The post-lunch session saw us engrossed with a multi-layered deep game played on and off the field. The narrator calls us back into a huddle for the final session of the innings.
The proposal for a more inclusive domestic tournament on an All-India range was mooted in the Simla meet of 1934. HH Bhupinder Singh ji, Mahajadhiraj of Patiala, donated a sum of £ 500 towards the design of the trophy, the configuartion of which, he also proposed, besides naming it after Ranji, who had recently passed away. He had also offered to present miniature trophy to the winners for keeps. All his proposals were accepted and he was back on the track...just the home stretch remained.
Curiously, the public announcement was delayed, giving time for Vizzy to catch up with the new developments. A trophy must be matched with a trophy, which must appear more worthy to the powers that be.
An emergency meeting of the Board was summoned. Vizzy argued against naming the trophy after Ranji by placing the facts on the table that Ranji had done little for Indian cricket and had a highly limited involvement with the game in India. He suggested that it should be named after Lord Willingdon instead! Vizzy even offered to sponsor the trophy himself.
The meeting was attended by all the heavyweights of the board - Sir Sikander Hayat Khan, Nawabzada Liaqat Ali Khan, Patiala, RE Grant-Govan, Anthony S D'Mello and Vizzy.
The motion was passed without resistance or fuss. Patiala couldn't prevent the flip-flop over Ranji Trophy, for this one was named after the sitting Viceroy! None of the royal favour curries on the cricket board dared go against that!
Lady Willingdon, the Vicereine, herself selected the trophy, which was named The Willingdon Trophy and kept on public display.
Naturally, Patiala was quite miffed.
The rivalry between the two warring protagonists peaked in the finals of the Moin-ud-Dowlah Trophy between their respective teams at Hyderabad - Freebooters vs Retrievers.
Vizzy's Freebooters boasted of Learie Constantine in their ranks while Patiala's Retrievers were led by the young Yuvraj of Patiala.
It is said 15,000 spectators turned up at the Gymkhana Grounds of Secunderabad to witness this match. Surprisingly, Vizzy himself didn't take part in the match. It is said, he telegrammed Learie during the match promising an amount in pounds for every run scored and wicket taken. Unfortunately, it all came to naught, as we can see from the scorecard....The Retrievers won by three wickets.
In a sense, it was a metaphorical message for Vizzy.
There was public outcry in the press when the details were revealed. Ranji vs Willingdon assumed nationalistic colours in that charged atmosphere of the ongoing freedom struggle. Writers felt it was sacrilege to the memory of Ranji, who was, despite all, the greatest cricketer ever born in India. However cynicism reigned, despite the brave outrage, the general feeling was that the impostor would be awarded to the winning team of the first national championship 1935 - Bombay.
HJ Vajifdar deputizing for the indisposed Bombay captain, LP Jai, walked upto to receive the Willingdon Trophy one week after the match at a public exhibition of the trophy. Lord Willingdon himself was present on the podium to award it. There wasn't a single unsurprised soul in the gathering which witnessed Lord Willingdon switch trophies and award the Ranji Trophy instead!
Truly a case of one impostor setting the record right through another impostor!
And so, this was how Ranji Trophy, the tournament and trophy, came into being.
How did that happen? What prompted such drama from Lord Willingdon? It turns out the surprise was hatched in distant England as yet another move in the princely game of chess played between Patiala and Vizzy.
Patiala and Grant-Govan were in London to attend the ICC meeting at Lord's. Grant-Govan broached and Patiala promised that he'd fund Jack Ryder's Australians on their scheduled trip to India later in 1935. Hence, the Ranji Trophy was awarded.
The princely battles continued beyond, but India had a domestic championship of its own with a nice trophy named after the greatest cricketer born here, even if he didn't play for India. This is story that lay behind this little scrap one began with -
Patronage, money and purchasing, encouraging rivalries between groups by patrons, strategies, subterfuge...all these are intrinsic to Indian cricket. Perhaps then it was a compulsion of slavery and subjugation, but such continue into the present day. The story of how the Ranji Trophy came into being is no different from the recent setting up of IPL...the protagonists may be different, the boundaries may be liberal, the amounts far greater, the stakes as high, and the games and countergames by rival parties the same. Like with the Ranji trophy then, it was with IPL now...India did manage to set up a structure to strengthen its cricket and matching the demands of the respective eras, and it managed to have a trophy of its own despite all!
Knowing the troubled birth of this trophy must remind Indians - players, adminstrators and spectators - to give Ranji Trophy the status it truly deserves in our cricket.
And there is more to Ranji, but that's for another post. This fourth part concludes the series of blogs dicussing the origin of our domestic championship and trophy.
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