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How did the Ranji Trophy start and get its name?

The christening of the trophy was a reflection of two of the great power-hungry figures who tried to outdo each other in gaining a hold on Indian cricket in pre-Independent India.

ranji trophyMaharajakumar of Vizianagaram, popularly known as Vizzy. (Photo Source: From the collection of Venkateshwar Singh, son of Vizzy.)

It had almost come to be called “The Willingdon Trophy”, in honour of Lord Willingdon, the 22nd viceroy and Governor-General of India in the 1930’s. The christening of the trophy was a reflection of two of the great power-hungry figures who tried to outdo each other in gaining a hold on Indian cricket in pre-Independent India.

The battle was between the prince of Patiala Bhupinder Singh and the immensely ambitious Maharajakumar of Vizianagaram, popularly known as Vizzy. Incredibly richer than Vizzy, Bhupinder Singh was a prince with a lifestyle that can gobsmack even those who are tired of reading up on debauched and decadent lives of rich and famous.

The writer Khushwant Singh had once waded into the prince on print. “He [Bhupinder Singh] was a headstrong bully, a debauch, drunkard, womanizer and philanderer”. A proud owner of the famous Patiala necklace as it came to be called that he specially commissioned the Parisian jeweller Cartier and took three years in making — it had 2930 diamonds, weighed 962.25 carats, and included the 7th largest diamond in the world, a 234-carat De Beers.

He was the first Indian to own an airplane, had a fleet of Rolls Royce, and the state of Patiala already had India’s first automobile, a French-made De Dion Bouton imported in 1892. Also, suffice here to say that his sex-tales are mind-boggling, and he reportedly had over 300 concubines.

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The fight over Ranji (Willingdon) trophy

The prince and the Maharajakumar made one final effort to seize control over Indian cricket. A domestic tournament had begun, but its name and trophy weren’t yet decided.

Patiala donated the trophy for the domestic tournament and decided it would be named after Jamsaheb of Nawanagar, Ranjitsinghji, the famous Indian prince who played for England and had died a year before. Not to be outdone, Vizzy too donated a trophy, gold plated and made in London, for the same domestic tournament and in an attempt to ingratiate himself further with the British viceroy, said it should be named after Willingdon. Vizzy suggested that Ranji hadn’t done much for Indian cricket, and India’s premier tournament shouldn’t be named after him.

Maharajakumar of Vizianagaram. (Photo Source: From the collection of Venkateshwar Singh, son of Vizzy.)

It was around this time that the teams of Vizzy and Patiala met in the final of Moin-ud-dowlah where even the presence of Constantine couldn’t help Vizzy’s team win as Lala Amarnath came up with a counter-attacking hundred that sealed the game. Vizzy, who didn’t play in that game, had sent a telegram to Constantine on the eve of the game that he would ply with pounds
and jewels for the runs and wickets taken.

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Meanwhile, the domestic tournament also rapidly progressed towards its finale – nameless and without much interest from people who were still hooked on to Pentagular tournaments then. The trophy was to be given away by Willingdon himself but Vizzy had to suffer the ignominy of watching the viceroy hand out the trophy donated by Patiala, and the tournament also named after Ranji

Vizzy wasn’t the one to be dissuaded by such small episodes though. Even as Patiala was in London for the silver jubilee celebrations for King George V, Vizzy was busy in India, organising a tournament to honour the King. His team, that included CK Nayudu, defeated Patiala’s team and this time around, the viceroy handed out the original Willingdon trophy to Vizzy
Bhupinder not only lost control of cricket but also was fast losing his virility. He tried various concoctions from Indian doctors and even tried radium therapy from the French doctors, but in vain. He died in March 1938.
However, the authors of Freedom at Midnight, Collins and Lapierre nail the issue of his death in their book. “It was not a lack of virility that afflicted the jaded and sated prince. His was a malady that plagued not a few of his surfeited fellow rulers. It was boredom. He died of it.

In later years, Vizzy became a commentator, selector, board president, and a politician. His commentary too was reportedly dull, captured best by a story told by his fellow commentator Dicky Rutnagur, featuring the West Indian batsman Rohan Kanhai. Tired of Vizzy yakking on about his numerous tiger hunts, Kanhai, supposedly asked him, “How do you kill them?
“I shoot them..” And Kanhai let it rip: “Really? I thought you just left a transistor radio on when you were commentating and bored them to death.”

First published on: 03-03-2022 at 11:36:59 am
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