Zarathushtis IN SPORTS

                Zarathushtis IN SPORTS

                            A family’s involvement  & contribution over 90 years


                           Rusi R. Sorabji

When I was a kid in the late 1930’s there were no TV’s, no Nintendo’s, no radios, no MP3’s, but we had indoor games, good books and the great out-doors. There were no Hi-fi systems also. To listen to music, mom had to play the piano or we had a collection of records that we could listen to by playing them on spring-wound hand-cranked contraption called the gramophones.

Of the books, one that appealed to me most, at the time, was titled   “PARSIS & SPORT”.  In fact it was the family reference book, that thrilled us with it collection of he outstanding sporting achievements and the amazing exploits of our Community. We felt proud reading about the super-achieving young women & men in our Community.  In the Sub-Continent, Zarathustis have for some generations been extraordinarily bright, morally earnest, incredibly industrious people. People with a consummate passion for life’s good things, food and sports.    This book, I remember covered the golden age (from sometime earlier than 1850 to 1935 or so) when the Zarathushtis / Parsi of the Sub-Continent were indeed some bodies in sport. It is a thick book of some three to four hundred pages; it covered all sports and was well illustrated too. It had pictures of the old-timers Bawajis on a cricket tour of England 120 years or so ago, with their sudras hanging out and something that looks like a tie being used for a belt, wearing blazers that had vertical stripes.

Parsi ladies in long skirts and high-necked full sleeved blouses posing against the tennis net with a racquet after winning some national event. It covered team-sports, bicycling, athletics, boxing, wrestling, equestrian events etc. It also contained great tales of the Bawaji Shikaries, of an era when marksmanship in shikar was considered a sport. Modern Olympics have for long recognized marksmanship and shooting as a sporting event.

In 1892 when India was granted First Class Cricket status, it was only because the Parsi Team was considered to have achieved that standard. The Indian team consisted of 11 Parsis. In 1985 we did not have a single Parsi representing the country in that sport. But, will future generations 50 years from now believe this?  I guess not, unless they see it in print.

Hence, I offer to share with you some little known facts, some almost forgotten achievements and some unique contributions in the sporting fields by members of one family in our tiny community, in the hope that Zarathustis who read the  will, like I did 70 years ago, feel proud reading of the achievements and contributions in the past by their Sporting Community.


Who some of them were or are and their achievements in brief: –


(1).  My maternal grandfather Jal Dhanjibhoy Bomanji Irani.

Born Bombay: 1885 – Passed away: Iran: 1940.

1930 Picture of Jal D.J.B.Irani.


Chief Electrical Engineer, Delhi.  Was responsible for setting up and operating Power Generating Stations and distribution networks in many cities and Princely States of Northern & Central India. His cousin Dinshaw J. Irani was a renowned Zoroastrian Scholar and author who translated the Gathas  “the Songs Of Zarathushtra” in 1924.

Fine shot, champion horseman, polo player, pig sticking, shikari that bagged nearly a hundred man-eaters and was awarded many prizes by the Viceroys of India and the Maharajas of the erstwhile Princely State of India. Was considered a Parsi Jim Corbett by many. It was a time when the big cats were endangering human. Once, as my mother told us, a black panther had landed on grandfather’s car’s roof while he was on his way to a project site.  He shot him through the canvas-roof after probing for his heart with the gun in one hand, while driving fast with the other. Another time in Mount Abu while taking a walk in the garden late one evening, he stepped on a sleeping leopard, but lived to tell the story.

Somewhere in the museums of Alwar, Gwalior, Jodhpur, Kota, or the Old Princely States of Central India, you may still see his faded picture, of a big tall 6’6’’smiling Irani in breaches and sola topee, in group photographs of visiting royalty from England or the visiting Viceroys after a tiger shoot.

In his bungalows the fireplace and mantle piece were decorated with a variety of awards and a variety of sporting weapons and trophies. One of them from the Prince of Wales. Besides two tigers, a panther and a leopard, beautifully texidermied stood or sat in their strategic places in the big hall.

His advise to me. Never shoot a sleeping animal. Be humane; make it as painless as possible, aim for the left shoulder, if it’s dark, aim between the glowing green eyes.





2. My grandfather’s younger brother and father of one of the WZC2000 award winner Jamshed J.Irani,   was Jiji Dhunjiboy Bomanji Irani  .He captained the Parsi Team in the quadrangular in Nagpur, and represented the CP and Berar Team in the Ranji Trophy for many years.

Jiji Irani was the driving force for the development of cricket in Nagpur and in the erstwhile Central Provinces.  In the 1930s he played against the visiting Lord Tennyson’s XI in Nagpur and was on the verge of selection for the Indian Tour Party that visited England in 1936.  His name was dropped at the eleventh hour to make way for a Royal Prince. Had he been selected the Indian Team would have consisted of 5 Zarathustis,  and probably for the first time, including an uncle in the same cricket team as a nephew P.E.Palia.

In later years, he was an ardent Cricket Administrator and ensured the formation of the Guzder League, and the Jiji Irani Cricket Tournament in Nagpur, which continues to this day.  He played several roles in the CP Cricket Circles, including those of selector, being on the Association for a long period and ultimately it’s Vice President.  He was also a very efficient umpire, which led him to officiate in several important cricket matches including one against the West Indies. Whereas I do not have information about his cricketing scores, I do remember seeing him umpire a match in Nagpur in the winter of 1948 against the first West-Indies Test team that toured India. The Team that was led by J.F Stolmyer, and was made up of the two terrifying W’s.  Everton Weeks &  Clyde Walcot, besides George Hedley.

His best cricketing advise…to me, when I was barely a teenager was, “NEVER USE ONE HAND, IN TAKING A CATCH, IF BOTH YOUR HANDS CAN REACH THE BALL.”   (A very sound advise for any young cricket enthusiasts reading this)

His sporting activity was not confined to cricket only. He was also a member of the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) and was its Treasurer for several years during the period when Indian Hockey reigned supreme at the Olympics and elsewhere.


This year the 25th Jiji Irani Challenge Cup Cricket Tournament played annually between the Parsis / Zarathustis of Kolkata, Nagpur, Jamshedpur, Secunderabad/Hyderabad and Surat, is to be played at Secunderabad in the 2nd week of January 2012.


 (3). My mother KUMI R. SORABJI

Born 1910. Passed away: 1971:

Was an outstanding pianist, sports woman excelling in Badminton besides other games, a champion equestrian, champion swimmer and an excellent marks-woman. Her equestrian trophies included The Western India Champion horse jumping trophy at either Ajmer or Jodhpur, and some State trophies. These cups decorated our mantle pieces and rested on top of her upright piano, until their silver tarnished. After which they were probably sold as scrap metal and the citations engraved on them lost forever.

She bagged several tigers and panthers, on ‘shikars’ accompanied with her father, Jal D.B. Irani. Those were times when ‘shikars’ were considered a sporting style of life, especially in the Princely States, where Jal Irani was Chief Electrical Engineer.  It was a time when the big cats were endangering human. The tributes and the blessings showered by the grateful villagers who were saved from the scourge of the man-eaters, were valued more by my mother than all her silver and gold medals & awards she had gathered.

I remember her stories of her father trekking and shooting a tigress that had snatched village children while they played near their huts and another while a child went to deliver meals to his elders working in the fields.  We also lost a number of our pet dogs that were snatched from near the bungalow compound in Chirimiri, Central India, by the big cats.

At our residence in Roshanara Mansion  we had 2 of our own badminton courts where the family practiced and played in the evenings. It was at her encouragement that we started what was to later become the Delhi Parsi Badminton club first on the enclosed terrace of Plaza Cinema. The place was kindly given to us by Mr B.Sethna the Manager of Plaza.

Big game hunting still runs within the family, for three generations of the  Sorabji’s still go after the fascinating big cats, but in the forests of Corbert National Park, Khanna Reserve, the Tarai  and  Ramthampur,  each doubly armed armed with a camera  and a video.

(4) Nephew of Jal D.B. Irani, Pheroze Edulji Palia.

Born 1910 – 1981… Indian Test Cricketer.


My mother’s cousin and also the cousin of Jamshed J.Irani of TATA IRON & STEEL Co and Professor Kaikhushroo. Irani.


Pheroze Edulji Palia of Mysore represented India at Cricket during the 1930’s as a left-handed all-rounder, orthodox spin bowler and a stylish batsman who sometimes opened the batting also.  He was on the Indian First-class Cricket scene for over 25 years. He was the mainstay of the Parsees in the Quadrangular and the Pentangular Series.  Represented United Provinces, Mysore, Madras, Bombay, Bengal, in the National Championships – Ranji Trophy, the Zonal Matches and was selected on several occasions to represent celebrity teams and the Rest of India XI at the National Level.

At 21 years of age he was a member of the first Official Indian Cricket Team to England in 1932 under “VIZZY” the Maharaja of Vizianagram and played in the Test Match at Lords. Was even received by King George the Vth.  He was a member of the second Indian Team to tour England in 1936 under the leadership of the Maharajah of Patalia and played in Test Match at Lords. His team mates included all time Greats of Indian Cricket like, Vijay Merchant, Lala Amarnath, C.K.Naydu, Mustaq Ali,V.S Hazare, Nisar Mohammed, Amir Elhai.

P.E Palia was an all-rounder who sometimes opened the innings as well as the bowling. In over 100 first-class matches that he played between 1928 & 1954,  he amasses over 4500 runs with the aid of 8 centuries, highest score being 216. He captured over 200 wickets giving away around 5000 runs, best bowling figures: 7wkts for 109.  He took 40 catches.

Talking with the famous Zarathusthi radio commentators “Bobby” A.F.S.Talyarkhan in years later, he told me, ‘Statistics do not do justice to Pheroze’s cricketing talent, for unlike today, during his time, matches were few and far between. For ten years (1937-1946) when he was in his cricketing prime, there were no teams visiting India, nor Indian teams going abroad partly because of World War II.  Pakistan, Sri Lanka & Bangladesh did not exist, they were still India. England was the only other country that played host to India. Those were times when teams traveled the country by non-air-conditioned trains from one venue to another wasting 2 or 3 days in travel, unlike the 2 or 3 hours that it takes now to fly across the entire country.”    We must also remember that to travel to UK took 3 weeks, unlike the less than half a day it takes today. Also ODI cricket     – the one-day internationals – of which a player in top form plays a dozen or more in a season, did not exist.

For several years he represented the Paris’s XI in the Pentangularl Tournaments. The last I saw him was in Bombay during the World War II years, when he opened the bowling with Keki Tarapore but batted towards the tail end. They were then playing the Hindus captained by Viyay Merchant. A team which consisted of virtually the best players in India at the time. It was a great match, witnessing Merchant the Indian “Bradman” hit a double century and put on over 300 runs in partnership with Vinoo Mankad for the second wicket.   The Parsi team then had two young lads, my heros,who in later years influenced my cricket, tall and elegant VIZZYS “dark-horse” the great stroke player Rusi Modi and the dashingly debonair, hard hitting all rounder, and for sometime India’s Captain, Polly Umrigar.




(5)    My nephew Ashish . Son of Mrs. Mani Sorabji Thakur

Born 1958


An elegant stylist, classical right-handed batsman medium paced off-break bowler, and an alert close in fielder. Who hit the Delhi Newspaper headlines with his century’s and other big scores, when still in his early teen playing for the St Xavier’s High School XI?

At age 16 he represented Delhi and North Zone Schools in the COOCH BEHAR TROPHY and also THE CK NAYUDU NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS for two years in the under 19 age group.

It continued through the years at Delhi University – St Stephens and the Law College-




To help his widowed mother Mani (Sorabji) Thakur, he had to give up Law College and University Cricket and seek employment in the U.A.E in July 1981.


Scored three centuries




 Dubai Cricket Association Team with Ashish standing 9th from left




Ashish is also a keen golfer and a regular squash player having participated in many Tournaments in India and abroad.


(6)    Zal R. Iran

A family friend, a renowned Industrialist and Businessman. He was also the Chairman of SPENCER & CO., and KELVINATORS of INDIA,Ltd.a company I worked for four years,

He was the Treasurer of the Board of Control for Cricket in India during the 1950’s and the 1960’s

And for a very long time Treasurer of the BCCI.

He instituted the Irani Cricket Trophy in 1959/60, .

Since 1965 the Irani Trophy match heralds the new cricket season in India.  It is traditionally played between the prevailing Ranji Trophy Champions and The Rest of India side. It is a very important fixture as it serves in the selection of the National Team for the new season or for the foreign tours.

A great man, a jolly old man, cricket ran in his blood. And like my grandfather another big game hunter, in whose bed room and sitting rooms were the texidermied big cats, that knocked the daylight out of anyone entering the rooms for the first time.

When he was elected to the Board of Control for Cricket in India, this is how he broke the news to me one Monday afternoon in the mid-1960’s when we had met at his house in Delhi to listen and tape  his latest collection of western music. He said, “Now you have to kiss my toes, if you want to play for India.”,  Probably he remembered seeing me during Inter-collegiate cricket or while playing for the Delhi Parsis, not far from his bungalow at the University or St Stephens or the Hindu College Grounds.


Rusi R. Sorabji 

     What others had to say: Long before England’s Dicky Bird or India’s Piloo Reporter, appeared on the scene.





How it all started & The Zarathusti connection

When man first landed on the Moon he awoke to the music of “thus Spake Zarathustra” before Armstrong put his foot on the lunar surface.   When International Cricket first came to U.A.E in 1981, who else but a follower of Zarathustra should be the one first to walk on to the wicket, with the home team and the opening batsmen following, to umpire the first ever International match and conduct the game.    Many of the Indian and Pakistani Test cricketers making the two teams fondly called him, “Bawa”.   Next morning when the local newspapers, The Khalleej Times and  The Gulf News of Dubai announced; “Cricket comes to UAE“ they showed this Zarthusti Umpire tossing the coin with India’s Captain G Vishwanathan and the UAE captain.

Aunshuman Gaekwad  who along with Sayed Kirmani  opened  the batting for the Indian Team, while taking guard. calls out, “ Bawa one leg, please ” . Later when the home team batted, the former Pakistani batsmen calls out, “Bawaji leg aur middle day-en-gaye” ?  Amusing as it sounds, that in the deserts of Arabia, on a cricket field devoid of a blade of grass, there were International cricketers addressing an umpire with a Texan straw hat as a “Bawa”.   This “bawa” an all round cricketer himself was born in Delhi, India, into a distinguished sporting Irani Zarathusti family as Rusi Ruttonshaw Sorabji.

Indian Ambassador Mansingh  being introduced to the UAE players , shaking hands with Umpire Rusi Sorabji

The Inaugural  match

The two teams, Left to right back row standing.;  1 Madan Lal, 2 &3 Indian players, 4. Sri Lankan Captain, 5. Hanumat Singh, 6. S. Kirmani, 7.  Ajit Wardeker (Former Indian Test Captain), 8 ?, 9.  Ambassador to UAE Mansingh, 10. Mr Abdul Rehman Fazalnaq, 11. Captain Guddapa Vishwanath,12 &13  ?, 14 & 16  UAE official, 15 ?,  17 Ashok Mankad, 18  Mr Gandhi Dubai Cricket Association, 19. India’s fast bowler, Roger Binny,  20. Rusi Sorabji, 21 Official, 22 Chandru Bhan of the Lanchsire League,  & two officials.

Sitting  English, Indian, Pakistani and players from the local team

News Letter & Monthly Journal,

Engineers India Ltd; Government of India Undertaking, New Delhi. May 1977.

On the 17th May was a farewell party for our Senior Material Officer, the very popular Rusi Sorabji who was proceeding to the Gulf to better his prospects.  Rusi as he was fondly called was an excellent  sportsman, …….. Three times Captain of the winning  Cricket Team, For  four years he along with  A. Sabarwal won the Mens Double Open  Badminton  Tournament, was runner-up in the Singles Table-Tennis Tournament. Last September he was runners up in the Veteran singles of the All India Public Sector Undertakings Badminton Championship narrowly loosing to a former National Champion. He played and won even with a broken ankle after his road accident in September.  The floating trophy he donated for the Sports Man of theYear, should have been awarded to him, but at his request it was presented to Mr Sagar from Projects. ………..



Played;  Cricket, Tennis, Badminton, Hockey, Table-tennis  at the University level . Playing for Delhi College

dethroning the perennial champions St Stephens, won the Delhi University 1952 Cricket Championship.


Represented the Delhi Parsis Cricket Team, The Universal C.C, Delhi College,  in the Delhi & District Cricket Association Legue Tourments for several years.

Participated in International Badminton & Table Tennis Tournaments for the SHARP Electronics Cup and the Akai Cup.  Toured all over India; played in England when representing principals Rolls Royce, Coventry, as General Manager for Gibca Petro Chemicals Services., . Played in Dubai & Sharjah, for the Parsis, for GECO, Hitachi  & Akai.


At the Roshanara Club, near the house, the birth place of the Board of Cricket Control in India, was very fortunate in meeting and having a chance  to practice with some of the of the greatest players in the world at the time.. To name a few, England’s Captain  until 1947, and then worlds second highest test scorer 344, Walter J. Hammond, The English wonder boy Denis Cyril Scot Compton, Joe Hardstaff, The Senior Nawab of Pataudi, Lala Amarnath, Idris Begg (Oxford),  Anthony S. DeMello ,( later became the President of  the Sports Club of India.), George Duckworth, Col. C.K.Naiydu, .V.M Merchant,  M.Mustaq Ali . Fazal Mahmoud, Amir Elhai, to name a few.

In 1946/47 learnt how to bowl the fast leg cutter from Fazal Mahmoud, a ball when properly pitched outside the leg, knocked out leg and middle stump. From Mustaq Ali learnt the art of hooking and pulling the ball to the mid-wicket from outside the off stumps. The cover-drive that won thunderous applause whether it went to the ropes or not, was perfected watching Wally Hammond in 1943/45. Observing the fielding and care-free cricket of Denis Compton also had a considerable influence on my playing abilities. The spontaneous applause from the spectators or the teammates for some good fielding, lingers longer in ones memory, than the memories of receiving a trophy from some tournament Boss-Man or royalty. I mention all this in the hope, that young budding sports-persons will take note and if they have a hero from their chosen sport, they should watch them closely as they perform.


Umpired (from 1981 –1984) important one day matches in U.A.E. played against visiting International Cricket Teams.


Competed Nationaly & Internationally in Radio Controlled Model Aircraft flying events.


At age 81,   flies a single engine CESSANA 172 for a solo pilot license


Have won many National and International prizes in Photographic Exhibitions.


Other passions: An avid  Traveler, Trekking in the mountains and the Himalayas, Gardening, Wild life Safari and  Writing for Pleasure.






1.     Like Pandit Jahawar Lal Nehru said at the First ASIAN GAMES in New Delhi.


“Play the game in the spirit of the game”.


2.     Larry Constantine“Hit the ball  hard, so that any one who tries to stop it with his hands will need a new pair”


3.     “Play cricket and see the world”.  Rusi S Mody

4.     If you aim to hit the ball out of the ground, aim for the next county”. Larry Constantine


5.     The road to excellence is lined with Practice, practice and more practice.


6.     Like in life so too in sport, to be successful, associate yourself with people who are exemplary in these areas: intelligence, integrity, energy, Good Thoughts, Good Words, and Good Deeds.



And when you’ve played your innings and return to the Great Pavilion,

as we all must do,

May  the ‘Captain of Us All’  welcome you with these words,


“Well played, Sir

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