September 10 is the birth anniversary of cricketing legend Ranjitsinhji, who was considered among the world’s finest batsmen at the turn of the 19th century. He was known to his fans both in India and abroad as ‘Ranji’.
The Ranji Trophy is named after him and was started by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) in 1934 after his death in 1933. Ranjitsinhji was also the ruler of the Nawanagar princely state in Gujarat, where he embarked upon progressive reforms.
A cricket titan
After graduating from Cambridge University in 1893, Ranjitsinhji played first-class county cricket in England. He was part of the Sussex team, playing for a number of years until 1912, and was team captain between 1899 and 1903. Ranjitsinhji scored a total of 3,000 runs for two years in a row — 1899 and 1900. He played 15 Test matches for England between 1896 and 1902. Ranjitsinhji is credited with introducing the ‘leg glance’ shot in cricket.
On Ranjitsinhji’s death, a report in the New York Times on April 3, 1933, said: “To an Englishman his Highness Kumar Shri, Maharaja of Nawanagar, GSCI, GBE, KCSI, will always be ‘Ranji,’ at least as long as cricket is the national game of England. And many will contend the GBE stands for “Greatest Batsman Ever,” not for the Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire”.
As the ‘Jam’ of Nawanagar
After returning from England, Ranjitsinhji fought a protracted battle to claim the title of ‘Jam Sahib’, or ruler, of the Nawanagar princely state. After finally assuming the throne in 1907, Ranjitsinhji set out to modernise Nawanagar, which at the time was stricken by continued drought.
In the 25 years of his rule, Ranjitsinhji expanded public works such as roads and railways, built the Bedi seaport, and made improvements to the capital Jamnagar.
Ranjitsinhji served in the British army during World War I and was one of India’s representatives at the League of Nations in 1920. In India, he played an active role in politics and was a member of the Chamber of Princes, the legislative chamber representing India’s princely states. Ranjitsinhji urged fellow princely state rulers not to accept any scheme of federation within the British Raj. This view prevailed among the princes even after Ranjitsinhji’s death in 1933, as they ensured the failure of the federal scheme of the Government of India Act of 1935.