Parsi-Zoroastrians not only played a prominent role in making Mumbai the financial and trading capital of the country, but also popularised the game of cricket, paving the way for it to become the country’s most popular sport, said Prashant Kidambi, associate professor in Colonial Urban History, University of Leicester, UK.
Kidambi was delivering a lecture titled ‘The sporting Parsi and the making of India cricket: Colonial Bombay, 1875-1905’ at the Asiatic Society of Mumbai on Tuesday.
He said the origins of Indian cricket could be traced to Mumbai, where the Parsi-Zoroastrians were the first to play the game.
Parsis set up the Orient Cricket Club in 1848. They used such cricket clubs to cement ties to colonial powers, said Kidambi. Parsis excelled in cricket long before the sport became a national phenomenon, he added.
“They were the first to explore new opportunities. Their interest in cricket goes back to 1840s when Englishmen would play in Bombay Gymkhana to pass the time,” said Kidambi.
The Parsi Cricket Club, which was formed a few years later, beat England during their 1886 tour — a historic feat.
“This event is generally known as the ‘Parsee tour’. The club that defeated English cricket teams in Mumbai went to England and defeated them there too,” said Kidambi.
“Back in Mumbai, Ardeshir Patel, president of the club, was the first to introduce matches in which the victors were awarded prizes. That’s when the sport stopped being a mere game of bat and ball,” he added.
Over the years, the number of Parsi players kept dwindling — in line with their declining population — and eventually there was just one Parsi player left in the 1970s. “Farokh Engineer was the last Indian Parsi player to play for the country in 1975. The last Parsi to have played cricket in the world was Ronald Irani of England, fondly known as Roni. He played till 2003,” Kidambi added.