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An forgotten name from the long lineage of Parsee wicket-keepers to have played for India, Jenni Irani was born August 18, 1923. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the man whose career was truncated due to an overlap with Probir Sen.
Jamshed Khudadad “Jenni” Irani lived up to the Parsee tradition of producing quality wicket-keepers: from RD Cooper, Khershed Meherhomji to Farokh Engineer and Rusi Jeejeebhoy, they have produced glovemen on a consistent basis and Irani was no exception.
Irani was tall (6’) but was unusually slim, weighing only 60 kg. Border Watch (South Australia) wrote of him,“[Jenni] Irani is a very tall player, which is unusual for wicket-keepers, but nevertheless he is a very clever man, and few liberties can be taken.”
Despite his abilities he got limited opportunities since Sind did not have the strongest bowling attack of the era; he played 22 First-Class matches, and his 23 catches and six stumpings all came from the 18 matches where kept wickets. He also scored 430 runs at 17.20 without a fifty, and played two Tests without much success.
Born in Karachi, Irani went on to study at Bai Vibhaji Sopratiwala High School, and later on at DJ Sind College before moving to Bombay University. Before all that happened, however, he made his debut at 14 as a specialist batsman for Sind against Lord Tennyson’s XI at Karachi: he scored 22 before Stan Worthington cleaned him up.
With studies to handle, his appearances became sporadic, but he scored 46 (against Maharashtra at home) and 41 (against Bombay at Brabourne Stadium) in consecutive innings in 1945-46 along with a tidy job behind the stumps. He missed the England tour of 1946, but slowly established himself as one of the leading wicket-keepers of the country. He did a sound job that winter, and despite not being a sound batsman, he was selected for the 1947-48 tour of Australia.
Irani was the first-choice wicket-keeper of the side with Probir Sen as his deputy, and impressed with 43 against an Australian XI at the Sydney Cricket Ground; walking out at 229 for nine he helped Gogumal Kishenchand put on 97 for the last wicket and was selected for the first two Tests.
India ran into Ernie Toshack on a wet pitch at The Gabba in Brisbane on Irani’s debut. Irani caught Bill Brown and stumped Ray Lindwall, but that were his only high moments as India were bowled out for 58 and 98 as Toshack finished with five for two and six for 29 on a ‘sticky’ wicket. Irani scored a duck and an unbeaten two to become the first Indian wicket-keeper to register a duck in his first Test innings (this has later been “emulated” by Ajay Ratra and Parthiv Patel).
India had the upper hand in the second Test at SCG: though they were bowled out for 188 they came back by dismissing Australia for 107 on a wet pitch. They were themselves down at 61 for seven when no more play was possible. Irani remained unbeaten on one, caught Don Tallon, and never played another Test. Probir Sen, with his superior batsmanship and nimble-footed glovework, took over for the rest of the series.
Irani returned after a torrid tour of Australia, where he scored 94 from seven matches at 11.75, and had 15 dismissals to show against his name. He moved to Pakistan after the tour. He umpired a match between against the visiting Commonwealth XI and Pakistan at Lahore, and played the next match for Karachi and Sind against the same opposition. Opening batting Irani scored 28 and three, took a catch, and never played another match.
Following his retirement Irani took up a job at Habib Bank. He passed away at Karachi on February 25, 1982 at the age of 58.
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