Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Origins of Ranji Trophy - Part I

Posted by Soulberry
Of princely intrigues, courting colonial masters, and decline of Patiala's influence

One of the peculiar aspects of researching the origins of the Trophy on the net is that there is only standard material available unless you have access to very old press archives, which I obviously do not have. There are also curiously very few images of the Trophy itself in the public or purchasable domain. However, there is plenty of material available in the print world. There are many books which tell us about how it all began. I had to provoke my local bookshop owner to explore beyond his stock of cricket books and he graciously obliged: the best of the lot for me was Boria Majumdar's Once Upon a Furore : Lost Pages of Indian Cricket, published originally by an independent venture called Yoda Press, which has since handed over its catalogue to Cambridge University Press, it appears. Even at the mentioned rate, it is a bargain for this is a book worth reading and possessing. I got it for a happy discount from my regular store owner. I mention all this for the books were not easy to procure as per my experience.

Majumdar's is a compulsive style which is engrossing and is well-supported by his meticulous research which reveals to us many unknown aspects of Indian cricket unmentioned even in other respected titles. I have digressed at the outset of this blogpost itself, but it was necessary to mention this wonderful book to those who want to know about the history of Indian cricket. Boria has since gone on to author another tremendous book which is about ten times the cost of this one and contains many many details. It was also necessary for I have chosen to accept most of the information he has conveyed to us as source, and will base this post on the framework of that information. Credit given where credit is due, we move on to chew some past among us...

The world knows the simple facts about the Ranji Trophy, but the story of how it came about is a script for a drama in itself!

Not many resources (detailed enough) are available to in the form of a record or chronicle of the birth of this most important domestic competition on the net. Boria digs up the princely rivalries, court intrigues, motivated rulers, and other peripheral characters with vested interests; the different personal and public ambitions; all of which together breathed life into the sustaining seed of Indian cricket - The Ranji Trophy.

The physical makings of The Trophy ( Click to Enlarge )- Text source: Boria Majumdar and Artwork: Soulberry

We are told (see image above), behind that innocent magnanimity in the general meeting of the Board of Cricket Control at the colonial summer capital of Simla , in the setting of pre-independent India, where former rajahs and maharajas were reduced to being mere courtiers of colonial viceroys, with little or none, power and importance, that cricket became an important plough to cultivate the colonial rulers and develop some much-needed influence to retain some relevance. We are told, that gaming cricket with the lord and overseer, surrogated for wars these decorative satraps could not wage with each other anymore. We are told how the politics of cricket in India gave Ranji his royal seat and immortality, even though he played little for and in India.

The principals in this intriguing story of the Trophy's birth, the narrator tells us, were the HH Maharaja
of Patiala, Bhupendrasingh Rajindersingh
ji and the Maharajkumar of Vizianagaram "Vizzy".

HH Maharajadhiraja Maharaja of Patiala Bhupinder Singh ji ( Public Domain Image ) and HH Maharajkumar of Vizianagaram Sir Gajapatiraju Vijaya Ananda 'Vizzy' from Cricinfo

We rewind to India circa pre-independent 1930s, when the Board of Control for Cricket was a newly formed body. HH Bhupindersingh ji of Patiala was among the most powerful of princes in India at that time when most had lost the majority of their powers. He was a generous patron of the game of cricket, appointed officially the vice-patron, second only to Lord Willingdon, chief patron by virtue of being the Viceroy of that era, who controlled the Board activities and donated magnanimous sums of money as well as for the construction of the Cricket Club of India ( CCI ) building. { CCI is housed in Brabourne Stadium and Raj Singh Dungarpur was its chief till recently }

The Patiala maharaj also employed senior cricketers and Ranjitsinhji was one of them. In fact, it is said, Patiala stood by Ranji in overcoming his financial crisis.

However, Patiala was also an infamous connoiseur of wondrous beings of the other kind, according to the published work of one of his disgruntled subjects in the tome Indictment of Patiala. as a result, he was gradually sinking in grace with the powers that be. It was in this self-inflicted asthenic state that Patiala found challenge, in the ambitious form of Vizzy, HH Maharajkumar of Vizianagaram.

Due to the launch of the Civil Disobedience Movement against the British by Mahatma Gandhi around that time, the proposed MCC tour was cancelled.

Vizzy saw an opportunity and jumped in to plug the gap and capitalize with a team comprising, among others, the highly influential Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe, to tour Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and cricket-playing parts of India.

Indian giants such as Colonel CK Nayudu, Mushtaq Ali, and Prof. D.B Deodhar were also part of that tour.

The tour was an unqualified success and Sutcliffe lavished praise upon Vizzy in his columns for a newspaper. He went thus, according to our narrator -

The Maharajkumar is a candidate for the captaincy for the Indian team to tour England, and if he's fortunate enough to be appointed, he will no doubt give an excellent account of himself for he has had a through grounding in the finer points of the game, and is a most capable leader.

This "endorsement", the value of which in times such as those can be understood, fuelled Vizzy and his dreams. With greater assurance, he lobbied himself into a clearly rival position to Patiala.

-- End of Part One --


Cricket Guru said...

Thanks for sharing all this SB.

I will try to source this book in few days times.

Thanks once again.


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