Kolkata: It’s not often that one sees such a high curiosity level for a stand-by player in the Indian cricket team, but then - Arzan Nagwaswalla stands out for a number of reasons. The 23-year-old left arm pacer, who will be part of the Indian contingent to England for the World Test Championship final and the five-Test series against England, is the first Parsi cricketer since the legendary wicketkeeper-batsman Farokh Engineer to make the cut for a national selection.
What’s more, the speedster from Gujarat is the only active cricketer from this dwindling community playing in the domestic circuit in India - which had produced the likes of Engineer, Rusi Surti, Nari Contractor, Polly Umrigar and Diana Edulji in the past. Edulji, former skipper and a pioneering figure in Indian women’s cricket, was the last Parsi to be in the national reckoning when he made his debut in 1975 - and it’s been nearly three decades since then.
However, what clinched the deal for Nagwaswalla must have been the national selectors’ search for a quality left-arm seamer - which can add the X-factor to a powerful Indian pace attack comprising of Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah or Umesh Yadav. The arsenal of right arm pace bowlers at the disposal of Bharat Arun, India’s crafty bowling coach, is an awe-inspiring one but the option of someone like Nagwaswalla - whose natural ability to bring the ball back to the right-handed batsmen has been a talking point in Indian cricket for the last few seasons - must have been an exciting one.
Ever since the jumbo Indian squad was announced on Friday, his phone has not quite stopped ringing and the youngster from Nargal village of Gujarat is soaking in all the attention. ‘’I had done reasonably well in the last two domestic seasons, but didn’t really expect that I would get a call-up so soon. It’s a big opportunity to sharpen my craft in English conditions and also be ready if an opportunity comes my way,’’ Nagwaswalla told Gulf News over phone from Valsad in Gujarat, around 336 kms from Ahmedabad.
If Nagwaswalla’s name sounds a bit unheralded compared to Avesh Khan, the Delhi Capitals bowler who is also among the stand byes, it’s possibly because the Parsi cricketer had come up through the hard grind of domestic cricket since his debut in the 2018-19 season rather than franchise cricket. Nagwaswalla shot to limelight in only his third Ranji Trophy game against the mighty Mumbai, where his haul of 5/78 set up a nine-wicket win for Gujarat. The following season saw him claim 41 wickets in Ranji while in the last Vijay Hazare Trophy, he finished with 19 wickets - which must have surely caught the selectors’ fancy.
Acknowledging his debt to a stint with the Mumbai Indians team as a net bowler in the incomplete IPL 2021, Nagwaswalla said: ‘‘It was a windfall for me to spend time with Zaheer Khan, whom I consider as my idol, and Trent Boult. Both advised me not to let the speed drop while trying to generate the movement.’’
Insiders of Gujarat cricket say that the tall and strapping bowler has the ability to touch the 140-kmph mark regularly and had been a keen learner during the three seasons of domestic cricket that he has played. He has names like Jasprit Bumrah, Axar Patel, Priyank Panchal in the state team for company whom he turns to for advice and cannot thank Parthiv Patel, the former Gujarat skipper, enough in his development. ‘‘I consider Parthiv bhai to be a mentor of sorts as he has always backed me and advised on the requirements for graduating from first class to international cricket,’’ he said.
There is a distinct possibility of Nagwaswalla being picked up by one of the franchises during the mega auction for IPL 2022, which will see 10 teams. Asked what’s the first choice for him, the red ball cricket or white, he was quite forthcoming: ‘‘It’s definitely the former. My bowling suits red ball cricket and I would like to play Tests,’’ he added.
Who are Parsis?
An ethnic community — Parsi, also spelt ‘Parsee,’ are members of a group of followers in India of the Persian prophet Zoroaster. The Parsis, whose name means “Persians”, migrated to India from Iran to avoid religious persecution. The exact date of the Parsi migration is unknown.
Parsi cricketers to have played for India
Phiroze Edulji Palia
Sorabji Hormasji Munchersha Colah
Khershed Rustomji Meherhomji
Rustomji Sheriyar (Rusi) Modi
Jamshed Khudadad Irani
Keki Khurshedji Tarapore
Pahlan Ratanji (Polly) Umprigar
Nariman Jamshedji (Nari) Contractor
Rusi Framroze Surti
Rusi Jeejeebhoy (Reserve wicketkeeper, India’s tour of West Indies, 1971)
Arzan Nagwaswalla - Stand by