Throughout the world of sport there are few individuals who are universally recognized for pioneering the techniques of their chosen sport. The Fosbury Flop in high jump, so named after Dick Fosbury, is one clear example of an athlete's contribution to their sport's evolution being easily identified. Within cricket circles, it is obviously impossible to say with certainty the first person to introduce the square cut or the drive to the batsman's armory of shots, however cricket historians appear unanimous in their recognition of an Indian batsman as the first player to master play off his pads with the leg glance. This man was K.S. Ranjitsinhji, known by all supporters of the game simply as Ranji.
Kumar Shri Ranjitsinhji, the second son of a minor nobleman Jiwantsinghji, was born on the 10th of September 1872 in the small town of Sarodar in the Indian province of Kathiawar. Ranji started going to the Rajkumar College at the age of eight with many Indian princes, and was introduced to cricket by the headmaster, Chester McNaughten. Ranji's life however was to change direction substantially during his years at school. The local ruler of the province, Jam Sahib Vibhaji, did not have any male children, and Ranji was selected as the heir apparent. At the end of his schooling in India, Ranji was sent to England in 1888 to attend St Faith's College, Cambridge.
The Headmaster of St Faith's College took a great interest in the young Indian sent to him. R.S. Goodchild saw Ranji's immense potential, however at this early stage in his career it was very rough and unrefined. He spent the next four years developing Ranji's defensive technique, as this was almost non-existent on his arrival in England. By the age of twenty Ranji had adapted his style to English conditions and was a regular in the Trinity College team, however he was not included in the Cambridge team side in 1892. The captain of the University team, F.S. Jackson, later admitted that the fact that Ranji was an Indian had actually counted against his inclusion. Ranji's performances for his college in 1893 however meant that he could not be overlooked again, and he was awarded his 'Blue' in the game against Oxford at Lords in that season. Whilst he failed with scores of nine and a duck, his career in England was now gaining momentum. Whilst it is clear that Ranji was immensely gifted physically, what is often overlooked is the fact that he also worked very diligently upon his technique and skills.
Ranji was selected to play both for the South of England against the touring Australian team, and for the Gentlemen against the players in 1893. His scores for Cambridge were not impressive statistically, with a total of 386 runs at 29.9, however the style Ranji scored his runs in was commented on by team-mates, opponents and spectators alike. Surrey made an approach to Ranji, however he declined as he saw a better opportunity with Sussex. Sussex were a weaker county, and Ranji felt that he would have better chance to establish himself there. Ranji joined Sussex in 1895 and immediately made an impact in his first game against the M.C.C. In the game at Lords, Ranji scored an unbeaten 77 in the first innings, and then almost doubled it with 150 in the second. Whilst Sussex ended up losing to the M.C.C., it was not due to a lack of effort from Ranji, who also took six wickets and managed two catches. In the 1895 season Ranji scored a total of 1766 runs at an average of 50.16, statistics that placed him third in the first class figures.
The 1896 seasons started off with Ranji in great form. An Australian team was touring England that year, and Ranji was in contention for a place in the first test at Lords. Back then, there was not a standard set of national selectors. Peculiarly, the county at which the test was played had final say on the makeup of the team. This led to a situation in which Ranji was overlooked for the first test as Lord Harris, the President of the MCC, was vehemently against his inclusion. Lord Harris had been the Governor of Bombay from 1890 to 1895 and he showed his dislike for Indian players in England, calling Ranji a 'bird of passage'. He believed that Ranji had no right to be selected for England, as he was not born in England.
One upside to the strange policy of county's picking of the test team was shown in the second test played at Old Trafford, as the Lancashire board immediately selected Ranji to make his international debut. With his selection, Ranji became the first person from India to play test cricket. Australia batted first and totaled 412, with Frank Iredale scoring 108. Ranji batted at first drop for England, and, after W.G. Grace was dismissed with the score at only two, Ranji compiled a typically graceful 62 before being caught by Harry Trott off Tom McKibbin. This was not enough however, and England were forced to follow-on. Whilst England's second innings started off slightly better than their first, Ranji was still in early with Grace's dismissal for only eleven. Ranji then produced the best innings on debut by an Englishmen to that point. He made 154 not out, batting for only one hundred and ninety minutes. No other English player passed fifty and whilst Australia still won the test, it was a tight struggle with seven wickets falling in the process. The great Australian allrounder, George Giffen, described the innings as the finest he had ever seen. He also added that it should not be surprising, as Ranji was the batting wonder of the age.
Ranji also played in the third test at The Oval, however he only managed to score 8 and 11 in his two knocks. Ranji still ended the series with 235 runs at the impressive average of 78.33. Ranji finished the 1896 season with 2781 first class runs at the leading average of 57.91. This aggregate also broke W.G. Grace's twenty five year old record for the highest number of runs scored in a season. Amongst the ten first class centuries he scored, two of them were both made on the one day for Sussex against Yorkshire. Ranji was probably one of Wisden easiest ever choices as one of their Five Cricketers of the Year. Ranji had based himself in the village of Gilling, where he lived quite extravagantly with many cars and a expansive social life. Whilst he had finished his time at Cambridge without actually gaining a degree, Ranji's increased public profile by the end of the 1896 assisted him to write articles for the Sun newspaper and also to publish his own cricket manual called 'The Jubilee Book of Cricket'.
Ranji had reoccurring problems with bronchial illnesses in 1897, however he was still an automatic choice to tour Australia with the English side. Ranji showed his ability to adapt to differing conditions by scoring 189 in the first match of the tour. The first test of the summer was played at the Sydney Cricket Ground, and Ranji showed that his debut century had not been an anomaly. He scored 175, which was the highest score by an English player in test cricket, and he also became the first player to score a test century on debut in both England and Australia. Whilst this was Ranji's only hundred in the five tests, he managed several other useful scores of 77 and 71 and finished the series with 457 runs at an average of 50.77. An average of fifty in current times is seen as a measure of greatness, however, back in the nineteen hundreds it was almost unheard of.
While the England team returned home by boat in March of 1898, Ranji stopped off at Colombo and spent some time in India after having been in England for a decade. Interestingly, Ranji was never to play first class cricket in India, however he did play club cricket during the 1898 summer. Ranji stayed in Nawanagar for the remainder of the year, however he chose to return to England in time for the start of the 1899 English summer. This was to prove Ranji's best ever first class year, being the first player to ever top three thousand runs in a single season. As the captain of Sussex he scored 3159 runs and took them towards the top of the table for the first time in years. The touring Australian team played five tests and Ranji did not quite replicate his outstanding form against them, however he did score 278 runs at an average of 46.33. The highlight of this test series was his 93 not out in the first match at Trent Bridge. With England chasing 290 to win, Ranji came to the wicket in the second innings with the scoreboard at 4 for 19. He held the innings together single-handedly, with only two other players making double figures. England held on for a draw, being seven wickets down for only 155 at the end of play. The other significant milestone that Ranji achieved in this series was his only ever test wicket, that of J.J. Kelly caught by the English keeper A.F.A. Lilley.
Ranji led a team of English players on a tour of North America in September and October of 1899, playing two games against the Philadelphians. At this time, the Philadelphian Gentlemen were able to put a team on the field that was competitive against most world sides, and with Bart King, possessed one of the best bowlers in the world. The KS Ranjitsinhji XI won both games by an innings and over one hundred runs, with Ranji's contribution in his sides two innings being 68 and 57. In spite of the team winning both games convincingly under his leadership and his captaincy efforts with Sussex over the years, Ranji was never considered for this role with England. There were enough individuals of Lord Harris' ilk in the various positions of power that ensured that Ranji would never rise to become the first Indian born player to captain England. That honour would come later to Douglas Jardine.
There was not another test series until Australia toured England in 1902. This left Ranji free to concentrate upon first class cricket for Sussex in 1900 and 1901. He replicated his feat of scoring three thousand runs in 1899 by scoring 3065, including an unbeaten 202 against Middlesex. He was not able to quite manage the feat three times in a row in 1901, however Ranji did record his highest ever first class score with a total of 285 not out against Somerset. Only Yorkshire and Lancashire finished in front of the Ranji led Sussex in the county championship.
Ranji was picked for the first test of the 1902 summer that was played in Birmingham. Ranji was bowled in his only innings for 13 and followed this with a duck in the second game at Lords. He did not play in the Third Test, and failed in both of his knocks in the Fourth Test with scores of 2 and 4. This was surprisingly the end of Ranji's test career, as he was discarded by the selectors for the fifth test and never again recalled. Quite why Ranji was abandoned so quickly is not clear, as his batting form remained excellent. In the 1903 season he scored 1924 first class runs and finished second in the overall averages. Ranji did even better in 1904, topping the English performances with 2077 runs at an average of 74.17. In spite of this, a test recall was not on the cards for Ranji even though he was only in his early thirties.
Ranji did not play in England from 1905 to 1907, as he returned to India to start moving towards taking his place as the ruler of his province. He was officially installed as the Maharaja Jam Seheb of Nawanagar on the 10th of March, 1907. The responsibilities of ruling restricted Ranji's opportunities to continue playing cricket in England. He played on in a limited capacity in 1908 and 1912, however injuries and illness prevented him completing the seasons in full. 1915 saw Ranji suffer a hunting accident in Yorkshire, which resulted in him losing his right eye. He wore a glass eye and spectacles thereafter, however his first class career was effectively over. Ranji did play a few first class games after the First World War, but they were unsuccessful. His career finished with a score of one against Northamptonshire.
Ranji's memory in India is one of contradictions. Many people remember him as a benevolent prince who represented the Chamber of Princes and the League of Nations for India with great distinction. A recent book by Mario Rodrigues called 'Batting for the Empire' presents a very different viewpoint, claiming that Ranji was a toady for the British Empire and actively worked against the independence efforts of fellow Kathiawari M.K. Gandhi and other Indians. It is undoubtedly true that Ranji did act as a public advocate for the political interests of the Indian princes, and clashed often with the national press, however whether this is necessarily a sign of Ranji failing the Indian public is debatable. Another criticism of Ranji is that he did nothing for Indian cricket, and in fact viewed himself as solely an English cricketer. He certainly did not ever play first class cricket in India, and did push his nephew Duleepsinhji to play for England rather than India. It is difficult now to assess what affect Ranji had upon his native country, however he certainly inspired such Indian greats as C.K. Nayudu to believe that they were able to compete and excel at cricket as much as any English player.
Ranji never married. He was romantically linked to a number of women both in India and England, however no wedding was ever contemplated. Ranji died in the Palace of Jamnagar on the 2nd of April, 1933 of heart complications following a dose of pneumonia. His body was cremated, and his ashes were scattered into the Ganges. Irrespective of any arguments regarding his contribution to Indian cricket, it is clear that he deserves to be remembered as one of the greatest cricketers of all time. Perhaps Wisden's summary of Ranji remains the best; "If the word genius can be employed in connection with cricket, it surely applies to this Indian batsman".
Ranji played in 15 test matches from 1896 to 1902, scoring 989 runs at an average of 44.95. He had a highest score of 175, and also took one test wicket at an average of 39.
You can view his Stats Spider here
First Class Games
Ranji scored 24 692 runs in his 307 first class games at an average of 56.37. He took 133 wickets with his slow right arm spinners at an average of 34.59, with best bowling figures of 6 for 53.