India played its first Test match only in 1932, but prior to that there were quite a few Parsi cricketers who might have fancied a spot in the national team and were unlucky not to play Test cricket. In this post, we will look at the life and career of Dr. Hormasji Dorabji Kanga.
Dr. H.D Kanga was born on April 9, 1880 in erstwhile Bombay (now Mumbai). His first-class career spanned between 1899 and 1922. He was widely known as a dependable batsman with a textbook technique and also as an effective medium pace bowler. Besides his unquestionable cricket skills, Kanga was also a qualified medical practitioner, having completed his studies in England. While in England, he often used to play cricket for the Hampstead club. His early days in the game coincided with the period in which Indian domestic matches were yearning for first-class status. Thus he was one of the earliest cricketing stars who played first-class cricket in India.
A majority of Kanga’s 43 first-class matches were played for the Parsis in the Bombay Presidency (later Triangular and Quadrangular) tournaments. His biggest achievement was that of becoming the first ever Indian to score a double-century in a first-class match. This feat came in the 1905-06 Bombay Presidency match played between the Parsis and the Europeans at the Deccan Gymkhana ground in Poona. Opening the batting, Kanga scored a brilliant 233 – which remains his career-best score – as the Parsis piled up 503 after batting first. The Europeans buckled under the huge mountain of runs and were bowled out for 137 and 140 to lose by an innings and 226 runs. In his 43 matches, he scored 1905 runs at an average of 26.83 with three hundreds and five fifties.
As mentioned above, Kanga was also a handy bowler. In his career, he picked up 37 wickets at an average of 20.56. Eight of those wickets came in a single innings in the 1913-14 Bombay Presidency match, again played in Poona. After the Parsis scored 249 (Kanga top-scoring with 71), the Europeans were bowled out for a mere 36 runs in their first innings. Kanga was nearly unplayable on that occasion, and he recorded astonishing figures of 8/14. The Europeans crashed to defeat by an innings and 29 runs. Earlier in the 1912 Quadrangular final in Bombay, he scored a classy 150 against the Muslims – who were playing in the tournament for the first time – as the Parsis won the title with an easy victory by an innings and 177 runs. Dr H.D Kanga was one of the great Parsi cricketers of the early 20th century. He was the first Indian to score a first-class double hundred (source – mumbaicricket.com)
In 1911, Kanga was part of the historic All-India team that toured England. During that tour, he turned out to be one of the most consistent batsmen, with a tally of 617 runs in 12 first-class matches at an average of 28.04. His best score was a match-winning 163 against Leicestershire. In that game, he opened the batting with fellow Parsi Rustomji Meherhomji and the duo shared a 178-run partnership. This innings helped the Indians to cruise to a seven-wicket victory. This was the period when Kanga was at his peak, but even nearly a decade later, he displayed the same tenacity in the final of the 1920-21 Quadrangular final against the Hindus at the Bombay Gymkhana ground. Kanga at that time was 40 years old, but helped to draw the match for his team with a gritty effort.
The Hindus scored 428 in their first innings, to which the Parsis replied with only 214. Kanga had badly sprained his ankle and was not expected to bat in the second innings. Following on, the Parsis were in dire straits at 138/9 and staring at certain defeat. However, at the fall of the ninth wicket, out came Kanga, limping and with a runner accompanying him, to join J.N Elavia at the crease. The supporters of the Hindus were ready with garlands to congratulate their team, as the result seemed an inevitability. But Elavia and Kanga battled for the next three hours and the Hindus ultimately failed to dislodge this last pair. The two put on 52 runs together and saved the match for their team. While Elavia scored an unbeaten 51, Kanga made a heroic 24 not out. This match came to be known as the Kanga-Elavia match.
Watching the above-mentioned innings was the great Indian batsman Vijay Merchant, who was then a schoolboy. In later years, Merchant recalled Kanga’s bravery – “The entire last over was played by Dr. Kanga in a manner which suggested that he was a man of iron will and nerves of steel. In spite of his handicap, he battled it out against some of the best bowlers in the country.” After the match got over, Kanga was chaired by some Parsi supporters on their shoulders to the pavillion amidst scenes of great jubilation.
Dr. Kanga had two elder cricketer brothers – Dinshaw and M.D (who were twins). Incidentally, Dinshaw Kanga was the first Indian to score a first-class century on home soil – he scored 116 for the Parsis against the visiting Oxford University Authentics in Bombay in 1902-03. After his retirement, Dr. Kanga served as the President of the Bombay Cricket Association from 1930-31 to 1934-35 and then as the Vice President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) from 1936 to 1945. He was also the Chairman of the All India Selection Committee from 1932-33 to 1939-40. He passed away on December 9, 1945.
In 1948, the Dr H.D Kanga Memorial Cricket League was inaugurated in his honour. Popularly known as the Kanga League, this competition is the inter-club monsoon tournament which has been played every year since then at various grounds across Mumbai. Also named after him is the Dr H. D Kanga Memorial Library, which is a sports library housed at the Mumbai Cricket Association headquarters. He will be forever remembered for his contribution to the game of cricket in India.