M. K. Dharma Raja**

“Prince of a small State but King of a Great Game”. These were the words of the celebrated cricket chronicler A.G. Gardiner for the cricket genius K.S. Ranjitsinhji, scion of the Nawanagar Royal dynasty. Born on September 10, 1872, he was unorthodox in technique and with fast reactions, he brought a new style to batting and revolutionised the game during the Golden Age of Cricket. Those were the years when players took to the field without the present cumbersome protective gear. The British Press greeted him as the first Indian to touch the imagination of the English people in a remarkable way. (That was before Gandhiji arrived on the scene.)

Sir Neville Cardus renowned as Cricket’s Shakespeare wrote in his purple passage that, “A strange light from the East flickered in the English sunshine when Ranji (his abbreviated pet name) was at the wicket”. Within years, he came to be rated as the most accomplished batsman in the Cricket realm. “He brought a touch of Oriental magic”, the Daily Telegraph said. Describing his batting as a poem in action, the paper lavished heaps of praise on him. The inimitable punch invested him with the title, “Run-get-Ranji”.

For two years in succession, Ranji scored over 3000 runs in a season. He went past the previous record of the game’s erstwhile supreme W.G. Grace. Ranji made his debut for England in the 1896 second test against Australia. He made 62 in the first innings and a stylish 154 not out in the second. The Press praised him in superlative terms as the game’s juggler and a wizard. The prestigious Almanac Wisden included him in the niche of the Five Cricketers of the Year.

Ranjitsinhji was an automatic choice for the 1897 MCC tour of Australia. Going into the field straight from the sick bed, he piled up 175, then the highest score for England in a Test. When Australia came to England in the following season Ranji rescued the hosts from what looked like certain defeat by scoring 93 not out, Ranji scored over 200 runs five times topping the table with a knock of 285 not out. In a tally of 500 first class innings he ran up a total of a dizzy 24,692 runs with 72 centuries.

Batting with his supple wrists of steel, he deployed all the dazzling strokes of the willow game. The most exciting of them was the sideways leg-glance which he patented for himself almost as a copyright. Honouring him in his birth centenary year, India issued a commemorative stamp depicting his profile with his leg-glance. The stroke aptly summed up the invincibility of a well-oiled spring rocketing the ball all over and beyond the field. Cricket’s titan, C.L. Jesop said, “He is indisputably the greatest genius ever stepped on to a cricket field. He is one of the greatest cricketers, perhaps of all times”. Dr. W.G. Race who hosted a banquet in Ranji’s honour sent the audience into rhapsodies with the compliment, “I assure you, you will never see a batsman to beat the Jam Saheb even if you live for a hundred years”.

A sad end to Ranji’s Cricket career was the loss of his right eye in a shooting accident in 1915. He knew who fired the shot that went astray. But the gentleman that he was, Ranji never disclosed the name of the guilty. When Ranjitsinhji left the cricket field. A.G. Gardiner lamented in a moving passage that, “the last ball has been bowled. Around Lord’s the grand stands are deserted and forlorn. We have said farewell to cricket, We have said farewell to Cricket’s King. The game will come again in the spring. But, alas, the King will come no more.

Jam Saheb Ranjitsinhji passed away on April 2, 1933. In 1934, the Ranji Trophy Tournament for the National Championship was instituted. Maharaja Bhupendra Singh of Patiala announced the donation by him of a Trophy to perpetuate the inspring memory of the legendary Cricketer who brought precious glory and fame to his Motherland. The glittering Golden Trophy, two feet in height, is in the shape of a Grecian urn.

The inaugural Match of the National Championship Tournament was played between Madras and Mysore. The hosts Madras were the proud winners of the opening contest for supremacy. It is the springing board and platform for players who aspire to don the national colours.

After settling down in Nawanagar Ranji helped budding cricketers by spotting and encouraging them. The illustrious Amar Singh, prodigious with the bat and the ball alike who figured in India’s first foray at Lord’s in 1932 was a beneficiary of the Jam Saheb’s uncanny eye. Vince Mankad India’s finest all-rounder in the earlier years was another who started his career on the fertile Nawanagar cricket soil.

Death laid his icy hands on the “King of the Great game some seven decades ago. We may recall here the pearl of a Neville Cardus’ eulogy that, “it is not in nature that there should be another Ranji. He was “the Midsummer-night’s dream of cricket”.

*Freelance Writer



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