri Lanka. Seven of the 12 victories have been by an innings, and the closest that Bangladesh have ever come was a 107-run defeat at Dhaka (Mirpur) in the first Test of the last series the two teams played, a two-Test series in 2008-09. This game was also the only instance of a Sri Lanka-Bangladesh Test going into the fifth day, a fact that clearly underlines how one-sided most of the contests have been. The last time a series was played in Sri Lanka was in 2007, when the hosts swept the 3-Test series, winning all matches by an innings.

Form Book and Ranking

  Sri Lanka are currently ranked 6th, but only a single point ahead of the West Indies. This season they have been below-par, winning only two Tests out of eight, both at home. In home series, although they beat Pakistan 1-0, they could only manage a 1-1 result against New Zealand. Their weaknesses were exposed during a 0-3 whitewash defeat in Australia, and they have not won an overseas series against a top team since 1999-00. Bangladesh showed a few signs of improvement in their latest series, at home against the West Indies, but eventually lost both Tests rather tamely. Prior to that, they lost home series to the West Indies and Pakistan last season; while their last Test overseas was the one-off Test against Zimbabwe at Harare in 2011, which they had lost by 130 runs. Mushfiqur Rahim’s side are ranked 9th, at the very bottom of the Test rankings table. Lack of regular Test cricket is also not helping their cause – Bangladesh have played just 11 Tests in the last three years.

Players To Watch Out For

Herath_2443681b       Going by Rangana Herath’s recent form, the Bangladeshi batsmen will be in for a tough time when they face him (source – telegraph.co.uk)

  Sri Lanka’s spin spearhead, the left-armer Rangana Herath, had a brilliant calendar year 2012 – he took 60 wickets in 10 Tests to lead the charts, and was one of the bright spots during the forgettable Australian tour, taking 12 wickets in the three matches. Since Muttiah Muralitharan’s retirement in 2010, Herath has taken over the task of spearheading the inexperienced Sri Lankan bowling attack. The pitches in Sri Lanka at the end of the season will aid spin more than ever (he took 19 wickets in 2 Tests against England during the same time last season), and he will be a tough customer for the tourists to handle. 

  Meanwhile Bangladesh will have to do without their star player Shakib al Hasan, who is injured. In his absence, southpaw opener Tamim Iqbal will be expected to give assured starts at the top to his team. Though he can do well to have a better conversion rate, he can be dangerous if the opposition lets him off the hook. If he recreates the same kind of form that he was in in Bangladesh’s last away series of at least two Tests (in England in 2010, where he averaged 67), then Bangladesh can provide a semblance of a challenge.

tamimiqbal_19189b     The onus will be on opener Tamim Iqbal if Bangladesh are to put enough runs on the board in Sri Lanka (source – thetimes.co.uk)

Prediction

  Bangladesh, especially without Shakib al Hasan, will find the going tough against a team which relishes playing at home. I expect Bangladesh’s run of defeats to Sri Lanka to extend further – in other words, a 2-0 win for the hosts.

IN FOCUS – England in New Zealand Test series 2012-13 : Preview

  England are set to tour New Zealand after 5 years for a 3-Test series. This will be New Zealand’s first series of more than two Tests since they hosted South Africa last season. After that, each of New Zealand’s four overseas Test series have lamentably been two-Test affairs. This will be England’s 18th tour to New Zealand.

Watch-Live-New-Zealand-vs-England-1st-T20-Logo

The Matches

  The first Test will be played from March 6-10 at Dunedin’s University Oval, which hosted its first Test in 2007-08. Its capacity of just 6000 people is among the lowest for Test grounds. The next two Tests will be contested at the more traditional venues – Wellington’s Basin Reserve will host the second Test from March 14-18 while the Eden Park at Auckland will be the arena for the third Test from March 22-26. England have played 10 times at Wellington, winning 5 and losing once – the loss being New Zealand’s first ever win over England in 1977-78. In Auckland, England have won 4 and lost 1 out of 15 Tests. The only venue among these for the 2007-08 series was Wellington, when England won by 126 runs.

Head To Head and Recent Record

  The two teams have quite a rich history in Test cricket – they have played each other 94 times since 1929-30, with England boasting a staggering 45 wins to New Zealand’s 8 (41 draws). England call the shots in Tests played in New Zealand as well, winning 18 and losing just 4 out of 44 Tests. The last time these two teams met was in England in 2008, where England took the 3-Test rubber 2-0. The last instance of a series in New Zealand was in 2007-08, when the hosts squandered a 1-0 lead to lose the 3-Test series 2-1. The last time the Black Caps won a series against England was in England in 1999, when they scored a 2-1 win (4 Tests) and the only time they have won a series at home was a 1-0 win (3 Tests) in 1983-84.

Form Book and Ranking

  England suffered a jolt when they were recently upset by New Zealand XI in the warm-up match at Queenstown, but that will be an aberration in all likelihood, as Alastair Cook’s side are the world’s second-best team at the moment. It has been a mixed season for England, with a historic 2-1 win in India off-setting their champion tag-surrendering 0-2 home defeat to South Africa. At the start of the season they had expectedly beat the West Indies 2-0 at home. New Zealand (led by new skipper Brendon McCullum), languishing at 8th place, are in the midst of one of their poorest seasons of Test cricket – they have lost 7 out of 8 Tests – all overseas – played this season, which includes sweep losses in two-Test series in the West Indies, India and South Africa; their only win coming in the drawn series in Sri Lanka. In fact, New Zealand have been struggling to win over top opposition for a long time now – their last Test series win (excluding Zimbabwe and Bangladesh) was in 2005-06, when they beat the West Indies at home.

images (5)     James Anderson will be a constant threat to New Zealand’s batting line-up, which has been in poor form of late (source – telegraph.co.uk)

Players To Watch Out For

  New Zealand’s short tour of South Africa recently was a disaster, as they lost both Tests by heavy margins. But there was a silver lining for them through Dean Brownlie, who made 109 in the first Test and 53 in the second, both in the second innings. The 28 year-old held his own against the fiery Proteas pace battery, and if he maintains that kind of gritty form, he can prove to be a thorn in England’s flesh. He has impressed in seaming conditions before too, scoring two half-centuries in Australia last season. England’s pace spearhead James Anderson has been in fine form of late, having impressed in tough conditions in India as well as in the limited-overs leg against New Zealand. With the Black Caps’ batting line-up prone to sudden collapses, Anderson’s highly-effective swing bowling is sure to test them and keep them on their toes. Also, his record against New Zealand is good, having picked 27 wickets in 5 Tests. 

88723698-new-zealand            The talented Dean Brownlie will face one of his sterner tests when he faces England’s potent bowling attack (source – allvoices.com)

Prediction

  New Zealand are still without their premier spinner Daniel Vettori, who is injured (newbie Bruce Martin is the replacement), while their pace attack is inferior in comparison to England’s. Moreover, the tourists’ solid batting line-up gives them the upper hand. While New Zealand have scored Test match wins in Australia and Sri Lanka of late, it will be difficult to upstage this English side. My prediction is either a 1-0 or 2-0 win for England, with rain likely to be a factor. 

SPECIALS – Parsis, pioneers of cricket in India, Part 2

  In Part 1 of this Specials post we looked at how one-sided the Parsis’ first tour of England was, and understandably so. The world’s first great cricketing icon W.G Grace, who played against them while representing the MCC at Lord’s, later said in his autobiography – ‘During this season, a team of Parsi cricketers paid us a visit, but met with little success, even against second and third-rate clubs’.

  The Parsis themselves knew their limitations, and upon the team’s return from England, captain Dhunjishaw Patel said, ‘ It was not with any object of gaining victories that we made the voyage to England, but we decided to pay homage to the centre and home of a noble game, and we desired to learn some useful lessons in its play’. Indeed, it was this humility and the keenness to master the game that led to their further success. We look at the aftermath of that 1886 tour:-

The 1888 Tour Of England

  The Parsis made their second tour of England in 1888. The 15-member team played mostly against amateur teams and was more successful than the team of 1886 – they played 31 matches, winning 8 and losing 11. Like the 1886 tour, these games too were not considered as first-class. The tour was arranged by Pestonji Kanga, D.C. Pandole and J.M. Divecha – all of whom were part of the team (Kanga also captained the team). The only two players who were also part of the 1886 squad were Jal Morenas and S.H Harvar. Their first win of the 1888 tour came in the 8th match, when they beat the Gentlemen of Hastings by 9 wickets at Hastings.

  As in 1886, the Parsis again faced the MCC at Lord’s (twice), managing a draw in the first game and a 10-wicket defeat in the second. Their victory against the Gentlemen of Eastbourne was quite remarkable – the opposition was bowled out for just 56 (despite having a 134-run 1st-innings lead) as the Parsis won by 66 runs. Another exciting match was played against Scarborough – the game was drawn with the scores level when the tourists restricted the hosts to 70/7 in the 2nd innings.

Mehallasha Pavri and Success of the Parsis

parsi     The cover of the book ‘Parsi Cricket’, which was first written in 1906 by M.E Pavri, India’s first great fast bowler (source – booksoncricket.net)

  Part of the 1888 team was the right-arm fast bowler Mehallasha Edulji Pavri (1866-1946). Born in the town of Navsari in Gujarat, Pavri is regarded by many as the first great Indian cricketer. On his debut 1888 tour, he became a sensation, and was a major factor in the Parsis’ improvement from two years ago. He took as many as 170 wickets at a stunning average of 11.66. A story goes that at Eastbourne, he sent a bail flying 50 yards while in Norfolk, when he uprooted a stump, it flew nine yards and pitched itself the right way up. A righted-handed batsman and a right-arm fast bowler – one of the fastest in those times – Pavri played 26 first-class matches from 1892 to 1913. Besides the Parsis, he also turned out for the All-India XI and Middlesex in 1892 and 1893 respectively. 

  For a decade or so, the Europeans dominated their annual Bombay Presidency Match against the Parsis, but that changed in 1889. Facing the strong, all-white Bombay Gymkhana team, the Parsis scored a surprising 10-wicket win (Bombay Gymkhana 86 and 79, Parsis 136 and 31/0). In January 1890, Pavri took 7/34 in the 2nd innings against the touring G.F Vernon’s XI, a historic match that the Parsis won by 4 wickets. (G.F Vernon’s XI 97 and 61, Parsis 82 and 77/6). Matches from 1892–93 were given first-class status.

  The match that began at Bombay Gymkhana between the Europeans and the Parsis on 26 August 1892 is considered the earliest first class match in India (it was drawn). In December 1892, the Parsis scored a famous 109-run win over the touring Lord Hawke’s XI (Parsis 93 and 182, Lord Hawke’s XI 73 and 93) – Pavri took 6/36 in the 2nd innings. By 1900, the Presidency Match was the highlight of the Bombay cricket season, and until this point, the Europeans and the Parsis had won 8 games each out of a total of 19 matches. Pavri’s importance can be seen by the fact that his rise coincided with that of the Parsi team’s ascent. He also dominated the early years of the Bombay Quadrangular tournament. 

Beyond the Parsis

  In 1906, the Hindus challenged the Parsis to a match, but the communal differences between the clubs led the Parsis to decline. The Bombay Gymkhana stepped in and accepted the challenge, leading to the first Europeans versus Hindus match, played that February. The Hindu side ended up recording a stunning 110-run victory over the Europeans. The Hindus boasted of Palwankar Baloo, who is regarded as India’s first great spin bowler, and perhaps the first person from the so-called ‘lower’ Dalit caste to make it big in Indian cricket. 

  The next year, 1907, saw the first Triangular tournament featuring teams from the Bombay and Hindu Gymkhanas as well as the Parsis. From 1907 to 1911 the tournament was played in September, with the Parsis winning three times and the Europeans twice. In 1912, the Muslims joined the tournament, and it thus became a four-team affair, and known as the ‘Bombay Quadrangular’, and was the first diversified Indian first-class tournament. 

  As the years went by, the Parsis’ stranglehold on the tournament weakened. By the 1920’s, the Gymkhanas (Bombay, Parsi, Hindu and Mohammedan) were recruiting players from all over the Indian sub-continent, making the Bombay Quadrangular the biggest and most influential cricket tournament in India. It also inspired other local competitions, including a Triangular in Lahore and Quadrangulars in Nagpur and Karachi, that led to the rapid development of cricket throughout the region. Later in 1937, a fifth team, the Rest (comprising of Indian Christians, Jews and Buddhists) was added to make the tournament a Pentangular, and matches began to be played at the Brabourne Stadium.

  The last time the Parsis managed to win the tournament was in the 1928-29 season. From 1938, the Pentangular attracted growing criticism as being divisive because of the communalism evident in the makeup of the teams. Eventually, amid a backdrop of rioting and political unrest across India, the newly formed Board of Control for Cricket in India announced in 1946 that the Pentangular tournament was being abandoned.

images212     Polly Umrigar, who played 59 Tests from 1948 to 1962, was one of India’s finest all-round cricketers (source – hindu.com)

List of Parsi cricketers who played Tests for India:- Soli Colah, Piloo Palia, Rustomji Jamshedji, Karshed Meherhomji, Jamshed Irani, Rusi Modi, Keki Tarapore, Nari Contractor, Polly Umrigar, Rusi Surti, Farokh Engineer and the sisters Diana and Behroze Edulji.

  India’s first Test team in 1932 included two Parsis (Colah and Palia) and the high points were the first two Tests in the West Indies in 1961-62,when four players were part of the team (Contractor, Umrigar, Surti and Engineer).

  Hence, while it was the British who introduced the game to India during their rule, it were the enthusiastic Parsi gentlemen who made the masses aware of this noble sport. Today, India is known to be the hub of international cricket, and the game is considered to be almost a religion. The Parsis might not be visible on the cricket scene nowadays, but all Indians owe a bit of gratitude to the community, specifically the ones who set up the Oriental Cricket Club, for initiating the popularity of the sport which today is unparalleled in the country when it comes to fan-following and mass appeal.

SPECIALS – Parsis, pioneers of cricket in India, Part 1

  A few days ago, the former Indian wicketkeeper Farokh Engineer celebrated his 75th birthday. Engineer incidentally was the last Parsi cricketer to play for India, his 14-year old international career having ended in 1975. Since then, almost four decades have gone without a single Parsi playing international cricket for India, and looking at the Ranji circuit, it is unlikely that the drought will be broken soon.

  The complete dearth of Parsi cricketers from India for quite some time now has been disappointing, given that it was this minority community that first sowed the seeds of cricket in India. In the first of this two-part Specials edition, we look at the spread of the game in India and the first tour of England by the Parsis:-

The Parsi Community

  The Parsis are descendants of the Zoroastrians of Iran, many of whom migrated to India, more specifically the Gujarat coast, in roughly the 10th century A.D to avoid persecution by Muslim invaders who were determined to conquer Persia. Once settled in India, this spirited community quickly became part of the Indian culture, not only giving themselves a distinct identity, but also greatly contributing to various spheres of society. Today, Zoroastrianism is one of the many minority religions practiced in the vast, multi-religious country of India. One of the single largest contributions by Parsis to Indian society is influencing the spread of cricket in India during the British rule in the early 19th century.

The Oriental Cricket Club

  On 3rd March 1845, the ‘Sporting Intelligence’ magazine carried a reasonably lengthy match report between ‘Sepoy’ cricketers and the European ones. The article clearly proved that Indian cricket was underway in a city called Sylhet, in modern day Bangladesh. However the most accepted fact by historians is that the start of organised cricket in India was marked by the formation of the Parsi Oriental Cricket Club in Bombay in 1848. Thus, the Parsis of Bombay became the very first Indians to develop a liking towards the national sport of England.

  Being a highly-educated and progressive group of people, these Parsi gentlemen appropriately took to the ‘gentlemen’s game’, and their relative proximity to well-placed British officials would have been another factor in initiating the Oriental Club – indeed, many middle class Parsis supported cricket as a means to further strengthen their ties with the British gentry in India. Also, many established Parsi businessmen were in trade relations with the British, making it easier for them to master the complications of the game.

The Game Spreads Further

  The game grew in popularity among the Parsis, and within two decades, around 30 clubs were formed in Bombay, mostly named after British viceroys or Roman Gods. The British, only too keen to see an integral part of their culture starting to take root in India, generously supported the formation of these clubs. Later on, Parsi business houses like the Tatas and the Wadias began to sponsor them as well. At that time, the Hindus shared a healthy business competition with the Parsis, and not to be left behind, they too threw their hats into the ring and thus Bombay Union, the first Hindu club was formed in 1866.

  The Bombay Gymkhana of yore was an all-white club – no Indian was allowed to enter or play against the club. Their stance however quickly changed, and the club invited a team of Parsees to play a ‘Europeans v Parsis’ fixture in 1877.  This more or less became a regular feature though it was a decade before the Parsi’s eventually managed to win. Beginning from 1886, the Hindus also began playing an annual match with the Europeans. Meanwhile, the game was steadily and surely spreading – the first Muslim Cricket Club was formed in 1883.

The First Indian Team to Tour England

parsi-team-543       The first ever Indian team to tour England in 1886 was entirely made up of Parsi gentlemen – the team played 28 matches on the tour (source – dawn.com)

  In the summer of 1886, a team entirely consisting of Parsis became the first team from India to travel to England to play in cricket matches. The earliest plan at a tour of England by a Parsi team was made by A.B. Patel in 1878. It fell through when Patel got involved in a libel suit and was unable to proceed with the plans. A few years later Patel, with the help of B.B. Baria and Dr. Dhunjishaw Patel, made another attempt to organise the tour. C.W Alcock, the Secretary of the Surrey Cricket Club served as the agent for the team in England. Robert Henderson, a Surrey professional was named as the coach.

  Dr. Patel himself captained the amateur team, which could not make an impression on this first tour. The Parsis played 28 matches on the nearly 3-month long tour, winning only 1 and losing 19. The team’s first ever match on English soil was played against Lord Sheffield’s XI at Uckfield’s Sheffield Park. The two-day match was drawn, with the visitors being all out for just 46 (53/4 in the 2nd innings, following on) in reply to the host’s 142. A few days later, the Parsis played for the first time at the hallowed Lord’s, facing the Marylebone Cricket Club.

  The MCC team for this match had among others the mighty William Gilbert ‘WG’ Grace – who was included in the team at the request of the tourists. Grace opened the innings and scored 65 out of a total 313, following which the Parsis were skittled out for 23 and 66 – Grace, with his right-arm medium pace exposed the frailties of the inexperienced visitors by scalping 7/18 and 4/26 in the two innings respectively. For the Parsis, the only silver lining was Ardeshir Major, who bowled wholeheartedly to take 5/91, including Grace’s wicket. As the tour went on, the Parsis took on a host of top counties as well as various amateur elevens, and found the going tough, with many matches resulting in innings defeats.

  They had to wait for two months and their 24th game to finally register a victory – their sole win on the tour. That win came at Catsfield on July 22, when the Parsis (126 and 29/6) beat hosts Normanhurst (81) by 45 runs on the first innings. The batsmen severely let the Parsis down throughout the tour – they crossed 200 only once, but the bowlers fared much better. Muncherjee Framjee took 79 wickets at 26.71, while a certain Shapurjee Bhedwar also shone on the tour, taking 59 wickets at 19.57, his high point being a hat-trick against Chiswick Park, where he took 7 wickets in the first innings in a losing cause. The last match of the tour at Cumberland Lodge against Prince Christian Victor’s XII was arranged on the express desire of Queen Victoria. Prince Victor and his brother Prince Albert took part in the game. At the end of the match a garden party was held in honour of the guests. The team left England on August 24.

The historic 1886 team:- Dr D.H. Patel (captain), B.B. Baria, J.M. Morenas, A.R. Limboowala, M. Framji, M.P. Banaji, S.N. Bhedwar, A.C. Major, P.C. Major, J. Pochkhanavala, S. Bejonji, S.H. Harvar, D.D. Khambatta, P.D. Dastur, B.P. Balla

    In the second part of this edition, we will look at the Parsis’ subsequent tour of England, the further popularity of the game and the formation of the religion-based Bombay Quadrangular tournament. 

RECORD BOOK – From Zimbabwe to Canada, to Zimbabwe again

  On December 8, 2001, Sri Lanka ensured that Zimbabwe became the new holders of the most dubious ODI team record – that of the lowest total ever.

  In the opening match of a tri-nation series (also involving the West Indies) at the Sinhalese Sports Club in Colombo, left-arm seamer Chaminda Vaas returned a scarcely believable analysis of 8-3-19-8, as Zimbabwe were shot out for a paltry 38 in just 15.4 overs. Vaas’s figures are the best ever in ODI cricket, and the only 8-wicket haul till date. He actually had a chance of taking all 10 wickets, as he had 2 overs left when fellow ace bowler Muttiah Muralitharan scooped up the last two wickets within his first four balls.

COSTA RICAN  FONSECA CHARGES THE BALL PAST AMERICAN OPPONENTS  IN SAN JOSE          Chaminda Vaas’s record figures of 8/19 condemned Zimbabwe to 38 all out at Colombo in 2001-02 (source – the-south-asian.com)

  Zimbabwe’s total was the lowest in ODI cricket and their innings was also the shortest completed (the latter record is now held by Namibia, who were all out for 45 in 14 overs against Australia at Potchefstroom in 2002-03), both beating Pakistan’s 43 against the West Indies at Cape Town in 1992-93. To add insult to injury, Sri Lanka took only 4.2 overs to ease past the target and win by 9 wickets. However in the 2003 World Cup, Zimbabwe, a Test nation, were relieved of the ignominy of being the holder of the lowest total record as it was passed on to Associate nation Canada.

  The opponents were Sri Lanka again, the match being a Group B league match at Paarl on 19th February 2003. In what was undoubtedly the most one-sided of World Cup matches, Sri Lanka whittled out Canada for 36 in 18.4 overs. At one point the score read 12/6, and not a single batsman reached double figures, the highest score being 9. Almost similarly to the match against Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka won by 9 wickets, scoring the required runs in 4.4 overs. Interestingly, the only wicket Canada managed (that of Sanath Jayasuriya) was taken by the Sri Lanka-born right-arm pace bowler Sanjayan Thuraisingam.

19sl1     Canada’s John Davison is caught behind off Prabath Nissanka as his team gets all out for a record low 36 at Paarl in the 2003 World Cup (source – rediff.com)

  In that 2003 World Cup, Zimbabwe had exceeded expectations and stood 6th out of 14 teams, although admittedly they were aided by England’s refusal to play them, with Zimbabwe ultimately scooping 2 points by way of forfeiture. The reason for this controversy was Zimbabwe’s political instability which had spread to its cricket system. Andy Flower and Henry Olonga began the uprising by protesting against the ‘death of democracy in Zimbabwe’, and just over a year later, Zimbabwe were reduced to a club-level team, devoid of the cream of their players, who after being fed up of the bias and politics, decided to quit international cricket for good.

  Zimbabwe’s first assignment as the new-look, utterly amateurish team was a 5-match home ODI series against Sri Lanka in April 2004, under the captaincy of the spunky wicketkeeper Tatenda Taibu, who at just 20 years and 342 days, became the youngest ever ODI skipper (Later that year, Bangladesh’s Rajin Saleh broke that record, when he led against South Africa at Edgbaston, aged 20 years and 297 days).

  In the first game of that ODI series, Zimbabwe actually impressed as Sri Lanka won by only 12 runs on the D/L method (Taibu led from the front with 96). But as the series wore on, Zimbabwe were thoroughly outplayed by their accomplished opponents, expectantly losing the series 5-o. Their lowest point came in the 3rd game, played at the Harare Sports Club. The record which Canada usurped a year ago was back with Zimbabwe, and yet again Sri Lanka were the ones who did the damage. No player scored more than 7 as Zimbabwe tumbled for 35 in 18.4 overs, worsening Canada’s feat by one run.

  It was not looking this bad at 18/1 in the 8th over, but the next 7 balls saw 4 wickets fall, and the hosts simply were struck by disaster thereafter. Vaas was at the forefront here too, taking 4/11 (reaching 300 ODI wickets on the way) while fellow fast-medium bowler Farveez Maharoof returned a neat 3/3. Remarkably, this too was a 9-wicket win for Sri Lanka, as they reached 40/1 in 9.2 overs with opener Saman Jayantha dispatching Tinashe Panyangara into the stands to complete Zimbabwe’s embarrassment. 

sp8    Vaas appeals for yet another wicket as Zimbabwe reclaimed the record, blown away for 35 against Sri Lanka at Harare in 2003-04 (source – tribuneindia.com)

  Thus, in just a span of less than two and a half years, Zimbabwe lost and regained the most unwanted ODI team record. While it might be a bit difficult for any team (Sri Lanka again maybe?) to bowl out their opponents for less than 35, the Sri Lankans themselves came perilously close to break the record, when in pursuit of 301, they were reduced to a shocking 13/6 and then 24/7 by South Africa under lights at Paarl in 2011-12, before eventually settling for a total of 43, joint fourth-lowest along-with Pakistan’s 1992-93 showing. This is however, the lowest total while batting second.

  Incidentally, while Zimbabwe regained the record within a short time, Canada took 24 years to regain it when they were shot out for 36 in the game mentioned above – their earlier record of 45 (in 40.1 overs!) against England at Old Trafford in the 1979 World Cup remained for as long as almost 14 years until Pakistan snatched it in 1992-93.