Specials – Manek Bajana: The Parsi batsman who played for Somerset

  Manek Pallon Bajana was one of the most promising Parsi cricketers of his time. But interestingly, he never played a first-class match for the Parsis nor for any other team on Indian soil. Instead, he devoted almost his entire playing career to Somerset in the County Championship.

  ‘Prince’ Bajana, a solidly-built right-handed batsman, was born on September 14, 1886. He had a late start to his cricket career – on the historic tour of 1911, he joined the all-India team in England where he was in the service of Maharaja Nripendra Narayan of Cooch Behar.

  He thus became the seventh Parsi in that squad, and was the only one representing Eastern India (Cooch Behar is situated in Bengal). On his first class debut for the Indians against Surrey at the Oval, he batted at number six and had the misfortune of recording a pair. He fared a little better in his second outing against Kent, scoring 21 and 12.

  It was in his fourth match, against Somerset at Taunton, that Bajana gave a display of his batting skills with a brilliant hundred. Replying to Somerset’s 157, Bajana was promoted from the middle order to open the Indians’ innings, and he grabbed the opportunity with both hands. The first two wickets fell with only one run on the board, but this woeful start did not deter Bajana.

  He shared in a 57-run partnership with Rustomji Meherhomji for the third wicket and was finally out for 108 – studded with 14 fours – out of the team total of 196; the next highest score being 19. Somerset fought back to set a target of 265 for the Indians. Though Bajana was out for zero this time, Palwankar Shivram (113*) guided the visitors to a one-wicket win.

zbajana       Manek Bajana was among the earliest Indians to have played in the County Championship (source – wikipedia.org)

  Impressed by his innings, a struggling Somerset – who were regularly placed at the bottom of the table in the past few seasons – duly signed Bajana as an opening batsman. Thus he became one of the earliest Indian cricketers to play in the County Championship.

  On his county debut against Sussex at Hove in May 1912, he scored 22 and 7 as Somerset clinched a low-scorer by six wickets. In the next game against Hampshire at Southampton, he impressed in defeat with a gutsy 71 in the second innings.

  Though Somerset’s performance did not improve much (they finished 14th out of 16 teams), Bajana topped the run charts and averages for his club in his first year. He played all 16 games, and scored 575 runs at 22.11 with four fifties. In the return drawn fixture against Hampshire at Bath, he top-scored with 85, while his highest of 95 came in a drawn game against Worcestershire at Amblecote.

  Bajana could not quite repeat his performance in the 1913 season, this time averaging 19.75 with only one half-century in ten matches. Against Derbyshire at Taunton, he struck a crucial 78 in the first innings to help Somerset win by 91 runs – a bit of solace in a season in which the county finished last again.

  In his first appearance following the war in the 1919, he scored 20 and 36 against Surrey at the Oval. He played only six Championship matches that season, but averaged a healthy 27.55. He showed a liking for the Derbyshire bowlers again, scoring 77 at Derby to help his side win by ten wickets. Somerset eventually finished joint fifth out of 15 teams.

  The following season, i.e 1920, happened to be Bajana’s last at Somerset. He scored 361 runs in 14 Championship matches at 16.40, with a knock of 106 being his only fifty-plus score. This innings, which included 12 fours, came against Warwickshire at Bath, and enabled Somerset to win by ten wickets.

  A few days prior, Bajana achieved his career best score of 115, against Cambridge University at the Fenner’s Ground. With his team having been set 330 to win, he guided them to a draw with this innings. His final match was against Middlesex at Lord’s, where he scored 6 and zero. At Somerset, he was known by the nickname ‘Pyjamas’, probably because it seemed to be rhyming with his surname.

  In his eight-year career, Bajana played a total of 55 first-class matches, of which 46 were in the County Championship. He scored 1975 runs from 96 innings at 20.83 with three hundreds and a best of 115. He also took 36 catches and four wickets.

  Apart from first-class cricket, he played for London’s Indian Gymkhana in a few minor matches between 1917 and 1924. He was a better batsman than his numbers suggest, and it can be said that most of his peak years unfortunately coincided with the first World War.

  Bajana was among those who led the way for future Indian cricketers to play on the county circuit. Sadly, he did not live to experience India’s first ever Test match – he passed away on April 28, 1927 in London at the young age of 40.

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