Ranji

by Bernard Frei on March 06, 2019

Born in Sadodar, a village in the state of Nawanagar in the province of Kathiawar, India, in 1872, Colonel H.H. Shri Sir Ranjitsinhji Vibhaji II Jam Saheb of Nawanagar, GCSI, GBE, to give him his full name and title, by the time of his death in 1933, was educated at the Rajkumar College , which was run along the same lines as an English public school , and started playing cricket at the age of ten. Ranji’s academic ability won him a place at Cambridge University in England in 1888 and at the start of the English cricket season he saw Surrey’s match against the Australians at the Oval.

Ranji lived in the house of the chaplain of Trinity College, Cambridge, Reverend Louis Borrisow, who tutored him for a year. During his time at the university Ranji spent more time on non-academic pursuits, including cricket, tennis, billiards and photography, and failed the entrance exam to Trinity College in 1889, but was admitted as a ‘youth of position’. He never graduated.

Ranji spent the summer of 1890 in Bournemouth, playing club cricket. His interest in a career in the sport increased as a result and his adoption of the title ‘Prince Ranjitsinhji’, to which he wasn’t entitled, followed.

At the start of the 1891 season he joined the recently re-formed Cambridgeshire County Cricket Club. He was selected both for the county and for a South of England team. Ranji had begun to work on his batting technique with a first-class cricketer, Daniel Hayward, who discouraged him from playing on the back foot to fast bowlers, which was leading to Ranji’s frequent dismissal. He effectively invented the leg glance, scoring runs by flicking the ball ‘around the corner’, down to the long leg position. In the 1892 season Ranji scored 2,000 runs, including nine centuries. 

His unorthodox style and nationality had deterred those who may have selected him, including the captain of the Cambridge University cricket team and even of his college, Trinity: he scored a century, averaged 44 and was selected for the university early in the season. Retaining his place in the team as a result of his innovative batting style, cutting and glancing, and brilliant fielding, he played against the Australian tourists, made a rapid 58 in the first innings and an impressive 37 not out over two hours in the second.

He was selected for the Blues match against Oxford University, for the Gentlemen against the Players at the Oval and for a combined Oxford and Cambridge Universities team against the Australians. It was around this time that he was given the nickname ‘Ranji’ by his friends and that several English first-class counties expressed interest in him as a player, notably at the start of 1894. He had moved into his own rooms in the city of Cambridge, living and entertaining extravagantly, and ran out of money. He didn’t sit the examinations to be called to the Bar , as he had intended, and was forced to leave the university, without graduating.

Ranji owed money to creditors and friends and had no intention of returning to India. He had befriended two Sussex county cricketers, the Australian, Billy Murdoch, and Charles Burgess (‘CB’) Fry. The county offered Ranji a financial incentive to join them for the 1895 season. He spent the remainder of 1894 representing the MCC in festival- and benefit matches, including one in which he shared a partnership of 200 with WG Grace. Ranji made his Sussex debut against the MCC at the start of the 1895 season, scoring 77 not out in the first innings, taking six wickets, and scoring 150 in the second.

He quickly established a reputation for brilliant stroke play and crowd numbers increased significantly at the grounds where he played. He scored highly-acclaimed centuries against Middlesex and Nottinghamshire and totaled 1,775 runs, with an average of 49.31, at the end of the season. In the first few weeks of the 1896 season Ranji scored centuries against Yorkshire, Gloucestershire and Somerset and 79 and 42 against the Australians.

Despite reaching 1000 runs he wasn’t selected for England, primarily on the grounds of race. He was selected for the Second Test, this time by a different committee from that of the First. He scored 62 in the first innings and 154 not out in the second, after England had followed on, 181 runs behind Australia. He scored heavily against Australia for Sussex and again in the county championship match - 40 and 165 - against Lancashire. The match against Yorkshire, that season’s county champions, saw Ranji deliver a performance that has never been repeated, scoring two centuries on the same day, Sussex having followed on. He totaled 2,780 runs at the end of the season, including ten centuries, averaging 57.92 and beating or equaling records that had previously been held by WG Grace.

Despite this success on the field, Ranji’s financial problems continued, until he was afflicted by a serious illness, forced to stay at the house of a friend and begin work on ‘The Jubilee Book of Cricket’, which he finished with CB Fry the following year and which eased his financial difficulties temporarily.

The 1897 Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack named Ranji as one of its cricketers of the year and he scored 260 for Sussex against the MCC and 157 for the MCC against Lancashire early in the season. The summer of 1897 produced 1,940 runs at 45.12. He was selected by the MCC for its 1897-98 tour of Australia, which the hosts won 4-1, but Ranji scored 1,157 runs at 60.89, including 175 in the First Test, the highest individual score for England at the time, resulting in an MCC victory by nine wickets and this despite Ranji’s severe illness during the game. He finished the five Tests with 457 runs at an average of over 50.

After a year in India, in pursuit of his claim to the throne of Nawanagar, he returned to England in March 1899, with improved health and financial support from his contacts in his own country. He was selected for the First Test against Australia and scored a match-saving 93 not out in the second innings. He scored 1000 runs in each of June and August, including four centuries in June and 197 against the season’s county champions, Surrey. He became the first batsman to score 3,000 runs in a season, totaling 3,159 at an average of 63.18. His Test average for the season against the visiting Australians was 46.33. Ranji had captained Sussex since June and the county finished fifth in the county championship, the highest position in its history. He picked up where he had left off in the 1900 season, scoring 97, 127, 222, 215 not out and 192 in just over two weeks. He scored 1,000 runs in July, with 202 against Middlesex and 275 against Leicestershire later in the season, hitting his eleventh century - his fifth double century of the season - in September. He finished the season on 3,065 runs at an average of 87.57.

As opposing teams countered his technique in scoring runs on the leg side and through gully, Ranji adapted his technique and increasingly drove off the front foot in the 1901 season, in which he totalled 2,468 runs at 70.51, including 285 against Somerset. Through another visit to India to attempt to secure his financial position, Ranji missed the start of the 1902 season, returning in mid-May and was selected for the First Test against the touring Australians. His failure in the Tests in which he played that summer was attributed to his continuing financial difficulties and he was never selected for England or the MCC again. In fifteen Tests he made 989 runs at 44.96. Despite the problems he faced that season, he made 1,106 runs at 46.08 and Sussex finished the season as runners-up in the county championship. Ranji attempted to alleviate his money problems by writing. His form the following season -1903 - was impressive nonetheless, scoring 1,924 runs at 56.58 and playing regularly for Sussex. In December he resigned the captaincy and returned to India in the winter, still inquiring after his succession to the Nawanagar throne, and securing loans that enabled him to return to England for the start of the 1904 season, at the end of which he had scored 2,077 runs at 74.17, including eight centuries and five fifties between June and August. His 121 for the Gentlemen against the Players at the end of the season was his last major innings until 1912.

He returned to England from India in 1908 and played for Sussex, but only in minor fixtures. His health and fitness had declined markedly. He did the same at the start of the 1912 season, aged 39, and scored four centuries for Sussex, including one against the touring Australian team. He rarely played beyond Brighton and Sussex’s smaller grounds in a season in which he scored 1,113 runs at 42.81. At the beginning of the First World War in 1914, Ranji made his house in Staines available to the country and it was converted into a hospital. In November 1914, he was made an honorary major in the British Army but he did not see active service. In 1915, he took part in a grouse shooting party and was accidentally shot in the right eye by another member, resulting in its loss. He spent two months recuperating and after attending the funeral of W.G. Grace in Kent, he went to India for his sister's marriage and did not return to England before the end of the war. This effectively ended his career and he played his last match in the 1920 season.

His first-class career consisted of 24,692 runs at an average of 56.37. From 1920, he divided his time between India and the British Isles. Ranjitsinhji died of heart failure in 1933 after a short illness. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered over the River Ganges. W. G. Grace connected Ranji's celebrity with ‘his extraordinary skill as a batsman and his nationality’. The Board of Control for Cricket in India inaugurated the Ranji Trophy in 1934–35 , which remains a domestic first-class cricket championship played in India between different city and state sides.

Capture a piece of cricket legend Ranji's legacy with this iconic print from VintageSports.com

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