Ranjitsinhji vibhaji

FATHER OF INDIAN CRICKET RANJITSINHJI VIBHAJI

Ranjitsinhji Vibhaji was completely unique, and there is no one in the history and development of batsmanship who can compete with  him. His style was a fantastic example of how a man can express personal genius in a game, not just personal genius, but the genius of a race as a whole. For Ranjitsinhji’s cricket was of his own country; when he batted, a strange light, a light from the East, was seen for the first time on English fields. It was breathtaking magic, unlike anything else that had happened in cricket before Ranji came to us.

W.G. Grace‘s prediction that there would be no batsman like Ranji for a hundred years is obviously untestable; however, even if there has been one, one could regard it as  contingent on Ranji’s existence. Furthermore, Ranjitsinhji was not only the first Indian cricketer known to the general public, but also the “first Indian of any kind to become globally known and famous,” as John Lord puts it in The Maharajahs.

Ranjitsinhji Vibhaji, the second, was perhaps the most outstanding cricketer ever born, a self styled prince from Jamnagar with uncanny eyes and wrists, who first opened the leg side as a scoring area and first tackled the pace of the ball in the power of the stroke.

Sir Ranjitsinhji Vibhaji, Maharaj Jam Saheb of Nawanagar, was a phenomenal cricketer, one of only a few dozen freak performers in cricket history. At the start of his career at Cambridge, he scored centuries for three different teams on the same day. When he was 39 years old and hadn’t batted in four years, he finished sixth in the English county averages and topped the Sussex batting with a 50.36 average, the next best average being 32 from Joe Vine. That’s how incredibly gifted he was. More importantly, he contributed something that cannot be quantified statistically.

Ranjitsinhji Vibhaji, Maharaj Jam Saheb of Nawanagar
Ranjitsinhji Vibhaji, Maharaj Jam Saheb of Nawanagar

‘Prince Ranji’ has always had a mythic element to it. He was, most importantly, only briefly a real prince, adopted as the Jam Saheb of Nawanagar’s heir purely as a precaution against that potentate’s inability to father an heir of his own – a status revoked four years later, and not restored for the next quarter-century. In fact, Ranji’s first exposure to cricket was influenced by this whim. Indeed, Ranji’s distinct batting style, which appeared to emanate directly from his exotic origins, belied the self-mastering dedication that underpinned it.

Ranjitsinhji introduced the game to some stunning strokes it had never seen before, most notably the leg glance and the late cut, which,  when executed flawlessly, is the most beautiful stroke of all. Ranji was the one who made the back stroke an attacking stroke. Until then,  the idea behind batting was that the ball should return in roughly the same direction from which it came to the bat. He changed this by  slightly deflecting the ball and assisting it in the same direction.’ Ranji was almost certainly the most elegant batsman ever seen in one of  the most graceful sports, as well as the most revolutionary.

Maharaja Ranjitsinhji made his first class debut for the university in 1893, his first game for Sussex in 1895, and his first cap for England the following season. Ranji scored 62 and  154 not out against the Australians at Old Trafford, leaving Wisden practically breathless with admiration. The Almanack gushed, ‘The famous young Indian fairly rose to the occasion, playing an innings that could, without exaggeration, be fairly described as marvellous.

According to legend, one of these professionals nailed Ranji’s back boot to the crease to cure the young Indian’s tendency to retreat from the ball. And, true or not, Ranji’s ability to deflect balls to leg changed the course of batsmanship forever, opening quadrants of the field  that were previously unexplored and untenanted.

Batting became a discipline of touch and subtlety as much as strength and force, thanks to the use of the wrist, eye, and timing. And,  judging by Fry’s description of Ranji’s ‘forward-glance-to leg’ stroke in Batsmanship: ‘The peculiarity was that he did more than advance his left foot at the ball; he advanced it well clear of the line of the ball to the right of it, and he somehow got his bat to the left of his left leg in line with the ball, finishing the stroke  with a supple turn at the waist and an extraordinarily supple wrist-work follow-through.’

The time had come for a crowd pleaser like Ranji. With county cricket thriving, he took advantage of the expanding first class programme: between 1898 and 1901, he and Fry, an unrivalled combination in glamour, amassed 16,500 runs for Sussex.

The Indian Prince has proven to be a trailblazer. He recognises no teaching that is not progressive, and, to be honest, his play has skewered our stereotyped creations.’ Ranji had essentially abandoned cricket by this point, his political ambitions having been realised with the restoration of his inheritance following the death of the Jam Saheb in August 1906. However, Neville Cardus’ remark that “when Ranji passed out of cricket, a wonder and a glory departed from the game forever” was exaggerated: Ranji’s legacy lives on.

 

Featured image credit: Getty images

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FATHER OF INDIAN CRICKET RANJITSINHJI VIBHAJI
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FATHER OF INDIAN CRICKET RANJITSINHJI VIBHAJI
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Ranjitsinhji Vibhaji was completely unique, and there is no one in the history and development of batsmanship who can compete with  him. His style was a fantastic example of how a man can express personal genius in a game, not just personal genius, but the genius of a race as a whole. For Ranjitsinhji's cricket was of his own country; when he batted, a strange light, a light from the East, was seen for the first time on English fields. It was breathtaking magic, unlike anything else that had happened in cricket before Ranji came to us.
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The Vintage Cricket
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