The first group to set off on their bicycles was made up of six members of the Bombay Weightlifting Club. They were Adi Hakim, Jal Bapasola, Rustom Bhumgara, Gustad Hathiram, Keki Pochkhanawala and Nariman Kapadia.
According to Rohinton Bhumgara, son of Rustom Bhumgara, the six youngsters had attended a public lecture in 1920 by a Frenchman who had walked from Europe to India. Hearing him talk left them deeply inspired.
Their journey began in October 1923 and meandered through Punjab, Balochistan, the Middle East, Europe, United States, Japan and South East Asia.
On the way, one team member returned to India from Tehran for “personal reasons”, while two others were so “enamoured” of America that they stayed back.
“Once, he [Jal Bapasola] narrated how they approached the Raleigh Cycle Co of England in Bombay about [the company] sponsoring the cycles,” Babani was told by Bapasola’s 82-year-old son Noshir Bapasola, who lives in New Jersey.
“The company refused. But when they reached England, he said the company was begging them to use their cycles. He asked them why they had a change of heart and was told quite bluntly ‘we did not believe that you boys would be so successful’.”
By the time Hakim, Bapasola and Bhumgara reached India in March 1928, they had covered around 70,000 kilometres.
In their book With Cyclists Around The World, they enumerated their achievements with “pardonable pride”: in four and a half years, they had scaled the Alps, crossed “pirate-infested territories” and waded through jungles with “hostile semi-savage tribes”, sometimes “escaping death by inches”.
Click Here for the full story in Dawn with pictures
On Sunday 18th August the Parsee Gymkhana Cricket Team will be arriving to the UK. They will be playing a series of T20 cricket matches with local sides, culminating with a match at The Oval Cricket Ground on Friday 23rd August 2019 for the 1886 Trophy, photo pasted below. All the matches are FREE to watch. All are welcome! Your support is important.
ZTFE has been informed that a well known A listed Bollywood actor will be accompanying the Parsee Gymkhana Team.
This beautiful 1886 Trophy commemorating Parsee Pioneers of Cricket who visited United Kingdom in 1886
On Monday 19th August, the Parsees will be visiting The Lords Cricket Ground and later in the evening they will be playing in Chiswick, West London.
On Tuesday 20th August, the Parsees will be visiting the Houses of Parliament.
On Wednesday 21st August at 5pm, the Parsees will be playing at the Lurgashall Cricket Club, West Sussex. Lurgashall is one of the most beautiful villages in the South of England, where cricket has been played prior to 1863. Witley train station is closest to Lurgashall Cricket Club.
On Thursday 22nd August – Khordad Sal, ZTFE will be inviting the Parsee Cricket Team to the Zortoastrian Centre for a Khordad Sal celebratory 4 course evening meal at the Zoroastrian Centre. All are welcome! Kindly purchase tickets from the ZTFE Secretariat, phone 020 8866 0765.
On Friday 23rd August at 1pm, the Parsee XI will be playing at The Oval Cricket Ground, against the Charles Alcock XI for the 1886 Trophy. The Oval Cricket Ground is less than 5 minutes walking distance from the Oval London Underground Station. The bus stop for 36 and 436 buses is just near the entrance of the The Oval Cricket Ground. Please contact Mrs Gul R Bilimoria by email on <firstname.lastname@example.org> or phone 07951126391, if you are planning to attend the 1886 Trophy match.
On Saturday 24th August the Parsee Gymkhana Team will depart for Mumbai.
Kindly inform those who are not accessible by email or not connected to the internet.
Xerxes Diniar Irani is the first-ever contestant from Odisha to qualify for the ‘Culling Round’ of the reality show ‘Roadies Real Heroes’.
From a national level sportsman to an entrepreneur to a social worker, Xerxes Diniar Irani’s CV is as variegated as a busy Manhattan street on a Friday evening.
Hailing from Cuttack and an alumnus of Stewart School, Xerxes made history by becoming the first-ever contestant from Odisha to qualify for the ‘Culling Round’ of the popular reality TV series Roadies Real Heroes.
The 27-year-old former basketball player was pitted against another hopeful participant during the auditions but, in the end, it was Xerxes’ patience and physical abilities that impressed the likes of Rannvijay Singh, Neha Dhupia and Sandeep Singh, seeing him through to the next round.
When asked what made him venture onto a completely different path from what he has travelled before, Xerxes said that he wanted to put Odisha and the Odia youth, who have been grossly underrepresented in national media, on the map.
“Roadies is a platform where you can showcase your talent,” said Xerxes in an exclusive interview with Orissa POST. “I want to become a youth icon and represent my state. Basically, I want to gain some popularity and mileage because I want to use that to promote a sports academy which I am hoping to open very soon.”
“Secondly, it’s a childhood dream come true since I have grown up watching Roadies on TV,” he added. “As someone who loves the outdoors, adventure sports and anything that challenges my physical capabilities, Roadies was the perfect fit for me.”
Xerxes belongs to a family that is steeped in sports. His father, Diniar Parvez Irani, is a former Olympian who was part of the Indian national basketball team in its only Olympic appearance at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. His mother, Gayatri Devi Irani, a princess belonging to the Ranpur royal family, is a former national level basketball player as well. If that wasn’t enough, his sister Dilnawaz is a former district level swimmer.
After completing his schooling, Xerxes studied for two years at Ravenshaw University before moving to St. Xavier’s College in Kolkata for his graduation. A stint with Decathlon Sports was followed by an entrepreneurial job that saw him open one of eastern India’s first Laser Tag arenas.
A social worker as well, Xerxes was involved with ‘Bridges of Sport,’ an NGO primarily focused on offering a platform to promote sporting excellence among remote and tribal communities in India.
“My long term goal is to start a sports academy,” Xerxes continued. “I want to show everyone what I am capable of and bring Odisha on the map. At the national level, the youth of Odisha is not just underrepresented but also misunderstood, which is something I want to rectify.”
“I also want to open a channel on YouTube and Instagram where I would be able to motivate people to pick up sports as a profession or just as a hobby to live a healthier lifestyle,” he added.
Having worked with charities before, the ambitious boy from Cuttack also plans to register his own sports based NGO soon.
“Starting my own NGO is definitely on the cards. Basically, I want to cater to promoting sports at the grassroots level, providing support through equipment, coaches, training facilities and identifying talent in rural India,” he said.
Xerxes believes that being on national television would give him the opportunity to create a public identity that could help him implement his ambitious projects.
Describing his experience in the Roadies studios, Xerxes concluded: “It was exhilarating, it was exciting, it was like a dream. Meeting so many talented people from all across India was beyond exceptional.”
“Besides, meeting Rannvijay, former Indian hockey captain Sandeep Singh, and Neha Dhupia was an amazing experience,” he said.
Southern California discovered cricket in the late 19th century, two centuries after the sport reached American shores, but the region lost little time in taking to the game with enthusiasm.
The cricketing season began every summer in May. Several counties—including Los Angeles, Santa Monica, San Diego, and San Francisco (in mid-California)—had their own leagues. Practice matches between league teams would kick off the season and near its end, a combined Los Angeles team would take on Santa Monica 11—comprising the best players from that region—for the Dudley Cup.
Year after year, the cricketing season unfolded without spectacular surprises, until the arrival of an Indian and his virtually unplayable spin bowling in the summer of 1907.
Maneckji Jamshedji Bhumgara, a Parsi from Surat, became a bowling sensation for his Los Angeles league team. The “East Indian,” as he was described in the local papers, was lauded for his “twirling abilities” that left the opposition batsmen flummoxed. His recurring five-wicket hauls made him a match-winner, and he was, on occasion, handy with the bat as well.
Bhumgara, who moved to Los Angeles around 1905, turned out for the Wanderers, one of the three league teams in Los Angeles, in his first season. In a crucial league match on July 8, 1907, when his team played the Marylebone Club, Bhumgara scored 16, as his team made 59—one of only three players who reached double figures. He took five wickets and Wanderers won the Test (comprising only an innings each) by six runs.
My name is Anoop Babani and I am a retired journalist. I live in Goa, India with my wife Dr Maria Savia Viegas, who is a retired professor and now a writer and painter. (www.saviaviegas.in).
We have founded and manage Saxtti Films (www.saxttifilms.com) which is a not-for-profit film society, passionate about good cinema and committed to cultivating and nurturing film ethos. We are ourselves avid cyclists too, part of a cycling group in Goa called Xaxti Riders.
In 2018, we organized two of India’s first-ever festivals of international films on the theme of Cycling and Running, named ReelsOnWheels and ReelsOnHeels.
The Cycling Films Festival was inaugurated by Alexi Grewal, only American ever to win an Olympic Gold Medal in Men’s Road Race Cycling, while the Running Films Festival was inaugurated by India’s Track and Field Queen, P T Usha.
During these festivals, we also organized – for the first-time ever in India – a photo exhibition on amazing global journeys of Indians who cycled around the world in 1920s and 1930s – all of them Parsees from Mumbai and in their early-to-mid twenties.
This Exhibition was titled ‘Our Saddles, Our Butts, Their World’.
I have attached pictures, posters and newspaper coverage for your information.
That is the background. And now the request.
I have been able to acquire some pictorial material on two of the three journeys (I am trying to get more material) through the families and friends of the cyclists.
I am now in the process of reaching out to families of the third group of cyclists, which was led Mr Keki Kharas and included Rustam D Ghandhi and Rutton D Shroff.
It is in this context that I request your help in contacting the family of Mr Keki Kharas and/or of the other two cyclists.
I am writing a book on History of Cycling in India, titled ‘Peddling History: Rise, Fall and Rise of Humble Bike’, and these global journeys will be an integral part of this book.
I am sure you will appreciate that these stories need to be told to younger generation of cyclists in particular and preserved for the future ones.
October 15, 1923 was yet another mellow Monday morning in Bombay, but the city’s central district of Grant Road was ablaze with blaring music. The erstwhile Bombay Weightlifting Club had organised a send-off for six of its young members — Adi B Hakim, Gustad G Hathiram, Jal P Bapasola, Keki D Pochkhanawala, Nariman B Kapadia and Rustom B Bhumgara — all of them Parsis in their 20s and readying for their cycling expedition around the world, a first such feat by Indians.
What had inspired them to undertake this seemingly-impossible journey? “It was a public lecture at Bombay’s Oval Maidan in 1920 by a French man who had walked from Europe to India,” reminisces 75-year-old Rohinton Bhumgara. Rohinton is foggy about the name of the world-walker, who eventually died of malaria in Assam, on his way to South-East Asia. Says Jasmine Marshall, granddaughter of Adi Hakim, “There was an extraordinary zeal of adventure in my granddad. ‘Nothing is impossible’, he would often tell me.”
Adi, Jal and Rustom pedalled 71,000 km over four-and-a-half years — at times in 60ºC, for days without food and some days without water, across pirate-infested territories and in swamp lands, through dense jungles and “up 6,600 ft amongst the terrible solitudes of the Alps”, avoiding the sea and traversing over most difficult routes, where no cyclists had been before. “We wanted to know the world more intimately and to acquaint the world with India and Indians,” they noted years later.
Not all six completed the ride, though. Nariman returned home from Tehran “for personal reasons” after giving “us company for 5,000 miles”, and Gustad decided to make the US his home. Disheartened by this, Gustad’s close buddy, Keki sailed home from New York.
On their expedition, the cyclists pedalled through Punjab and Baluchistan, crossing Prospect Point in Ziarat, 11,000 feet above sea level and in snow, reaching Iran and then Baghdad. Braving sandstorms, parched throats, temperatures over 57°C and saved from imminent death by Bedouins, they set a record by crossing the 956-km Mesopotamian desert from Baghdad to Aleppo in Syria, in 23 days.
They sailed to Italy, rode over the Alps, across Europe, finally reaching Britain. Three weeks later, they sailed to New York. The threesome cycled 8,400 km across the East to West Coast over five months and boarded S S Tenyo Maru to Japan, a leisurely cruise after months of grilling rides.
Continuing their journeys, they reached the ‘Hermit Kingdom’ of Korea — the first bikers to do so — and on to Manchuria and China. On their last leg, they cycled through Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma, North Eastern India, Calcutta and Southern India, returning to Bombay on March 18, 1928. They recalled being “surrounded by people who had come to receive us… and garlanded till we were buried in flowers” and hoped that their city would welcome “Scouter F J Davar, who is shortly due in Bombay on the conclusion of a similar enterprise.”
Framroze Davar, 30, was to return home only in 1931. His was a far more adventurous, lengthier, and in-part, solitary journey for “rational curiosity”, beginning in January 1924, and totalling 1,10,000 km, 52 countries and five continents. The 30-year old did not compress his account in a single volume, as it could be “a book of geography gone mad”. He chronicled his arduous ride over the Andes Mountains in Cycling Over Roof Of The World(1929), risky passage through Sahara in Across The Sahara (1937) and crossing of the Amazon in The Amazon in Reality and Romance (1960).
He had cycled more than 5,000 km entirely on his own, for 11 months! In Vienna, he met Gustav Sztavjanik, his cycling mate for the next seven years. The duo cycled through Western and Eastern Europe, rode over the Alps and Mont Blanc mountain, pedalled through parts of erstwhile Soviet Union, Baltic countries, Poland, and Scandinavia, including Lapland, and returned to France 18 months later, to sail to Algiers in Africa. They tortured themselves through the Sahara, counting 156 camel skeletons along the way, surviving eight sandstorms, and a malaria attack. After cycling through Africa for another six months, they boarded a ship from Dakar to Rio de Janeiro, to take on their next big challenge, riding over the mighty Andes. Six months and 2,700 km later, they reached Argentina from Brazil, and scaled the Andes up to a height of 5,200m.
America was a relief. They got back to their saddles, cycling from the East to West Coast, lecturing and meeting dignitaries, including President Herbert Hoover and tycoon Henry Ford, before sailing to Japan. They sailed to Shanghai, cycled through Hong Kong, Singapore, Sumatra, Burma, Calcutta and Bombay on March 22, 1931.
Luck and the exciting accounts tempted yet one more — and the last — group of cyclists, Keki J Kharas, Rustam D Ghandhi and Rutton D Shroff. “We were all thoroughly and hopelessly afflicted with wanderlust,” they wrote in Across The Highways Of The World (1939). Setting off from Bombay in 1933, they cycled through central and northern India, Punjab, Kashmir, Multan and Baluchistan (then a part of India).
“In Afghanistan, we were marooned in the desert for three successive days and nights without either food or water and traversed on camel and donkey tracks; we were snow-bound in northern Iran; and were suspected as British spies in eastern Turkey,” they wrote in Pedalling Through the Afghan Wilds(1935).
Keki, Rustam and Rutton cycled through Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Austria, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Belgium, Britain, France, Spain, Switzerland and Italy. They sailed to Alexandria and pedalled “twenty-one months across Africa, from Cairo to Cape Town, a distance of 12,000 miles (nearly 20,000 km). We were fortuitously saved oftener than we can recall.”
In 1937, the trio sailed from South Africa to Argentina and cruised through South and Central America until they reached Mexico and rode into USA from Texas. They spent a year cycling through the ‘New World’ and touching the borders of Canada. From USA, they sailed to Japan and cycled across Japan, China, Australia, Singapore and Burma, before reaching Bombay on January 29, 1942. In slightly less than nine years, Kharas, Ghandhi and Shroff had traversed 84,000 km, spanning five continents.
Our Saddles, Our Butts, Their World is a photo exhibition of the cyclists, to be held in ReelsOnHeels, India’s First-ever International Festival of Films on Running, December 1 and 2, 2018 at Ravindra Bhavan, Margao, Goa, curated by former Mumbai-based journalist and now avid cyclist, Anoop Babani
Parsis have played an important part in Indian cricket history.
Parsis were the first Indian side to visit England in 1886. And around 12 Parsis, such as Farrokh Engineer, Polly Umrigar, Nari Contractor, have played for the Indian cricket teams over the years. The last big name being India women’s captain Diana Edulji.
There still exist a few Parsi clubs in Mumbai which play in the famous monsoon cricket Kanga League, but the Parsi cricketers are almost invisible on the cricketing scene.
On Wednesday morning, one Parsi cricketer — Arzan Nagwaswalla must have made his community proud with a heartening bowling performance, representing Gujarat, that bamboozled Mumbai in their own den Wankhede Stadium.
On a grassy pitch, Nagwaswalla not only came up with a five-wicket haul (5/78) but also seemed to indicate that it is not all over as far as cricketing legacy of the Parsis is concerned.
Nagwaswalla was involved in a major batting Mumbai collapse after bringing three wickets down in two overs at 74 of Suryakumar Yadav, Armaan Jaffer and Aditya Tare even as the calls by his teammates of “Well bowled Bawa” went around. He completed his five wickets after dismissing Dhrumil Matkar after dismissing Mumbai’s crisis man Siddhesh Lad.
“This is my first season and third Ranji match. I have played age group cricket for Gujarat and the performances there helped me in my promotion to the Ranji side,” said the 21-year-old cricketer.
Nagwaswalla said he was nervous when he was handed over the new ball to bowl at the Wankhede. “It all evaporated after the first over. It was my first match on this ground, was a good wicket to bow on. I got the rewards for putting the ball on the right place.”
The youngster has not played club cricket, but he has trained under former Ranji Trophy players. “There are no clubs. My village Umbergaon is on the border of Maharashtra. We had a few Ranji players at our players and I worked under them. I got interest and then the opportunities one after another.”
Nagwaswalla isn’t aware if whether Parsi cricketers still play cricket in domestic circuit. “Mine is not a cricket background. I knew there were Parsi players, who played for India and I know some names. However, I don’t know about the current situation…who is playing or not.”
“I am the youngest player in my town. Not many from my community are left back there and they have either moved to Mumbai or migrated elsewhere,” said Nagwaswalla, who idolises Zaheer Khan and Wasim Akram.
Nariman Jamshedji Contractor was born on March 7, 1934 at Godhra Gujarat by accident. His pregnant mother was coming on a train from Dahod in Gujarat to Bombay for delivery when all of a sudden she went into labour. Contractor’s uncle was the driver of the train. He arranged medical assistance and dropped her at Godhra as an emergency case. His father owned a distillery and Nari grew up in Nasik.
After playing successfully for Gujarat, Nari Contractor made his Test debut against New Zealand in the second Test at Bombay December 2-7, 1955, under Polly Umrigar. Contractor came in to bat at No.7 and was caught behind the wicket by Eric Peterie off Anthony MacGibbon for 16.
In the second Test at Delhi, Contractor was asked to open the batting. He says “I was not to open, but Vinoo Mankad could not make it to Delhi for the Test. During the train journey at Matheran station Polly Umrigar, our captain, said to me, ‘If I ask you to open tomorrow, will you?’ Now Polly was my coach at St Xavier’s College Bombay at that time, so he knew me closely. I had batted well in the first match for my 16 runs, but had I failed again I could have been dropped.”
Since Nari Contractor was still a newcomer to the international scene, he remembered a conversation with C. K. Nayudu just before the Test. The great Nayudu had asked Contractor why he did not open? Nari replied that it was because he usually came in at No.3. Nayudu then guided him by saying that if the opener was out first ball then the No.3 batsman became the opener. This helped Nari to make up his mind and he agreed to open in the Delhi Test.
He opened with Vijay Mehra and scored a polished 62, before being caught and bowled by John Reid. He had now become an opener. He says “I was a stroke player in those days, but later on I became a very defensive player because I started opening the innings. Every ball is a ball which can get you out and every ball is a ball on which you can hit a boundary.”
In the fourth Test at Calcutta, opening with Vinoo Mankad, he was bowled for 6 by Hayes in the first innings and was bowled again by Hayes for 61 in the second innings. In the final Test at Madras he was to bat at No.7 but his turn did not come as India won by an innings and 109 runs. He also appeared against Australia in the third Test at Calcutta Nov 2-6, 1956 and was lbw Richie Benaud for 22 in the first innings and was bowled for 20 by Ian Johnson in the second innings.
He next opened with Pankaj Roy against the West Indies in the first Test at Bombay Nov 28 to Dec 3, 1958. In the first innings he was caught by Atkinson off Hall for 0 and in the second innings was run out for 6. In the second Test at Kanpur, he was lbw Sobers 41 in the first innings and made 50 in the second innings and was bowled by J. Taylor. He was the highest scorer in both the innings. He failed in the third Test at Calcutta as he was out lbw, Ramadhin 4 in the first innings and was bowled by Roy Gilchrist for 6 in the second innings.
In the fourth Test at Madras, he batted at No.4 in the first innings and was run out for 22. He opened in the second innings and was caught behind the wicket by Gerry Alexander off Gilchrist for 3. Playing the final Test at Delhi February 6-11, 1959, Nari Contractor was lbw Wesley Hall 92 in the first innings and was run out for 4 in the second innings.
Contractor then went on tour of England under the captaincy of D. K. Gaekwad. He was out cheaply in the first Test at Nottingham for 15 and 0 to Greenhough and Statham. His great moment came in the second Test at Lord’s June 18-20, 1959 where he faced the fiercest pace attack of Fred Trueman, Brian Statham and Allan Moss. He scored 81 out of a team total of 168.
He scored a neat 56 in the second innings being caught by Barrington off Rhodes at Old Trafford in the fourth Test. He then appeared against Australia in December 1959. In the first Test at Delhi. He was bowled for 41 by Alan Davidson in the first innings and was caught by Favell off Benaud for 34 in the second innings. He rates his knock in the second innings of the second Test at Kanpur when he was caught by Neil Harvey off Davidson for 74 as the best innings he played because India won the test by 119 runs and Jasu Patel took 14 wickets for 124 runs.
Nari Contractor was appointed the 13th captain of India against the touring Pakistan team under Fazal Mahmood. At age 26 he was the youngest ever captain of India. Initially he was made captain for only two Tests but was retained for the rest of the series. He proved to be a cautious and sober captain. The series was a dull affair as none was willing to take risks for fear of losing.
In the first Test at Bombay December 2-7, 1960, Pankaj Roy and Nari Contractor opened the innings after 3 p.m. But before break there was a false joy when Fazal bowled Contractor with a no ball. Fazal bowled only two overs before tea and brought on Mohammed Farooq. Nari was caught by Javed Burki off Mohammed Farooq for 62. Earlier he was hit by Farooq on his pads with such an impact that he started hobbling. This handicapped his strokes and he tried to hook Farooq without coming in line with the ball and Burki took the catch. Contractor had batted for 245 minutes with four 4s.
In the second Test at Kanpur he was bowled by Haseeb Ahsan for 47. Haseeb again got him at Calcutta in the third Test when Fazal caught him off his bowling for 12 in the second innings. In the first innings Intikhab Alam had bowled him for 25. In the fourth Test at Madras Nari was caught by Intikhab off Haseeb for 81. Haseeb had taken Contractor’s wicket four times on the tour and was quite disturbing. In the final Test at Delhi he was unlucky to miss his century when he was caught and bowled by Intikhab Alam for 92.
As India’s captain Contractor took a decision to change the fixed pattern of same players sharing rooms. He started rotating the pairs so they could come to know each other better. More than strategy, Contractor rates man management as a vital aspect of captaincy. He also introduced team meetings at the end of the day’s play to discuss performances including his own but he received poor response.
My first meeting with 5′-8″ tall Nari Contractor who had worked for Western Railways, State Bank of India Bombay, Tata and Mafatlal, was at his home in Cusrow Baug in Colaba Mumbai in 2007. He was polite, accommodating and cheerful. I also met his wife Dolly who was lovely and very hospitable.
Commenting on the 1960-61 Pakistan series Nari said “Because I had played a lot on the matting wickets I could play Fazal. Fazal Mahmood was a great bowler and a very out-going person but he was not the Fazal of 1952 who had toppled India at Lucknow. He could swing both ways but had no speed and had curtailed his run up to a mere trot. However the batsmen showed respect to his accuracy and he would have been more successful if he had been supported from the other end. I feel he should not have made the trip. He only showed the glimpses of his old self in the Calcutta test where Fazal took 5 for 26.
Mahmood Hussain was quick but his action sent telegrams of a clear message that an in swinger was on the way. He did not bowl close to the wickets and could be easily read. He was not formidable and not much of a threat. Fazal beat me four times in winning the toss. He would say ‘It is a Friday, I will not lose.’ He eventually lost the toss at Delhi, but it was a Thursday!. Hasib Ahsan, Intikhab Alam and Nasimul Ghani were quite good.
Saeed Ahmed with his upright stance was an elegant stroke player. Hanif Mohammed was a great player but he had become Ramakant Desai’s bunny.
Contractor was again captain against Ted Dexter’s England team that toured India in 1961-62. He played only two notable innings. In the third Test at Delhi he was caught by Geoff Pullar of Tony Lock for 39 and in the fifth Test at Madras January 10-15, 1962 he was bowled by Bob Barber with a googly for 86 runs.
Nari Contractor led India on the West Indies tour of 1962. He lost the first two Tests to the West Indies in February. His own performance in the four innings was dismal. In the first Test at Port of Spain February 16-20, 1962 he was caught by Sobers off Hall for 10 in the first innings and was bowled for 6 by Wesley Hall in the second innings. In the second Test at Kingston, he was caught by Mendonca off Hall for 1 in the first innings and was bowled by Hall for 9 in the second innings.
In all his last four Test innings his wicket was taken by the fast bowler Wesley Hall. Before the third Test there was a side match against Barbados which originally Contractor had intended to miss but the squad’s injury problems forced him to play. When it was heard that Barbados had a mean hostile fast bowler Charlie Griffith to support the intimidating Wesley Hall, several Indian batsmen suddenly turned unfit for the match. Contractor decided to play.
A night before during a cocktail party the West Indies captain Frank Worrell warned Contractor about Charlie Griffith and advised that it would be better to get out than getting hurt
“As a superstition I never took the first strike and always batted at number two, but since Dilip Sardesai was opening for the first time I did not want to expose him in the one over before lunch. I took strike and faced the first six balls from Griffith and headed into the break relieved that Griffith in his only over had not seemed to be the beast we thought. As we walked back to the pavilion Sardesai turned to me and smiled. ‘Fast, my foot. He said.” Dilip Sardesai fell early to Hall for a duck in the first over after lunch and Rusi Surti joined his captain.
Griffith came on for the third over to Contractor and the first ball was short and whistled past the batsman’s nose. ‘My God, this is something’ I said to myself. ‘I thought maybe some lethargy had set in after lunch, so I did some spot running. The second ball was over the shoulder and I left it. The third was the same. The fourth ball I played was again shoulder height and Conrad Hunte fielding at short leg caught it on the half volley. Had he caught it, I would have been saved for it was the very next ball that hit me. When Griffith ran in to bowl the fifth ball, someone in the dressing room opened a window, which created a black square for me as there was no sight screen. I thought of moving away but I decided to play the delivery.
Eye witness Dicky Rutnagur wrote that Contractor got right behind the line to play the lifting ball. Wisden noted that ‘He could not judge the height to which it would fly and bent back from the waist in a desperate split second attempt to avoid it and was hit just above the right ear. Contractor did not duck into the ball. He got behind it to play it. He probably wanted to fend it away towards short leg.
Contractor slumped to his haunches, clutching his head. Within a minute he had started bleeding from his nose and ears.” Remembering the play Contractor said, “Earlier when Griffith was bowling at lightning speed and after the third ball of his over Surti shouted across the pitch to me ‘Skipper , he is chucking.” I walked up to Surti and said, ‘You do not shout across the wicket like that. If you think he is chucking then tell the umpire.’ ‘That was playing on my mind too. My concentration was not there.
Meanwhile when he bowled and when I saw the ball it was right at my face and hit it at 90 degrees. The ball fell on my leg and I sat down with the support of my bat. I did not duck into the bouncer as Griffith wrote in his book. Soon I was bleeding from my noise and ears. I returned to the pavilion with the help of our manager Ghulam Ahmed and another person. Without their support I could not have made it to the pavilion on my own. I changed into a fresh set of clothes but the bleeding continued and I realised the injury was serious.”
Budhi Kunderan, who was not playing in the match was in the dressing room. He said, “We could hear the sound in the dressing room. Nari just stood up and initially thought nothing of it. We thought it was all right. But after a while he felt very uneasy. Suddenly Contractor started screaming loudly. At first the injury was not thought to be very serious, obviously he was in great pain. He was rushed in an ambulance to the hospital accompanied by Ghulam Ahmed and C. G. Borde.” An x-ray revealed a fractured skull and clotting of blood. Time was running out and Ghulam Ahmed took the crucial decision and allowed the emergency operation.
Sir Frank Worrell came to the hospital and donated his blood. So did Bapu Nadkarni, Borde, Umrigar and journalist K. N. Prabhu. The lights went off as the operation was in progress and it was thought to be a bad omen. Griffith too had come to the hospital and was visibly shaken. He kept muttering that he did not mean to hurt him, “It was just one of those accidents. God willing everything will be alright.” Dr. Leacock, though was not a neurosurgeon but he kept the treatment going through the night and performed emergency surgery to reduce the clot on his brain till Dr. Ghourilal arrived from Port of Spain, Trinidad the next morning, as there was no early flight.
Contractor was throwing up and was losing movement of the left side of his body. A two hour operation was conducted. Contractor’s family was informed and his wife flew out to join him. For several days his life was in danger. Polly Umrigar was a constant companion at his bedside. Miraculously Contractor survived and the entire cricketing world heaved a sigh of relief but his cricket career was cut short at age 28. He says he owes his life to late Ghulam Ahmed who called the doctor that night when I had taken a turn for the worse. After three weeks he was flown back to India with his wife.
Nari Contractor says that he never thought he would play cricket again. It was Dr. Chandy at the Christian Medical College near Madras who gave him fresh hope after inserting a perforated steel mesh on his skull. Courage and humbleness personified Contractor returned to cricket.
Within a year he turned out for Maharashtra Chief Minister XI against Maharashtra Governor XI and scored 37 against a strong bowling attack. In 1963-64 he played some games for the Defence Fund and did well. He was also opening for Gujarat in the Ranji Trophy. West Indies fast bowlers Wesley Hall and Watson had come to India for coaching in 1964 and Contractor played them confidently. Four years later he made 152 in the Duleep Trophy and also scored 144 against East Zone.
Ironically in his final first class match he scored a century and 93 and retired in 1972. He made 2535 runs in the second half of his career. He said that “Cricket has given me everything but money. However he warns that this must not be construed in the negative. He has no regrets in playing in an era where you got paid Rupees 250 per Test compared to the lacs players get now.
Nari says that there are no regrets in his life except he never played for India again. When you play a game like cricket, injuries are bound to happen. A fast bowler can try to hit you at will but to get hit in the head like me is accidental and I do not hold anything against Griffith. Life has to go on. Every man has his setbacks but one should look ahead, not back. They played without helmets, chest guards, thigh pads and other protectors. They only placed towels on their thighs for protection. There were no limit on bouncers and beamers. As a left hand batsman and right arm medium pace bowler Contractor appeared in 31 Tests and scored 1611 runs with 108 as his top score. He appeared in 138 first class matches and scored 8611 runs with 176 his top score.
He took one wicket and held 18 catches in Tests. He took 26 wickets and held 72 catches in first class cricket. He was member of the Cyclists Club along with Rusi Surti, Farokh Engineer and Behram Irani. Contractor served as coach at the cricket academy at the Cricket Club of India where his philosophy was that “If you can make the player express his view point then half the job is done. The age gap between the coach(average age 60 plus) and the trainee (under 16) does not matter because the kids have respect for the elders and the transparency means that the unit gels well together.” He believes the best form of cricket is test cricket but T20 has taken over the world.
While he was coaching at the CCI there were some English schoolboys who had come for lessons. A 13 year old right handed boy was batting in the nets. Contractor was standing a little far and talking to someone. Suddenly he heard a loud crack and felt the ball hit his knee. The boy had played a reverse sweep. He asked him what was he doing like that? The boy replied that he just played a perfect reverse sweep! What can you say to that? How can you coach a 16 years old when they see reverse sweeps on the TV, Contractor asks! He has kept his humorous attitude towards life and in 1990 he intentionally made sure that the metal detector at Delhi airport beeped at the metal plate in his head and confused the security for a long time.
Contractor was awarded with the C. K. Nayudu Lifetime Achievement Award by the Indian Cricket Board in 2007. I asked Nari Contractor if he could give something of his for the Lahore Gymkhana Museum. He replied, “When I got injured in the West Indies, even my kit bag was lost. The coats became small so I gave them away. Only one necktie is left which I intend to keep. He further said that “When Umrigar and Mankad applied for a benefit match they were asked to furnish with their preferences. Just imagine! Therefore, because of this reason, to this day I never applied.”
Commenting on the great players of his time he ranked Sir Garfield Sobers as the Bradman of Athletes. Peter May was the finest and most polished batsman and never even edged a single ball. He played every ball with the middle of his bat. He rates Rohan Kanhai an extra ordinary and under played great.
He rates Ted Dexter a great player for his powerful hits. Hanif Mohammed was a great batsman with a solid defence but he had so obviously become a bunny of Ramakant Desai. He thinks Vinoo Mankad of 1952 was the greatest all rounder of his era.
Polly Umrigar, he thought was a doubtful starter against pace. He rates Ian Botham very highly as a performer. In his opinion Imran Khan was the greatest cricketer of Pakistan. Contractor believes that although Sachin Tendulkar has more records than Sunil Gavaskar was a much greater cricketer and Sir Frank Worrell was the best captain who even advised his opposing team.