In 1934, India inaugurated the Ranji Trophy, a first-class cricket tournament in honour of K.S. Ranjitsinhji (1872-1933), an Indian prince of the British Raj who played cricket for several years at the very highest level for England, a country he loved dearly and which loved him in return.
IN June 1896, the British cricketing public were grumbling about the omission of a gifted Sussex batsman from the first Test against Australia. The issue was eligibility, as he was an Indian national, K.S. Ranjitsinhji.* But George Trott, Australia’s big-hearted captain, rubber-stamped Ranjitsinhji’s appearance in the second Test, where ‘Ranji’ repaid him by battering his bowlers around Old Trafford, scoring 154 not out in the second innings.
Ranji had discovered cricket at Trinity College, Cambridge, after arriving in England in 1888 with his old Headmaster from Rajkumar College. Both Ranji and the British government had been disappointed when the boy’s cousin, the Jam Sahib of Nawanagar,** adopted another family member as his heir, but Ranji took to life in England, and the English took to Ranji.
His Indian heritage, his seemingly impossible shot-making, and rumours that he was a dispossessed prince, drew them in adoring crowds: Neville Cardus wrote that when Ranji took guard, ‘a strange light from the East flickered in the English sunshine’.
* India did not have a recognised national team of its own until 1932. Apart from his celebrity status, Ranji played little part in the growth of competitive Indian cricket, which emerged out of the Presidency Match in Bombay between the Bombay Gymkhana, a British-dominated gentlemen’s sports club, and members of the Young Zoroastrian Club, formed by the Parsee community in 1850. Matches were granted first-class status in 1892.
** Nawanagar in modern-day Gujarat, northwest India, was founded in 1540. It came under British rule in 1812, finding peace after centuries of constantly fighting off neighbouring states and the Mughal Empire.