In the 80s, Manoj Parmar, still a teenager, would always take a couple of arduous detours on his way to play club cricket in the UK. From his home in Rajkot, he would travel eight hours on the road to be for darshan at Nathdwara, Rajasthan.
After the pilgrimage, the wicketkeeper-batsman would take a bus for Udaipur to buy in bulk “cushions covers, table cloth and wall hangings with colourfully embroidered elephants”. The Saurashtra Ranji regular of the past would land at Heathrow, lugging the bags stuffed with his cricket kit and elephants, after 10-hours on the Udaipur-Mumbai train and roughly the same time on the Mumbai-London flight.
Once in Scotland, where he would play league cricket for 12 years, Parmar would make a tidy profit exploiting the high demand for the exotic Indian handicrafts. The apartment that the club gave him would double up as a take-away for ‘chicken curry & rice’ that he cooked in a very Indian way. For the only son of an LIC clerk, who made his first trip to England after his father and a cousin took personal loans, making money on the side was as important as giving it all to English cricket system that employed him as an overseas professional. Roughly three decades after his first trip to these shores, meeting Parmar, 47, shows that his goals haven’t changed much.
Now in England, after a short stint in USA, he is talking about his early days of struggle sitting in his own double-storied, four-bedroom house that has a mini-van and car parked in the porch plus a sprawling backyard where his two sons play cricket and football.
The typical English village house at Thame, 40 minutes from London, is not far from his 2,500-square feet sports shop, the biggest in Oxfordshire, or the cricket ground where he runs a popular academy that groom around 100 kids, most of them in their pre-teens. Pointing to a field close to the approach road to his house he says, “If things go fine I will buy this land and shift my academy,” says the ECB-recognised Level 4 coach, certified ground keeper and, the ultimate English recognition, an MCC member who wears the yellow-orange tie when he gets invited to Lord’s games. Parmar’s story is as much about an enterprising journeyman who didn’t stay home moaning domestic cricket’s low wages during his playing days, as it is about the vast network of the inclusive English cricket structure that recognises not just the passion to play cricket, but also teach it.
The Parmars are the only Indians in the mostly-white Thame, with a population of about 12,000. Elder son Manan, a budding cricketer, says he is the only full-Asian in his school. But cricket has made them a very popular family around this village that is a short drive away from Oxford University.
At Parmar’s shop, a day before his academy students were to travel to Lord’s to watch the Test, a cricket mom walks in to collect the specially designed shirts for continued…