The very thought of Ranji conjures images of the leg-glance. He was the inventor of the shot, one that was patently his own and an early glimpse of the suppleness of wrists that characterised the batting of later Indian stalwarts Gundappa Viswanath, Mohammad Azharuddin and V.V.S. Laxman.
Ranji worked hard to hone his talent, hiring professional bowlers from Surrey while he was at
. Simon Wilde
wrote in his biography Ranji A Genius
Rich and Strange: “He practised with as much purpose whether he had just
been out for 100 or for 0. He was a severe critic of his own game, and if he
was indeed a genius it was for his infinite capacity for taking pains, not for
becoming a superlative cricketer overnight. He enjoyed theorizing about the
game and putting those theories into practice.” Cambridge
The outcome was a batting style that was as unique as it was novel, and it perplexed the English. (Neville) Cardus elucidated in Good Days (1934): “In the ‘nineties the game was absolutely English; it was even Victorian. W.G. Grace for years had stamped on cricket the English mark and the mark of the period. It was the age of simple first principles, of the stout respectability of the straight bat and the good-length balls. And then suddenly this visitation of dusky, supple legerdemain happened; a man was seen playing cricket as nobody in
could possibly have played it. The honest length ball was not met by the honest
straight bat, but there was a flick of the wrist, and lo! The straight ball was
charmed away to the leg-boundary. And nobody quite saw or understood how it all
(Peter) Hartland summed up the impact of Ranji on the game: “The batting star of the Golden Age in England was Ranjitsinhji, with a first-class average of 56 - virtually as high as any English-qualified player has ever achieved and quite phenomenal for the time, particularly since he scored at around 50 runs an hour. Taking a qualification of ten thousand runs for all English batsmen who faced their first ball in the nineteenth century, Ranji’s first-class average is approached only by Sussex teammate (C.B.) Fry with 50. Test bowling did not slow Ranjitsinhji much, and the combination of his high average and scoring rate in relation to others really does mark him as out of the ordinary.”
Ranji’s first-class average of 56.37 was the highest for a full career by an England-based player until as late as 1986 when Geoff Boycott retired with a fractionally higher average of 56.84. And if one considers that Ranji’s career was all but over in 1904; his appearances thereafter were sporadic in 1908 and 1912, and farcical in 1920, his deeds are even more astounding. Upto 1904, Ranji had scored 22,402 runs at an average of 58.49 with 65 hundreds in 267 matches, really in less than a decade. That is the true reflection of his genius.
To the outside world Ranji was an exceptionally gifted prince who toiled diligently in the nets to emerge as the finest batsman of his era. Yet not many realised the inner turmoil that he undoubtedly underwent during his best years at the wicket, what with the drama of his adoption that never was, the machinations over his succession as ruler and his financial woes at the time. And he was laid low by illness for long periods. One has to marvel at the fact that he excelled at the game under these trying circumstances. Or more likely, he used them as a spur to motivate himself and to prove to those who mattered that he was fit to be king.
Yet his charm transcended all the elegant runs that he made. As (Gilbert) Jessop wrote: “From the moment he stepped out of the pavilion he drew all eyes and held them. No one who saw him bat will ever forget it. He was the first man I ever knew who wore silk shirts, and there was something almost romantic about the very flow of his sleeves and the curve of his shoulders. He drew the crowds wherever he went, and at the height of his cricket days the shops in
would empty if he passed along the street. Everyone wanted to see him.”
There was little doubt that Ranjitsinhji had transformed batting forever. As late as 1944, Pelham Warner wrote in The Book of Cricket: “With his wonderful eye and wrists, he could play back to almost any ball, however good a length, and however fast. Like Bradman, he seldom played a genuine forward stroke, for, again like Bradman he found that balls to which he could not play back he could, with his quickness of foot, get to and drive.” This ‘play back or drive’ method, however, could only be used by one with a sharp eye and quicksilver footwork, like a Ranji or a Bradman. English batsmen attempted to copy it with disastrous results. It takes someone extraordinary to play in an extraordinary way. Ranji scored more profusely than anyone had done before, just as Bradman was to do three decades later.
Published by Sporting Links
ISBN 978-81-901668-5-0, Fully Illustrated
French Fold 21.5 cm x 28 cm, 188 Pages
Price Rupees 995
Indra Vikram Singh’s latest books published by Sporting Links:
A Maharaja’s Turf ISBN 978-81-901668-3-6
The Big Book of World Cup Cricket ISBN 978-81-901668-4-3
Don’s Century ISBN 978-81-901668-5-0
Crowning Glory ISBN 978-81-901668-6-7
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