Thursday, April 14, 2016

“The straight ball was charmed away to the leg-boundary.” So said Cardus about Ranji. Excerpt from Indra Vikram Singh’s book ‘Don’s Century’

In the twilight of W.G. Grace’s long career dawned what came to be known as The Golden Age of Cricket. This was the twenty-year period before the First World War - 1894 to 1914. As Hartland explained in his The Balance of Power in Test Cricket 1877-1998: “This is largely because pitches had improved, but not too much, and the balance between bat and ball was just about right. In England cricket was at its highest level of popularity relative to other sports, notably football. Another reason is that England and Australia were more evenly matched than at any time. (Test) Matches in England were still limited to three days, while those in Australia were played to a finish.” Vic Marks added in The Wisden Illustrated History of Cricket, “Most of the innovations had already taken place, now was the time to lie back and enjoy the national game at your leisure. The Empire was secure; all that was to be feared was the possibility of a wet summer.”

Batting, having already been defined by Grace, saw its next two stars descend from distant lands. If Prince Ranjitsinhji, later the Jam Saheb of Nawanagar, delighted with his artistry at the crease, the Aussie Victor Trumper provided the thrills with his panache. 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 Cambridge. 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.”

The outcome was a batting style that was as unique as it was novel, and it perplexed the English. 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 England 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 happened.”

(Author Indra Vikram Singh can be contacted on email
Follow Indra Vikram Singh on Twitter @IVRajpipla.)

Don’s Century
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

Distributed in India by:  Variety Book Depot, AVG Bhawan, M-3, Middle Circle, Connaught Circus, New Delhi-110 001, India. Tel. + 91 11 23417175, 23412567.

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