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

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”.

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Parsees who played for India

  • 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).

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