Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Origins of Ranji Trophy - Part III

Posted by Soulberry
Oh, To be my nation's first captain! And proxy wars thereof

At lunch, we were left mulling the seriousness attached to a game by grown up men with varying degrees of power and wealth. A game we quickly set up with one log of wood, a ball, and three bricks, on the torn and worn asphalt pitches of narrow gullies binding our homes. The thought that men fought over it, spent inheritances on it, nations fought over a game can push one into a thoughtful repose...they all still do the same, don't they?

Then and Now are almost the same!

But our narrator is ready with yet another twist in the tale, yet another round of sparring, of landing punches and counter punchins, of feints, bluffs and counter-feints. The Trophy indeed was gestated without hurry. We must be therefore be attentive, lest we miss...

All that had happened earlier was a build up from the main rivals towards the much sought after captaincy of the first Indian cricket team. Nothing more, nothing less, for being the country's cricket captain was percieved to be the acme of power one could enjoy under the British colonial system. Royals, who some claim, are simply the wiliest and strongest rogues of all, anywhere in the world, were more prone to take these matters to heart than the ordinary man.

When Vizzy appeared to have done enough to completely displace Patiala, Bhupinder Singh ji threw in a late jab, hoping it would find its mark. he agreed to sponsor the trials and bear one month's expenses of the touring party. With a flailing stroke, he was almost back on even keel and in with a chance to captain India again.

But other players were also in...shooting for a chance.

To push his case along, the Nawab of Pataudi Sr issued a statement suggesting his willingness to concede his Worcestershire qualification if he were selected to play for India. Considering that his selection was beyond doubt, it was felt there was a suggestion in it towards captaincy.

Letters of support and counter-support for various candidates began to appear in the newspapers of that time. Some of them were authored under unknown pseudonyms. Today, we all correspond over the net under such pseudonyms - concealment of identity on the web is considered a form of security - in times gone by, such methods were frowned upon but used nevertheless strategically.

Pataudi Sr, Vizzy, Patiala, Duleepsinhji and KS Ghanshaymsinhji were some of the names in the fray. The nation waited with bated breath to learn of their captain as the meeting convened on 4th February 1932, at 3.30 pm in the afternoon.

Perhaps it was the consistent financial support and the offer to sponsor the trials which did it - HH Maharajaadhiraj Maharaja of Patiala Bhupinder Singh ji was nominated the first captain of the Indian cricket team. It was a nomination which evoked debate and partisan views in the press of that time.

While a section claimed it to be a tribute to his highness's efforts over a long time, others questioned his skills, form, tactical and leadership abilities. At best, such felt, Bhupinder Singh, could be a non-playing captain.

Vizzy left no one in doubt about what he thought about the decision of the board. He decided to withdraw from the tour, ostensibly on grouds of poor health, and work instead on Lord Willingdon. Such is what our narrator tells us.

He wrote to the board citing his excuses, expresing his anguish and at the same time thanking the board for selecting him for the tour.

Vizzy immediately donated a pavilion to the newly constructed Ferozeshah Kotla Stadium and named it after Lord Willingdon, in an attempt to strengthen his position with the powers that were.

The erstwhile Willingdon Pavilion at Feroze Shah Kotla, New Delhi, donated by Vizzy. Now it has been replaced after rennovations to the ground

In reponse, Bhupinder Singh ji pulled off a political masterstroke of his own to kill two birds with one stone - to conceal his own poor ability and form, and to retrieve the thunder Vizzy again appeared to have stolen.

Having made his point by being selected as first-choice captain, the powerful one among the gaming satraps of Indian cricket relinquished his appointment to the surprise of one and all. He too thanked the board and gushed about the privilige of leading the country like Vizzy, and offerred existing state situation as an excuse for his inability to get away to play cricket.

The Maharaja of Porbander thus became the Captain of India by two defaults.

He was the worst player on the team scoring a total of two runs in the first class games leading up to the Test match. However, he was sensible enough to give up his captaincy to CK Nayudu. Therefore, much as the royals craved and plotted, ultimately it was a commoner who led India in its first test match.

Meanwhile, as a result of Vizzy's donations and attentions to Lord Willingdon, The balance of power began to slip away from Patiala. The associations which earlier fed off him began to wean themselves away from him. Or so says Mihir Bose, in his History of Indian Cricket.

Patiala began to play his cards fast as well, refusing to give up easily.

He entertained the visiting MCC team lavishly during their Indian sojourn, with all the special eastern thrills which excited colonial Englishmen. So much so, that after sessions of hunting in the Himalayas, the stiff Douglas Jardine was also melted over.

Next, he withdrew himself from all contests for active playing positions and responsibilities and pushed forward the young Yuvraj of Patiala, Yadvindra Singh ji, who was a more capable cricket player.

CK Nayudu was played up by Vizzy depite being a poor captain and Vizzy used that discontent to make his way forward. He won a game against the visiting MCC team of Douglas Jardine, which added a halo to him. There was further sheen when Jardine praised his potential to be India captain.

Meanwhile, Ranji, who was in the employment of Patiala's cricketing XI, passed away.

Patiala responded to setbacks by yet again turning towards the less promiment.

With the Bombay Pentangulars suspended, the need for a proper, All-India domestic tournament was felt as an immediate necessity by the board. the Mayor of Bombay suggested so when the Indian team returned from England in 1932. However, it was much earlier, in 1928 when the Board for Control of Cricket in India was set up, that it was felt such a system would strengthen the cricketing abilities of the nation.

In 1934 Simla meet, Anthony S D'Mello emphasized the need for such a tournament. Patiala sensed and seized the moment yet again - he stood up and donated immediately, the sum of £ 500 for the trophy along with a description of what it was to look like - "Grecian urn two feet high, with a lid, the handle of which represented Father Time, similar to the one on the weather vane at Lord's."

He also expressed his desire that the trophy be named after Ranji, to honor Ranji's contribution to the game. here was also an offer to present a miniature to the winning team for keepsakes.

The Maharaja of Patiala's suggestions and offer were well recieved. It looked like Ranji Trophy would soon be born.

-- End of Part - III --

References and Links:

  1. The Origins of Ranji Trophy - Part I

  2. The Origins of Ranji Trophy - Part II



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