Since its founding in 1884, the Parsi Gymkhana in Mumbai has been a centre for Parsi cricket and served as a platform for stalwarts like Farokh Engineer, Nari Contractor and Polly Umrigar.
132 years since its founding, a new generation of champions such as Aditya Tare, Suryakumar Yadav, Balwinder Singh Sandhu and Aavishkar Salvi have emerged to carry on the legacy.
“I became a member in the year 1984 and played from 1985 to 1991,” recalls Khodadad Yazdegardi, vice-president of the Parsi Gymkhana and secretary of cricket. “Our side comprised of all Parsis in the playing XI and maybe two non-Parsis in the whole squad.”
As time passed, cricket began to play a smaller role in the club, with participation declining. Some left the sport, others went abroad and fewer Parsis turned up to play. “Maybe there was a lot of pressure to study or maybe the youngsters chose football.”
The gymkhana decided to revive interest in cricket and in 2011, the president and managing committee approached Khodadad. “When I took over in 2011, most of the boys decided to leave when they saw the (previous) secretary leave. Fortunately, the Kanga League was a washout that year and then I approached Zubin Barucha, my old friend and captain, to get me a good coach,” says Khodadad.
Finding the right coaches
His search led to Omkar Salvi, who went on to play an instrumental role in revitalising the team. Salvi, however, moved on to become the bowling coach of Mumbai and Khodadad found a suitable replacement in Vinayak Mane. “From the very first day, I was clear in my mind that the process is important and not the final results,” says Khodadad. He and Mane set about creating a culture that would bring new life into the side. “I want every boy who wants to play for Mumbai to aim to play for the Parsi Gymkhana.”
“The administration showed great interest and the cricket committee was very supportive of grooming cricketers for the club,” says Mane, now the Mumbai U-16 coach. He talks about the various changes that were brought into place, including the arrival of Dr Makarand Waingankar and physician Dr Kinjal Suratwala.
Hard work pays off
The next few years saw rapid changes come to pass, with modern facilities and right techniques introduced. Today, the Parsi Gymkhana is back in the ‘A’ Division, having won the A. F. S. Talyarkhan three years in a row, and, after a gap of almost 70 years, entering the finals of the Talim Shield and Purshottam Shield cricket tournaments.
“I think it's a great club,” says Aditya Tare, Ranji player and captain of the squad, when asked what it’s like to be associated with the gymkhana. “It is one of the pioneers of Mumbai cricket and has a rich history. It is also a very motivated club and wants to do well. We have got a couple of terrific coaches and as a professional cricketer; the facilities that they provide at the club level are phenomenal.”
Balwinder Singh Sandhu Jr started playing for the gymkhana U-19 team and got his break when selected for the Mumbai Ranji team. “The kind of approach and preparation towards the game is totally different now,” he speaks on the changes. “The interaction between the coaches and the players personally is a lot more and coaches like Vinayak (Mane) and Omkar Salvi are the kind you want on your team.”
As their performance improved, Khodadad noticed a pleasant change. “I’ve seen a lot of members come to watch our matches now. Lots of members used to come every Sunday to watch our games and now for the last two years, I’ve seen them begin returning.”
The future looks bright with several players already advanced to the higher level of cricket and many more probables in the wings. “I am a firm believer that everything is secondary in life to a person’s character and sports build character,” Khodadad shares.
“Besides cricket, I try to inculcate a very strong character in all the boys. We try to make them so mentally strong out here that nothing bothers them. When these boys play, their performance will carry them through. Four of my boys play Ranji Trophy today and it’s all been on pure performance.”
More than the professional atmosphere and fantastic facilities, the team comes across as a close-knit unit that is always ready to support each other. This feeling comes across clearly when Khodadad speaks passionately about ‘his boys’. “More than anything else,” says Khodadad, “you know these boys are like a family. We back each other always, even if the boy is not playing in the side. If a boy fails, we still back him.”
“The team dynamics here are brilliant,” says Sandhu. “All the seniors are approachable and the communication level is really good. These guys are open to sharing their thoughts and experiences. I think the management understands the player really well too.”
Mane seconds his thoughts. “I’d like to mention (Aditya) Tare, Aavishkar (Salvi), Ballu (Balwinder Singh Sandhu) and Surya (Suryakumar Yadav), their experience, knowledge and commitment set an example for the others on how to approach club cricket even after playing at a higher level. They are helping the team grow year after year.”
“The commitment the players show is tremendous,” observes Mane. “We have all been brought up like that and show this commitment at whatever level we play. Now, we have a good set of players which will produce good cricketers who will play for Mumbai and maybe the country.”
Khodadad has a bigger aim for the club. “The main thing is to make sure any boy who aims to play a good level of cricket will try to get in the Parsi Gymkhana team and work hard because here, we eat, breathe and train cricket.”
Tare validates Khodadad’s claims. “As a cricketer what we require is good facilities to practise, good coaches, good grounds and pitches and the Parsi Gymkhana ticks all the boxes. Khododad and the administrators are open-minded and accepting and it helps as a player to have that support system,” he concludes.