On August 22, 1896, KS Ranjitsinhji scored two hundreds at Hove on a single day. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at a unique achievement in the history of First-Class cricket.
It had been a great season for KS Ranjitsinhji till then. He was in supreme nick, scoring runs at will for Sussex: his lowest score from his first nine innings was 26, and he had impressed everyone by scoring 79 and 42 against the touring Australians for Lord Sheffield’s XI at Uckfield in a very low-scoring match.
The 138 against Yorkshire at Bradford opened the floodgates. This was quickly followed by a 114 not out against Gloucestershire and 107 against Somerset in consecutive matches at Hove, thereby making himself a very strong contender for the home Ashes that season.
After a 146 at Cambridge he was almost a certainty for the first Test at Lord’s. However, the MCC selection committee, led by Lord George Robert Canning Harris, intervened: Harris, who was born at St Anne’s, Trinidad, went to the extent of calling foreign cricketers “birds of passage”.
Ranji was left out at Lord’s. While England played against Australia, the elegant Indian’s skills came into play again, resulting in 171 against Oxford University at Hove and 69 and 73 against Kent at Hastings in three consecutive innings. In the process he became the first amateur cricketer to score a thousand runs in a season.
The next Test was scheduled at Old Trafford; keeping in accord with the contemporary rules, the team was supposed to be chosen by the Lancashire Selection Committee instead of MCC. They had no objection to Ranji’s inclusion as long as the Australians did not object. Harry Trott was fine with Ranji’s inclusion; Ranji became the first Indian to play a Test, and scored 62 and 154 not out on Test debut.
The hundreds kept coming: Ranji scored 100 not out against Nottinghamshire and 165 against Lancashire in the second innings, both at Hove. Immediately after the Lancashire match (in fact, the day after it ended) Sussex was scheduled to play Yorkshire at Hove.
Day One: Yorkshire openers take control
Stanley Jackson and John Tunnicliffe set about scoring runs in the businesslike manner that so exemplifies the Yorkshire approach to batting after Lord Hawke won the toss and decided to bat. The Sussex attack was dependent mostly on Ernest Killick, Frederick Parris, Jock Hartley, and Fred Tate, but they did not have an effect as the Yorkshire openers piled up the runs.
The opening stand accounted for 143. Jackson went on to score 102 and Tunnicliffe 99, but two quick wickets by Tate saw the visitors slide from 200 for one to 213 for four. It was then that Bobby Peel walked out to join John Brown.
The two put up a crucial 60 before Hartley had Brown stumped. Robert Moorhouse walked out and hung around with Peel till stumps: Yorkshire finished the day on 313 for five with Moorhouse on 20 and Peel looking ominous with 43.
Day Two: Yorkshire the dominant side amidst rain
Killick began the day in sensational fashion, clean bowling Moorhouse before a single run was added to the score. Ted Wainwright, however, hung on to help Peel add 56, but after his departure Yorkshire folded for 407 on what was an on- and off-day because of the rain.
Peel was eventually run out for 106. Hartley finished with three for 110, while Killick, Parris, and Tate picked up two wickets apiece. Batting at ten, Lord Hawke scored a solitary run before Hartley dismissed him.
Sussex began poorly, and lost Fry and Killick — both with the score on 23, still 384 runs behind. CB Fry was caught by the debutant wicketkeeper Arthur Bairstow and Killick was cleaned up by Hirst. Sussex ended the day with 23 for two with Ranji and the Sussex captain Billy Murdoch at the crease. None of them had opened their account.
Day Three: Ranji creates record
The day began with drama just like the previous day as Hirst removed Murdoch without a single run being added. Ranji realised that he would be running out of partners at this stage and decided to take control of the situation in his own hands. With Billy Newham for company he dominated the outstanding Yorkshire attack that comprised of Hirst, Wainwright, Peel, Jackson and Ernest Smith — all great names in the history of Yorkshire cricket.
Newham had played a Test in Australia close to a decade back; he now used all his experience to thwart the strong line-up as Ranji took control. The drives and flicks kissed the grass on their way to the boundary, and the trademark leg-glance brought many an awestruck spectator to their feet, applauding.
Ranji and Newham added 132 for the fourth wicket in no time. Ranji reached 5,000 First-Class runs when he was on 46; he brought up his fifty quickly, and just when it seemed that Sussex had things under control and would avoid the follow-on, Smith had Newham caught by Jackson. Hirst responded almost immediately, and between them they triggered a collapse.
Ranji himself reached his hundred — his second on the trot — before being caught by Jackson off Smith. He had scored a round 100; from 155 for three Sussex had slid to 170 for nine before Harry Butt and Tate added 21 for the last wicket. Hirst finished with four for 49 and Smith went a notch better, returning figures of five or 42. With his side leading by 216 Lord Hawke imposed the follow-on.
Murdoch sent Francis Marlow to open batting with Fry in the second innings: this time the Sussex openers put their heads down and batted sensibly, putting up 61 for the opening wicket before Peel had Barlow caught behind. Ranji stepped out again, having already scored a hundred earlier in the day.
He seemed to continue from exactly where he had left off a couple of hours or so earlier. Fry, that doyen of Sussex batting, was paled in comparison as Ranji took the Yorkshire attack by its horns. If anything he was even more aggressive than in the first innings.
The option of batting out the day did not cross his mind. He dominated the Yorkshire attack as Fry, now merely reduced to a spectator, was happy to play the second fiddle and perform that enviable role — to watch Ranji bat at his best. Lord Hawke, running out of options, had to fall back on Brown’s leg-breaks.
The change worked: Brown found Fry’s edge, and the great batsman departed for 42. Bairstow claimed his fifth catch behind the stumps on his First-Class debut. Sussex were 137 for two at this stage, still 79 to save an innings defeat.
There was no stopping Ranji, though. The wrists that had been synonymous to the mysteries of the East to the British were now at their best. With Killick for company he dominated the proceedings, and it was only a matter of time before the Yorkshire shoulder began to droop as the innings-defeat was evaded.
Ranji duly brought up his second hundred of the match. He became the third Sussex batsman to score two hundreds in the same match after William Lambert (107 not out and 157 against Epsom at Lord’s in 1817) and George Brann (105 and 101 against Kent at Hove in 1892 — the first Sussex batsman to do it in a Championship match). More importantly, he became the first cricketer to score two hundreds in a single day in a First-Class match.
Ranji eventually finished with 125 not out, and play was called off immediately after Killick reached his fifty. Sussex went on to score 260 for two at close of play.
Yorkshire 407 (Bobby Peel 106, Stanley Jackson 102, John Tunnicliffe 99; Jock Hartley 3 for 110) drew with Sussex 191 (KS Ranjitsinhji 100, Ernest Smith 5 for 42, Geoff Hirst 4 for 49) and 260 for 2 (KS Ranjitsinhji 125*, Ernest Killick 53*, CB Fry 42).
(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ovshake and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42.)