Since the current trend seems to be coming up with all-time national XI,
it is perhaps appropriate to start exchanging notes about players who
played the game before we were born and before the advent of TV. The
extent of my knowledge of pre-war cricket is very limited except for
some legendary names like Bradman, Hobbs, Hutton and so on. Recently I
got hold of a book written by Muder Patherya (an Indian sports journalist)
which contains a healthy dose of cricketing stories dating back to last
century. The book is supposed to cover a brief history of cricket - the
game and the personalities. I was quite impressed with some of the accounts
reported which are not available readily in popular publications but
make very interesting reading. I shall try to reproduce some of the
more interesting sections as time permits. In this one, let me start off
with the profile of one of the greats who (unfortunately) may not figure
in any all-time XI for technical reasons - K.S. Ranjitsingh.
Ranji's early interest in the game is attributed to the principal of his
college in Rajkot (India), Chester Macnaghten. In 1889 Ranji sailed for
England. Playing for a club match at Parker's Piece, Cambridge, he hit
132 before noon for his side. Walking over to another game purely as a
spectator, he found one team about to start its first innings, one man short.
Ranji offered his services, opened the batting and scored a quick unbeaten
century. After this he hurried back to the first match only to find that
his side was still batting. He ambled off to yet another game and scored 120,
his third hundred of the day (in three different matches, on three different
In 1895, Ranji made his debut for MCC at Lords scoring 77n.o. and 150
in addition to taking 6 wickets. The press was already putting him on par
with WG Grace. Two centuries in a day against Yorkshire in 1896 sparked off
a debate for Ranji's inclusion in the English team for Ashes at Lords. The
President of MCC was against recruiting overseas players for England.
`Birds of Passage' is what he called them and his opinion prevailed - Ranji
was not considered.
The following game at Old Trafford saw a shift in selectorial attitudes. The
Aussie captain issued a no objection insisting that it would be pleasure to
play against an Indian. Ranji was in. He scored 62 in the 1st innings. In the
second he walked in with England 181 behind. At the end of the day he was
unbeaten on 41, England 109 for 4. On the morning of the 3rd day Ranji added
a hundred before lunch. When the English innings ended at 305, Ranji at 154
had run out of partners. `I have seen nothing equal to it,' confessed the
Australian captain, `He made our bowlers look like schoolboys'. Wisden, usually
very restrained in its praise said `It is safe to say that a finer or more
finished display has never been seen.'
Ranji's innings for Gentlemen vs. Players added to the mystique. He made
47 in 10 minutes off 12 balls. He hit the first 11 for 4's, took a three off
the 12th and was out lbw. By scoring 2780 (av. 57.91) he edged past Grace's
record as the highest in a season.
When Ranji toured Australia in 1897-98, a special resolution in the senate
waived te 100 pounds compulsory levied on every foreigner before entering
that country. Ranji scored 189 in the first fixture and followed it up
with 175 (in 215 mins) in Sydney test.
He became the first cricketer to score 3000 runs in a season in 1899. The
demands on his ability grew. The following year his aggregate exceeded 3000
again (av 87.57). A heavy thunderstorm during a match against Middlesex had
reduced the wicket to a gluepot. Vine got 17 while none of the others got
into double figures. Except, of course Ranji who scored 202. Ranji became
the target of some criticism because of his late-night revelries. The parties
would never seem to end the same night. To put Sussex in the clear during a
match, it was suggested that Ranji would have to get at least 300. He put his
boots outside the bedroom door prompting the impression that he had settled for
an early night. Instead, he sneaked out, stayed awake te entire night fishing,
and scored 285 n.o !
Ranji's greatest technical contribution to cricket was the introduction of
leg glance. Ranji was yet to master the method of playing fast bowling; time
and again his right leg would move away from the wicket exposing the stumps.
Since he was hesitant to counter the weakness with defence, Ranji experimented
by firmly implanting his right foot, weaving and gliding the ball away down
the legside. In later years, he accounted for the innovation: `I was scared
of the high ball one day and let go off the handle with my right hand to
protect my head. With my left hand, I held up the bat - the ball went for a 4.'
`Where were you looking?' someone asked. `Towards the slips,' he replied, `but
I had my eyes shut'. `I honestly believe that he could have gone in with an
umbrella and obtained a century against the fastest bowlers in England with
strokes behind the wicket,' wrote D.J. Knight.
Ranji's 500 innings in first class cricket realized 24,692 runs (av 56.37)
with 72 centuries. His test average was 46.95 from 26 innings. Ranji never
married. He spent the last 18 years of his life blinded in one eye as a result
of a shooting accident in 1915. `What can I do to atone?' asked the highly
apologetic guest. `Be my guest again,' replied Ranji. A heart ailment troubled
him further. `If only I could sleep,' he kept saying. He died in 1933.
- excerpts from Wills book of excellence in Cricket, author M. Patherya.