Goodbye, Mehli Irani! Former Mumbai cricketer passes away at 90 in Dubai

05 April,2021 07:05 AM IST |  Mumbai  |  Clayton Murzello

Former Mumbai batsman passes away in Dubai at 90; will be known for his long club cricket journey that spanned generations

Mehli Irani at the Bombay Gymkhana. Pic/mid-day archives

It seems only yesterday that I visited Mehli Irani’s home in Byculla to interview him for a piece I was doing on him playing the Dr HD Kanga Cricket League for 42 years.

We headlined the story NEVER SAY BYE, but Irani, 90, did say goodbye on Friday in a Dubai hospital.

He figured in the Kanga League till the 1990s. The genial Parsi may have played only one Ranji Trophy game for Mumbai (against Baroda in 1953-54) in addition to two other first-class games (Bombay v MCC in 1951-52 and Bombay v Commonwealth XI in 1953-54) but his role as an attractive middle-order batsman and wicketkeeper transcended eras. He enjoyed a long tenure as a club cricketer for Parsi Cyclists and Bombay Gymkhana.

Gavaskars, Sardesais, Patils

For example, Rohan Gavaskar played a few Saturday games with Irani for Bombay Gymkhana. And according to ex-Mumbai player Vilas Godbole, batting legend Sunil as well as his father Manohar could have played against Irani.  The late Manohar, it can be recalled, was a fine batsman, who used to represent Rajasthan SC.

Dilip Sardesai played against Irani and the late India batsman’s son Rajdeep played with him. Sandeep Patil and his father Madhusudan opposed Irani in different eras. The latter played in the same team as Irani in the Bombay v MCC match at the Brabourne Stadium in December, 1951.

Nari and Hoshedar Contractor too came into contact with Irani on the pitch.

Irani’s best cricketing moment was when he led Bombay University to a Rohinton Baria Trophy title triumph in early 1953. That team which beat Delhi in Bangalore had a clutch of future Test players—Nari Contractor, Ramnath Kenny, Naren Tamhane, GR Sunderam and Chandu Patankar. 

"Mehli was a brilliant batsman, who scored heavily in University cricket. He was a typical fun-loving Parsi," recalled Patankar, 90.

Contractor recalled his long association with Irani. “He was my captain at St Xavier’s College, my University captain and he took over when I resigned as Parsi Cylists captain. Mehli was an attacking cricketer. Winning mattered to him but he never went over the top. If we won, we won, if we lost, we lost,” said Contractor. Sandeep Patil, the former Test star, remembered Irani fondly. "Very sad to hear the news of his death. Mehli Uncle was a favourite among all youngsters; ever-smiling and always ready to help. He was a great person," said Patil.

Abbas Ali Baig, who scored a Test debut hundred for India on the 1959 tour of England, spent two memorable years at Parsi Cyclists.

"I enjoyed every second of it. From the tiny tent passing as their change room to the hilarious exchanges between the players were exhilarating and I have a feeling that Mehli must have been the accepted band leader. My condolences to the family," Baig told mid.day.com

Former Mumbai captain Shishir Hattangadi played in the same Bombay Gymkhana side as Irani in the 1980s. "He was a wonderful character in maidan and Bombay Gymkhana cricket. He played only one Ranji Trophy game for Mumbai and he always expressed that disappointment in a humourous way. He was a character and that tribe won’t increase," remarked Hattangadi.

Those heavy lunches

Karsan Ghavri, who shifted from Saurashtra to Mumbai in the early 1970s, spoke about his first captain in Mumbai cricket in glowing terms. "Mehli was my first captain at Parsi Cyclists. We were a laughing riot. Every lunch break was spent at an Irani restaurant near Churchgate which served the best dhansak. The players used to relish it and wash it down with some Golden Eagle beer, which came in jumbo bottles."

"After consuming all that, the fielding and catching obviously couldn’t be at its best. And the loudest voice on the field if we dropped catches, was Mehli’s. We got served the choicest expletives," recalled Ghavri.

Until recently, before he went to Dubai, Irani would be seen at the Bombay Gymkhana enjoying his evenings in the company of his wife Dhun and friends. He needed medical aid often and was helped immensely by Nadim Memon, the Mumbai cricket administrator, who used to accompany him to hospitals.

In Mehli Dinshaw Irani’s death, Mumbai cricket has lost a true blue cricketer, who was happy to sit in his beloved Parsi Cyclists tent when not on the field, enjoying every moment the willow game handed out to him. He deserved better.

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