Ranji of undying glory
BY JACK FINGLETON
Founder of a new technique
What Dr. W.G. Grace was to England, what Victor Trumper was to Australia, so was Ranjitsinhji to India Does the spirit of Ranjitsinhji live on in Indian cricket? It is a question worth asking
When, as is the case now with THE HINDU, a great newspaper fittingly recognises, with a special publication, the greatest event in Indian history, it is trite, perhaps, that one of another nationality should pay his respects to what India and Indians have accomplished on the Cricket field. The onlooker, they say, sees most of the game; the outsider, perhaps, sees most of a nation’s characteristics on the sporting field.
It is necessary, as I did above, to write on India and Indians because the strange truth is that the most illustrious deeds performed by Indians in Test cricket have not been for their homeland but for England. That is one of the anomalies of international cricket. It is also another anomaly that while Indians, by their scores, have greatly aided England to beat Australia, India, herself, has yet to win a Test. A strange state of affairs, indeed. While Ranjitsinhji, at the turn of the century, established himself as one of the immortals of the game; while his nephew, Duleepsinhji, and only to a slightly less degree, weaved his particular brand of immortality and genius into the game; and while Pataudi made his mark in famous Anglo-Australian Tests, the country of India has yet to stand in international cricket on a pinnacle commensurate with the three I have mentioned.
I will write more of that later on. I am moved, at present, to write of Ranjitsinghji because what Dr. W.G. Grace was to England, what Victor Trumper was to Australia, so was Ranjitsinhji to India. He was a legend though, unlike the others I have mentioned, his spirit must seep through to the cricket of his homeland in other ways because he did not build his artistry on Indian soil. His great deeds, his infinite variety and majesty, spilled over on English and Australian fields. There were times (as I learn from my library) when Ranjitsinhji came home from England and, undoubtedly, his countrymen saw much of his genius then. Indeed, there were indignant letters to English newspapers in 1898 when Ranji, after playing with Stoddart’s team in my native land, stopped off in India and made a long stay there.
Not an English product
In such a manner, then, did England come to regard Ranjitsinhji as her own by tutelage, by right and by adoption but it would be grievously wrong to believe that the Indian was an English product. He learnt the game at Rajkumar College, at Kathiawar. It was there he learnt defence, the basis of all batting genius, and legend has it that on Parker’s Piece, a strip that runs between the University Arms hotel and Fenner’s at Cambridge, he acquired the different strokes, unerring judgment and faultless style that made his name ring throughout the cricketing world.
They talked, in 1948, of the dangers the English faced against the fiery bumpers of Lindwall and Miller but these dangers were ever-present on every pitch on Parker’s Piece. The ball either bites and rears or shoots and streaks off the unprepared surface. It was there, claimed Dr. Grace, that Ranjitsinhji learnt his unorthodoxy and perfected his judgment, and I can well understand it because, after the very necessary foundation of defence is laid, there is nothing better to sharpen the eyesight and the wits and quicken judgment than a rough, uneven pitch.
Ranjitsinhji was twenty when he went to England. He was accepted, when he began his long list of big scores, as a heaven-sent genius with no need for apprenticeship but, as I have read, no cricketer ever practised more assiduously. He engaged professional bowlers to tend him at the nets for hours in England and though Cambridge thought little of his ability, few could have had a better first county match than the Prince when he played for Sussex. Fittingly, it was at Lord’s and Ranji made 77 not out and 150, innings that made the Cambridge selectors look foolish. Ranji never looked back. The very next season, 1896, he broke Grace’s record with an aggregate for a season in England of 2,780. But his greatest years were 1899 and 1900, in both of which he passed 3,000 in the latter averaging 87 an innings and scoring over 200 five times.
There was one remarkable innings in that last year at Hove. It was the last day of the match and the pitch had been upset by a severe thunderstorm. Sussex found runs very hard to get. Vine scored 17, nobody else made double figures but Ranjitsinhji scored 202! So far as I can gather, there was only one discordant note in Ranji’s magnificent career in England. There was once a suggestion, in his most brilliant season, that linotype operators were considering striking because they found his name so hard to spell!
Duleepsinhji was a worthy nephew of his famous uncle. I once saw his glory spread over our Sydney cricket ground and, indeed, there is a marked similarity between uncle and nephew in their cricket looks (Ranji was a slim fellow when at his peak) and the manner of their stance at the wicket. There was artistry in everything Duleep did and it is a most remarkable fact that the three Indians, Pataudi included, each made a century in their first Test for England.
I have written at length of Ranjitsinhji for a purpose. He marked the beginning of an era in cricket, the evolution of batsmanship from the utilitarian to the classical. Fry aped him and was inspired by him, as were other famous Englishmen, and who can tell of the aspiring thoughts that tumbled through young Trumper’s head who as a mere lad watched the Indian Prince make his classical 175 in Sydney in 1897? The generation that saw Ranji, that played with him, has now dwindled to a few. His deeds are in the record books and they stand comparison even with Bradman’s. There is much rich literature about him.
An enthusiast once wrote a song about him and the famous Horatio Bottomley asked Ranji to edit his newspaper for him on May 11, 1903. In India, the Ranji Trophy perpetuates this illustrious cricketer but though he has been immortalised in song, in verse, in books and by trophies, India, alone, possesses the inherent right to incorporate his spirit into her cricket.
Ranjitsinhji belonged to India. His art was nurtured in England and expended there and in Australia but his magic, his suppleness, his litheness, his footwork and his wristwork sprang from his native soil of India.
Does the spirit of Ranjitsinhji live on in Indian cricket? It is a question worth asking at a time such as this, a time when the great Indians of the past marshal in the memory and sharpen the initiative of this present generation for the future. Its nationhood assured, India will now march on to great things and history shows that the virility of a nation, the ego, the spirit, the independence, its characteristics, are as marked and as evident on the sporting field as in any business, political or diplomatic sphere.
India has never wanted in great national figures nor does it now. We in Australia who follow the politics of the world have a deep and sincere regard for Pandit Nehru. He is recognised here as one of the great leaders of the world and, as the peace of Asia, as we see it, is indivisible from the greatness of India, so, too, does one wonder whether the new and virile India will produce another Ranjitsinhji. India is youngest of all in international cricket and there must always be birth-pangs but already she has given splendid interpretations of Indian cricket to the world in Duleepsinhji, one of the really great modern batsmen, Pataudi, the late Amar Singh, Amarnath, Hazare, Merchant, one of the world’s best, Phadkar and Mankad, but the light and the spirit of Ranjitsinhji still beckon. Neither South Africa, the West Indies, nor New Zealand have a national cricket inspiration in any manner comparable with Ranjitsinhji.
Bradman has gone. His cricket throne in the Commonwealth is vacant. The way is clear for another Ranjitsinhji — one of the wonders of cricket for all time.
— from Republic Supplement, January 26, 1950
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