India’s new cricket chief, Mr. Z. R. Irani, is a true lover of cricket. “Zal,” to his numerous friends, has the correct perspective at a time when homage is being paid only to Test cricket, or what is commonly known as first-class cricket. Without minimizing the importance of such matches, he would rather dwell on the infinite pleasure that one gets out of the game by “whacking” the ball away, missing a catch, or bowling the batsman out with a long hop. It was a highly entertaining hour that I spent with Mr. Z. R. Irani when I met him, especially for an interview for Sport & Pastime in October 1966.
“Can I have something on your cricket?” I started off.
“Of course,” he responded without hesitation. ‘Let me start with the most exciting match of my career. I was eleven years old then and was studying at Hitchen Grammer School in Hertfordshire. My school played the annual match against St. Michael’s School.
The latter batted first and was all out for three runs, and the three were byes. My school then went in, and the opening batsman cut the first ball—I could even now see the stroke in my mind’s eye—for a four, and my school had won. “This was my second year at the school, and in the final year, I took a record number of 99 wickets. ‘I tried my best to get the hundred, but it evaded me.”
Mr. Z. R. Irani was punctuating his recollections with dramatic gestures when I butted in to ask what sort of bowler he was. Like a young boy, he was up on his feet, took a two-yard start, and ‘delivered’, left arm, an imaginary ball. “Left-arm slow, right-hand opening bat,” he said as he brought his arm down.
Mr. Z. R. Irani, who had evidently caught the real spirit of cricket in the village greens of England, added that he played for West Hearts and the Gentleman of Hearts in Hertfordshire. In India, he used to turn up for the Roshanara Club in Delhi and to “wallop” runs for the Parsi Gymkhana in Bombay. Typical of his approach, he spoke with enthusiasm about a mixed match staged at his club, in which women also participated. He was called for trials in Delhi when Jardine’s team visited this country, but he gave up playing the game after this trial match.
Mr. Z. R. Irani is not one who minds who wins a match, but it was with a sense of robust optimism that he viewed India’s chances against the West Indies this winter. He was aware of the great strength of the visitors, but he based his view that India could win at least one Test on the excellence of our own players. “If they show the guts and concentration, they can do it,” he added.
Speaking from his experiences with Indian cricket—his unbroken association with it extends over 35 years—he stressed that the game had registered much improvement. The membership of the Cricket Board had grown to 27, signifying fairly complete coverage of the country, and the standard of cricket had generally improved. “Though,” he cautioned, “we had stalwarts, equal to any player in the world, in the old days.”
For an hour, Mr. Z. R. Irani kept us—my young colleague and staff photographer—in high spirits with his overflowing kindness and enthusiasm. “Never refuse the good things of life,” he advised my friends as he cajoled them to accept his offer of cigarettes. The new cricket chief had put, in a nutshell, the philosophy that governed his approach to cricket and to life.
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Source: P. N. SUNDARESAN SPORT & PASTIME in October 1966