Duleep’s innings contained 33 boundaries and a six during five and a half hours of wristy poetry scripted with bewitching willow © Getty Images
May 7, 1930. KS Duleepsinhji set the county ground at Hove ablaze, scoring 333 in five and half hours. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the intoxicating innings which broke the Sussex record for highest individual score held by Duleep’s uncle, KS Ranjitsinhji.
Sussex has had long association with all that is princely of Indian batsmanship. The ground at Hove has been set alight by the magic and mystique of oriental majesty across generations.
At the turn of the last century, KS Ranjitsinhji made it glow with what Neville Cardus called “a light from the east.” The willow flashed in exotic arcs and angles were etched across the ground beyond the stringent straight lines of orthodoxy.
Thirty years later it was the turn of his nephew, Prince Duleepsinhji, “blest far above the ordinary in natural gifts of eye, wrist and footwork”. The magnificent ease with which he dispatched all that was not of the most immaculate length delighted President of MCC HS Altham and cast a spell over the crowds around the country.
Yet another generation later it was the turn of the dashing magnificence of Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, whose ferocity as a youthful batsman matched his Nawabi title to the hilt before that tragic car accident cost him an eye.
Ranji made his debut for the county in 1895, and played regularly till 1904 before returning to India. He travelled back to England, now as the ruler of Nawanagar, to play with the old pomp and grandeur in the years 1908 and 1912. However, his final three appearances after the World War were rather ill-advised.
He was at the peak of his powers from 1899 to 1901 — a period that also saw his celebrated
collaboration at the wicket with CB Fry. At Taunton, on a glorious summer day in 1901, Ranji and Fry set about trying to save the match against Somerset after trailing by 324 in the first innings. They ended with an unbeaten partnership of 292. With the conjurer in him coming out to the fore that heady August day, Ranji amassed an unbeaten 285 — a new record for the highest score by a Sussex batsman.
A quarter of a century after that magical innings, Duleep made his debut for Sussex in 1926. He played for the county till 1932, leading them in his final year, and heading the side’s batting averages every season. His bat ruled over bowlers across England, and while playing for England he dominated bowlers of the rest of the world. However, he himself was plagued by bouts of illness which ultimately ensured a severely truncated career.
Fortified by a winter in Switzerland, he made his debut for England against the touring South Africans in 1929. The debut was not spectacular, but he went on to conquer the pitches of New Zealand, scoring 358 runs at 89.50. Thus, by the time the 1930 season started, Duleep was already a Test cricketer.
The first game that year, against Nottinghamshire, was not very successful. The great Harold Larwood had him caught for 35. The next match was against Northamptonshire at the home ground of Hove, and started on May 7.
333 in 330 minutes
The Northants attack was not a bad one. Nobby Clark and Vallance Jupp had played for England, and Austin Matthews would do so later. Indeed, if one looks at the scorecard of the Sussex innings that unfolded that day, it is apparent that the bowlers did not do too badly in the beginning, but for the shadow of Duleep’s supreme artistry.
Albert Thomas dismissed Ted Bowley for one and the Indian prince walked in to bat in just the second over. The bowlers kept chipping away at the wickets. James Parks was out for nine. Clarke got Thomas Cook for 19. James Langridge walked back for 17. Henry Parks was bowled for 11. The problem was that at the other end Duleep kept stroking the ball with uncanny ease and lazy elegance, without a bother in the world. The poor scores at the other end did not matter, because by the time Henry Parks was the fifth man out, the score was already 235. Duleep had added 77 with Cook, 75 with Langridge and 53 with Henry Parks.
And when Maurice Tate came in, runs flowed from both ends. At one end Duleep caressed the ball with sublime class, elevating batsmanship to glorious touch-play. Tate’s methods on the other hand were hewed out of the reserves of rustic efficiency. The runs kept coming at an astonishing rate. After just about five hours at the crease, Duleep went past the 29-year-old record of uncle Ranji to become the highest scorer for Sussex.
Tate fell to Reginald Partridge for 111, after providing a second dimension to the Sussex scorecard. The two had added 255.
Not too long after that Duleep himself stepped out to Matthews and was stumped. His spellbinding effort had been worth 333. The innings contained 33 boundaries and a six during five and a half hours of wristy poetry scripted with bewitching willow. The score stood at 514 for seven. There was still time left in the first day for captain Arthur Gilligan and Albert Wensley to add another seven runs to end at 521 for seven.
Gilligan declared at the overnight score and Northamptonshire surrendered to a defeat by an innings and 209 runs. Tate followed up his century with seven second innings wickets.
The summer continued to yield rich harvest for Duleep. Included in the side for the second Test against Australia at Lord’s, he essayed a sparkling 173 on the first day. When he lofted Clarrie Grimmett into the outfield to be caught by Don Bradman, uncle Ranji, sitting in the stands, remarked rather harshly, “The boy was always careless.”
Duleep’s record for Sussex stood for 73 years before the Zimbabwean batsman Murray Goodwin struck an unbeaten 335 against Lancashire in September 2003.
Sussex 521 for 7 declared (KS Duleepsinhji 333, Maurice Tate 111) beat Northamptonshire 187 (Arthur Cox 40; Albert Wensley 4 for 45) and 125 (Maurice Tate 7 for 45) by an innings and 209 runs
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)