Cricket’s first global superstar was Kumar Shri Ranjitsinhji. ‘Ranji’ was possibly the most gifted and certainly the most exotic cricketer in an era of highly accomplished and flamboyant players during cricket’s Golden Age at the end of the 19th century.
Ranji is credited with inventing the late cut and leg glance, in addition to being a great cricketer. But how does he stack up against the current crop of players? Consider a player with Sachin Tendulkar’s wristy abilities and dexterity combined with Kevin Pietersen’s peacock showmanship. Even yet, you’re not even close to characterising a player with his exceptional abilities.
In the 1920s, Jessop wrote, “From the minute he stepped out of the pavilion, he drew all attention and kept them.” “Anyone who has ever seen him bat will never forget it.” He was the first man I knew to wear silk shirts, and the flow of his sleeves and the slope of his shoulders had a romantic quality to them.
“He drew crowds wherever he went, and when he was at his peak in cricket, the shops in Brighton would be deserted if he walked down the street.” Everyone was looking forward to seeing him. I felt he was impregnable whenever I bowled against him. ‘I’ll never get this man out,’ I thought to myself. He was without a doubt the greatest cricketing genius of all time.”
Although the MCC had serious reservations in the build-up to his Test debut in 1896 against Australia – eight years after he had arrived from India to study at Cambridge – on the grounds of his colossal size, Ranji became the first sportsman, and certainly the first non-white sportsman, in the world to gain renown and respect beyond the boundaries of the game they played at the turn of the twentieth century. He was the only option available to the MCC. His achievements were well-known at the time, not only among cricket fans but also among those who had only a passing interest in the sport. In 1896, he set a new record with 2,780 runs, including eleven centuries. He scored 3,159 runs in 1899 and 3,065 the following year, including five double-centuries, an incredible feat given that no one had ever scored more than two in a season before.
And, at the height of his abilities, Ranji accomplished something unprecedented in cricket history: he made two hundreds in the same day against eventual county champions Yorkshire in August 1896.
He was born in 1872 and was sent to Trinity Institution, Cambridge, by the principal of his Indian college in 1888 to study. He quickly shown that he was uninterested in academic subjects, choosing instead to play video games. He was a fantastic racquets player as well as a cricketer, because to his incredible eyesight.
Ranji’s prolific run-scoring in games around Cambridge began to attract attention, and by 1895 he had developed friendships with the Sussex amateurs, particularly CB Fry, who was studying at Oxford and against whom he had occasionally played, as well as county captain Billy Murdoch, who was keen for Ranji to play for Sussex as an amateur. Sussex, and English cricket in general, had found a new hero at that point. He scored 150 of the 208 runs Sussex scored in little over two and a half hours after being promoted to No. 4.His form began to wane near the conclusion of the season, as the mental and physical strains of playing so frequently for the first time in his career, as well as the pressure to score runs, began to wear him down.
Ranji amassed a total of 58 hundreds for Sussex as his reputation expanded throughout the country. Between 1899 and 1903, he captained the team for five years, but he only played in three full seasons following that, in 1904, 1908, and 1912, scoring 1,000 runs on each occasion. Domestic concerns in India had taken up much more of his time by then, yet he continued to make an effect.
Ranji had returned to India after over 25 years of contested succession and eventually succeeded to the Nawanagar throne in 1907. He was a creative ruler who played a key role in Indian politics, representing his kingdom twice at the League of Nations.Ranjitsinhji’s name appears in the Sussex record books on a regular basis. He hit the greatest scores for the county against Essex (230 in 1902) and Surrey (234* in 1902) and no batter in the county’s history has hit more double hundreds than he did.
He has been the subject of eight biographies, the best of which was Simon Wilde’s meticulously researched and lauded study, which was shortlisted for the Sports Book of the Year award in 1990. In it, Wilde worked hard to learn a lot more about himself than just his cricket prowess.
Above all, he is recognised as one of cricket’s earliest superstars and for setting a record that is unlikely to be matched in the sport’s history.