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1897 - K S Ranjitsinhji (Ranji)
One of cricket's greatest players, K S Ranjitsinhji was the first Indian to represent England. His talent was undoubted; in fact, he was the pioneer of the 'leg glance', a shot he made his own at a time when people could not even contemplate playing across the line. His cutting and driving, too, were superb. A useful change bowler and a safe catcher in the slips, Ranji was the complete cricketer.
He was born on September 10, 1872, in Sarodar, Kathiawar. It was at the age of 16 that he made the tough tour of England. Before his emergence, there was no inkling that India could produce a cricketer of quality. But it wasn't easy.
Ranji began his cricket career with Cambridge and earned his `Blues' in 1893. Initially he found it hard to break into the team and only when F.S Jackson (later captain of England) became captain did he finally make it. He, then, moved on to play cricket with Sussex (1895). He made 77 and 150 on his debut for Sussex against MCC at Lord's.
His style was so unorthodox at the time that C.B. Fry, one of his teammates, had observed: 'He moves as if he has no bones. One would not be surprised to see brown curves burning the grass where one of his cuts travelled, or blue flame shimmering round his bat as he make one of his strokes.'
Ranji's talent was clear for everyone to see and his performances in 1896 were so much better than the rest that he should have been an automatic choice for England against the visiting Australians. But Lord Harris (chairman at the MCC) had other ideas. He felt only those born in England should be eligible to represent the country.
So, despite having been asked to stay in readiness, Ranji was not chosen for the first Test.
The second Test was played at Old Trafford, where the selection of the team rested with the Lancashire committee. The Lancashire selectors did not agree with the MCC and drafted Ranji into the team.
He responded to the faith interposed in him by the selectors in fine style, scoring 62 and 154 not out, rescuing England from two shaky starts. In fact, England went on to win the match.
Ranjitsinhji's dexterity, grace and style were unrivalled. 'When he batted a strange light was seen for the first time on English fields,' wrote Neville Cardus.
1896 was his breakthrough year. In addition to his unbeaten 154 Ranji made nine other centuries during the season. His scored 2,781 runs in the season and thus bettered W G Grace's 25-year-old record for the highest aggregate for a single season.
He topped the batting averages with an average of 57.91. Wisden recognised his magnificent batsmanship by selecting him as one of the Five Cricketers of the Year in 1897.
'If the word genius can with any propriety be employed in connection with the cricket, it surely applies to the young Indian's batting,' wrote Wisden.
He bettered his 1896 aggregate by scoring 3159 in 1899 and 3065 in 1900. Ranji played his last match for England and Sussex in 1902 and 1920 respectively. But by the time his career came to an end he had lost an eye in a shooting accident, was overweight and no longer a force.
It was said that Ranji was always more at home in England than in India and that his contribution to the game in India was not too great. But he inspired a generation of Indians, right from his nephew K S Duleepsinhji to the great C. K Nayadu, and proved that it is possible to beat the English at their own game.
He once said "When I have finished I hope I may be remembered not only for the success that has been my fortune to enjoy as a player, but rather as one who tried his best to popularise the game for the game's sake."
He certainly succeeded in that.
Images: Getty Images
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