KS Ranjitsinhji in action    Getty Images
KS Ranjitsinhji in action Getty Images

KS Ranjitsinhji, born September 10, 1872, was a magical batsman, the first wristy wizard from the orient and one of the early exponents of the leg-glance. Arunabha Sengupta lists 50 rather less popularly known facts about the Prince of a Small State who was the King of a Great Game.

The balls left his blade with the swiftness of thought. Some others claimed that the ball flowed from his bat like water rushing down a hill. According to Neville Cardus, When he batted, a strange light was seen for the first time on English fields, a light of the East.

Ranji, prince of the small state of Nawanagar and King of the great game of cricket, is a legend of the game, his name shrouded with magic and marvel. However, some of the facts about him are not so well known. Here is a collection of 50 factoids which may come as a surprise to some.

1. It is a mistaken notion that Ranji was the heir to the throne of Nawanagar by birth. He was not even quite related to the rulers by blood. He was the grandson of one of the officers of the state s army.

2. Jam Vibhaji had succeeded his father to the throne in 1852, five years before the Sepoy Mutiny. An able ruler, he also indulged himself by acquiring 14 wives. However, none of these bore him a son. In his middle age, his roving eye fell on a Sindhi labourer and part-time prostitute called Dhanbai.

Declining his invitation to enter his Zenana, Dhanbai demanded marriage and insisted on her three sisters accompanying her. Marrying a Muslim being out of question, Vibhaji managed to resurrect an obscure ritual and Dhanbai became a kind of morganatic wife. The three sisters entered the Zenana. When Dhanbai gave birth to a son named Kalobha in 1872, it was rumoured that she had already been carrying him when Vibhaji s eyes fell on her.But, with his hopes of a male heir fast disappearing, the ruler accepted the son. However, he regretted it when some years later poison was discovered in his food and was traced to Kalobha. The boy was disinherited and banished, but strangely the sisters stayed on.Vibhaji now turned to Jhamalsinhji, his valiant officer, for one of his sons as prospective heir. Umedsinhji was adopted and re-named Raysinhji.

Within a year he was dead, poisoned by Dhanbai or on her instructions. Vibhaji turned to Sarodar again, and this time his choice was the seven-year-old grandson of Jhamalsinhji, Ranji. And taking no chances, he entrusted the boy to the care of his political agent Colonel Barton.

3. The ceremony of adoption took place in the temple of Dwarka Puri, a mile from Jamnagar. An hour before dawn, a slow-moving cavalcade left Jamnagar. Both the Jam Saheb and Ranji rode in closed carts meant for purdah ladies. A convoluted route was taken and the escort was formed of 80 lancers. The ceremony was officially recorded by The India Office, the Government of India and the Bombay Government.

4. Ranji was sent to Rajkumar College at Rajkot, an institute meant for princes in waiting. Before entering the school, he spent months in a bungalow at Rajkot, attended by a staff of 17, ranging from a tutor in Gujarati, a barber and torchbearer to a coachman and a water-carrier. However, on entering the College at the age of eight, his retinue, like those of the other princes, was restricted to one servant.

5. In Rajkumar College, Ranji won the Ferguson Gold Medal for English speaking at the age of 14, by reciting Young Lochinvar. The same year, he won the gymnastics prize. He emerged as the best in the school in cricket, tennis and racquets.

6. While he was at Rajkumar College, Janbai, one of the sisters of Dhanbai, gave birth to a son which she announced was Vibhaji s. It is almost certain that the son had been brought into the Zenana from outside, but Vibhaji, with four ambitious women scheming together, was prevailed upon. The Bombay Government was asked to reverse the recognition of Ranji and accept Janbai s son as heir apparent.

The Government refused the request. Janbai was not an official Rani or even a morganatic wife. However, Vibhaji took up the issue with the Viceroy Lord Ripon, and the latter, eager to earn favours in exchange of a harmless whim of an Indian prince, overruled the Bombay Government. The son, Jaswantsinhji, was accepted as the heir.

According to Simon Wilde, Vibhaji s decision was influenced by the conduct of Jiwansinhji, Ranji s father, who was a notorious and terrifying drunkard. Hence, at that time Ranji was not really an heir to any throne. It required all his cricketing contacts, and thereby the adulation and friendship of British decision makers, to once again turn the decision in his favour in 1907, after the death of Jaswantsinhji of typhoid the previous year. There was still another challenge from KS Lakhubba, son of the banished Kalobha. But, that was more technical and was not contested with passion.

7. Vibhaji never saw Ranji again after the adoption ceremony.

8. Ranji was among the three princes chosen from Rajkumar to go to England for further education the others being Ramsimnhji of Sihor and Mansur Kachar of Jaashan.

9. When Ranji arrived in the country for the first time, one of the early visitors to the house in London where he stayed with the Macnaghtens was another young man from Rajkot, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

10. During the initial days at Cambridge, it seemed that Ranji would be more interested in lawn tennis. Like many great cricketers, he had considerable talent at this sport as well. Through his life he played tennis and billiards, revelled in shooting and fishing, but the atmosphere and excitement that greeted him as he saw AG Steel s England face the Australians at Lord s tilted the balance in favour of cricket. Three of the men he saw playing that day would be his teammates on debut eight years later WG Grace, Bobby Abel and Johnny Briggs.

11. While preparing for his entrance to Trinity, Ranji played his cricket at St Faith s, Cambridge. According to RS Goodchild, Headmaster of St Faith s, initially he did not have a defence at all.

12. Photography was another great passion for Ranji. When not on the St Faith s pitch, he would be at the billiards table or fiddling about in a converted studio.

13. Initially his cricket was played at Parker s Piece, and he looked a natural entertainer rather than a future batting prospect for England. With time, his princely grandeur took over. He engaged professional coaches to teach him the secrets of the game, with Billy Lockwood, Tom Richardson and Jack Hearne some of the bowlers recruited to bowl to him for hours.

14. After moving into Trinity in 1892, Ranji rented two floors above a bakery and established himself in comfort. He bought Popsey, a parrot, to keep him company. Already in her fifties, Popsey was a constant companion, and was still strong and healthy, although bald, when Ranji passed away some forty years later.

15. Ranji never graduated from Trinity. And neither was it easy for him to earn his Blue. In 1892, he played regularly for Trinity in inter-collegiate matches, but Cambridge skipper Francis Stanley Jackson was unimpressed. It was in May, 1893, that Ranji played for the University for the first time, and made his first venture onto Fenner s. He later confessed that it was probably the only time in his cricket career that he felt nervous. He scored just 18 against CL Thornton s XI, but from that day was a regular in the side.

16. Ranji also gained fame as a natty dresser, with an excellent collection or suits, shoes and expensive watches. He himself remained frugal in his habits of food and drink, but entertained lavishly. Also, he soon became the owner of a motorcar the first in the city, and it remained a life-long fascination. With his limited allowance, these expenditures placed him in severe financial duress. This was also going to be a lifelong trait.

17. Even though his deeds with the bat were limited at Cambridge, he created quite an impression with his manner of scoring runs. According to Country Vicar , The breathless hush when a defeated batsman had vanished into the back doorway of the pavilion the tense expectancy with which we awaited his successor. The glimpse of a cap of Cambridge Blue, crowing a lissom form, and at the appearance a ripple of applause breaking out faintly at first, but gathering strength until it burst into a roar of welcome which grew and grew in volume.

18. In Cambridge, Ranji had been on close terms with Tom Hayward, and it was natural that he would be wooed by Surrey. However, he threw in his lot for Sussex. There would be no honour and glory in assisting Surrey to win matches, he later wrote, referring to their strong line-up. It may be that he wanted to be in a comparatively weak side where he would be certain of a place.Also, there was CB Fry, someone he had met during an Oxford-Cambridge encounter and it had seen the start of a lifelong friendship. Fry had joined Sussex in 1894, and Ranji followed the following year.

19. Soon the suppleness of his Eastern wrists had led him manufacture the novelty of the leg-glance, played fine in arcs that defied the hard-core logic of batting of the day that dictated balls to be hit back in the direction from whence they came. He discovered angles that were acute and mysterious. And his late cut was such that it was claimed, envious gods are still practising it in the Elysian fields. His methods were equated with the many splendored treasures and enigmas of the land from which he hailed. He combines an Oriental calm with an Oriental swiftness the stillness of the panther with the suddenness of its spring, wrote AG Gardiner. And his steadfast friend for life, CB Fry said, One would not be surprised sometimes to see a brown curve burnt in the grass where one of his cuts has travelled, or blue flame shiver around his bat in the making of one of those leg-strokes. He had acquired a following even before the end of the first season. The lithe form of Prince KS Ranjitsinhji could be recognised by all who could distinguish a cricket bat from a walking stick. While his strokes sparked and sizzled with lustre that was unique, even while he fielded the crowd could pick him out with ease as he waited like a coiled spring at slip or moved sharply in anticipation at point. Everyone knew how his hands found each other behind his back between the deliveries, how the back of his gossamer shirt fluttered in the wind while tremors rippled down to the wristbands which he always kept so tightly fastened.

20. Despite his brilliance, his claims to a Test spot against Harry Trott s Australians were not without pitfalls. The English crowd was eager to see this magical import from the outposts of the Raj, this most sparkling treasure from the Jewel in the Crown, take on the might of Ernie Jones, Hugh Trumble and George Giffen.

But, then, never had an Indian been good enough to be hailed as the best and the most exciting batsman of the land. It was a first. And it created complications. The home county on whose ground the match was being contested had to select the eleven. And when Lord s was decided as the venue of the first Test match, it was Lord Harris, supremo of the MCC, six years previously the Governor of Bombay, who was the principal selector. And he was not in favour of playing birds of passage . Ranji was omitted and it resulted in vehement outcry in the press and among the public. Ironically, Harris himself was born in Trinidad.

An apprehensive Ranji, invited by AN Monkey Hornby of Lancashire to take part in the second Test at Old Trafford, insisted that the Australians be consulted before the final selection. The tourists were asked, and Trott merely expressed his delight. Ranji batted on his Test debut at No. 3, and fought hard to score 62 as wickets fell around him. In the second innings he batted for three hours 10 minutes, for 154 not out.

21. Just before the Manchester Test, Ranji had turned out for the Gentlemen against the Players at Lord s. He had scored 47 and 51 not out, in what Wisden termed was: One of the most brilliant and delightful pieces of batting seen at Lord s. The 47 had come in 10 minutes and each of the 12 balls he faced before he was leg-before had been hit for a boundary except for one which was dispatched for three. The bowlers of whom he was contemptuously dismissive happened to be the fearsome Tom Richardson, George Lohmann, JT Hearne and Johnny Briggs.

22. The oft-believed tale of three hundreds in a day is apocryphal. However, Ranji did score two First-Class hundreds on the same day at Hove. Against Yorkshire in 1896, he hit exactly 100 in the first innings and 125 not out in the second as Sussex followed on. All the runs were scored on the third day.

23. After the summer of 1896, he packed up his gear and departed for Cambridge, full of the happy thoughts of shooting on the moors and starting his long love affair with fishing. He left in his wake 2,780 runs at 57.91 with 10 hundreds for the season. It was a record for an English summer, going past Grace s 2,739 in 1871. In 1899 and 1900, Ranji would go even further, passing 3,000 on both occasions.

24. However, for all his brilliance in the First-Class matches of 1896, Ranji perhaps played his best innings in a match at Bexhill, for a Sussex eleven against a scratch side raised by Lord de La Warr. The pitch was a long way below county standard and Billy Lockwood bowled for the home team with his usual speed. Ranji alone stood against the fiery pace on a dreadful wicket.

25. It was while shooting grouse in the winter of 1896, after his successful Test debut, that Ranji contracted a congestion of the lungs. It took 10 weeks for him to recover. Ranji spent his period of recuperation reading historical fiction mainly Alexander Dumas.

26. During this period he sent for a shorthand writer and dictated his thoughts about the game, dissecting the techniques of fielding, batting and bowling in that order. AJ Gatson of Sussex Daily, Fry and Dr Butler were some of the men who helped him along the way. And thus was born the magisterial and invaluable Jubilee Book of Cricket.

27. His quest for warm sunshine during his recovery drove him to the continent. CB Fry tagged along, and the two headed south and somehow turned east from Paris and crossed Germany into Austria, finally across the Balkans into Turkey. Fry s curiosity made them witness the battleground of the on-going war between the Turks and the Greeks from uncomfortably close quarters. Fortunately for the two young men and the thousands of cricket fans, they managed to survive the adventure.

28. The tour diary Ranji kept during the Australian summer that followed was later made into a bestselling book, With Stoddart s Team in Australia.

29. On the way back from Australia, Ranji tarried for a while in India, not playing cricket that summer in England. It was a planned trip, to renew acquaintances and chip away at the question of the gaddi at Nawanagar. A course of action had already been undertaken in England, and Ranji s claims had been presented as a memorandum to the Secretary of State for India, Lord George Hamilton. The latter declined to take any initiative and Ranji decided to work his way through fellow princes.

30. In the English summers, as many as 3,159 runs gushed forth in 1899, 3,065 in 1900 and 2,461 in 1901. He was also made captain of Sussex in 1899.

31. When he was captain, there would always be a small aneroid barometer in his pocket and Ranji claimed it was of immense tactical value to him.

32. At the end of the season he set off for the United States, along with a strong including Archie Maclaren, Andrew Stoddart and Gilbert Jessop to play the Associated Clubs of Philadelphia. He was dogged by poor health during the tour, and batted only three times, scoring 42, 57 and 68. However, he did create a curious impression on the Americans. His clothes, appearance, princely rank, bachelor status, all led to a lot of speculation. He was plumper than expected and his walk was described as rolling about like a barrel on pins .

33. After continuous success of years, Ranji failed miserably in the great 1902 series and was dropped after a prolonged struggle for scores of two and four in the famous Manchester Test of that summer. He never played Test cricket again. His overall 989 runs in 15 Tests came at 44.95 with 2 hundreds. Playing during a period when the best batsmen averaged in their thirties, this was a fabulous record.

34. In 1903 he piled up 1394 runs at an average of 58 and returned to India, shooting lions in the Gir Forest with Nawab of Junagadh.

35. In his later years, he relied more and more on his drives. He continued to play delightful cuts and glides to the leg, but the majority of his runs came through drives.

36. Ranji s ascension to the throne was a trifle curious. The ruling Jam Saheb, Jaswantji or Jassaji, was in apparent good health and suddenly passed away in August 1906, after a bout of fever for two weeks. Simon Wilde has written that there is circumstantial evidence to suggest that Jassaji may have been poisoned. There were a few who believed that Ranji had plotted Jassaji s murder a belief voiced by one of the later rulers. There were intriguing negotiations as well, which made potential rival claimants to the throne withdraw in exchange of money. The British government finally ruled in favour of Ranji. His popularity as a cricketer and close connections with many of the administrators did go a long way in influencing the decision.

37. After ascending his throne of Nawanagar after he had put on his silk durbar dress, jewelled sword belt and thick string of pearls the Jam Saheb returned to England three times. In 1908 and 1912, he returned as more rotund versions of the earlier nimble form, equal in skill, scoring hundreds with usual flair, but without the dazzling enchantment. He was more of a responsible ruler, removing the burden of his kingdom from his shoulders and enjoying himself during an English holiday. However, not everyone agreed about his merits as a ruler some claimed he was idle, luxurious, indifferent and way too pro-British. CB Fry once said that Ranji was a master at taking liberties and he was not referring just to his great friend s batting.

38. Ranji lost an eye during the First World War. No, it was not a mark of bravado it was an unfortunate accident while shooting grouse in Yorkshire.

39. He returned again in 1920, an ill-advised comeback after putting on plenty of mortal flesh around his svelte form of the past, and the handicap of the damaged eye. The knocks of 16, nine, 13 and one gave him enough indication that his cricketing days were long over.

40. The stipulations imposed by the British and the current health of Nawanagar did not make for smooth sailing. Ranji tried a lot of improvement measures, including stimulating the economy by building a modern harbour. There were illnesses, escapes to England, lavish entertainment of British guests and resumption of his First-Class career.

41. There were also affairs of the heart as he pined away for a British lady. The two could not marry due to the complications that mixed-race marriage would bring into both British and Rajput circles.

42. Ranji was never very happy in India. He had become too anglicised in his ways and tastes.

43. Much of the renovated Jamnagar looked like Brighton where Ranji had spent his happy days.

44. He was appointed as the Indian Representative in the League of Nations, and he took on CB Fry as his deputy. However, he was seldom interested in the political and administrative problems that he was supposed to deal with in his role. He remained far more interested in providing extravagant hospitality to Western guests and dignitaries, while most of the complicated tasks were left to Fry.

45. Ranji, the great batsman and the public figure, was not really a popular icon in India. He was too pro-English and hankered after the old days of the Raj when the British flag fluttered with fullest pomp and grandeur. Many sports administrators of India, specifically Anthony de Mello, complained that Ranji never did anything for Indian sports and always maintained that he and his nephew KS Duleepsinhji were English cricketers.

46. It was cricket that gave solace to the childless, frustrated Ranji in India. He was overjoyed when nephew Duleep showed exceptional talent as a batsman and arranged for him to receive full instructions at home. When Duleep travelled to Cambridge, following the footsteps of his illustrious uncle, he was well schooled in the basics of batsmanship. Duleep, as elegant and majestic in his wristy brilliance, excelled in the few seasons he played and scored a scintillating 173 at Lord s against Australia in 1930. The innings was watched by a proud Ranji from the stands. When Duleep was dismissed after that magnificent innings, Ranji was overheard commenting, The boy was always careless. However, physical frailty brought an end to Duleep s career in 1932.

47. Overlooking Lakhota Lake in Jamnagar stands a huge statue of Ranji. The Kumar is dressed as per the demands of his throne and pedigree, the turban on his head and the body wrapped in a floor-length cape, a red garland around his shoulders. The entire statue is gold plated completed after his death. Perhaps it is the only monument in this Brighton-remade Jamnagar that looks grotesquely out of place.

48. Ranji posed in Paris for an American sculptor named Herbert Haseldine. He had even thought of having himself immortalised on horseback. To lend authenticity to the work and to satisfy his whims he even had a thoroughbred Kathi horse, with distinctive curled ears, shipped from India. Haseldine was fascinated by the Indian thoroughbred. With the license of artistic idiosyncrasy, he insisted on entertaining the stallion for tea much to the merriment of his friends.However, on the voyage back to India, the horse broke his knees by colliding against the container-box. The noble had to be put down on reaching the shores an excellent animal sacrificed by the princely vanity of the great cricketer of yore. The equestrian sculpture was never completed.

49. Ranji died of heart failure on April 2, 1933 after a short illness.

50. Ian Buruma, Dutch author and academic, was named as one of the 100 top global thinkers of 2010 by Foreign Policy. His stature as a serious intellectual of our times is prominent and globally accepted. He penned Playing the Game, an engrossing, if somewhat curious, novel on the life of Ranji.

A major gaffe in Buruma s book is the portrayal of the schoolboy Mahatma Gandhi as an under-arm lob bowler with a vicious break from the leg. Ranji comes across him during a match for Rajkumar College and Gandhi also dismisses him at the non-striker s end by flicking off his bails as he leaves his crease before the ball is bowled. Later, Gandhi meets him in London and the two watch cricket together, during which Ranji is fed up with his pretentious and largely misguided commentary on the game.As far as has been documented in history, Gandhi never indulged in cricket. He was never a cricketer of either ability or note, and the accusation of Mankading (if that is a term, since Mankad was not born when the incident would have happened) is rather far-fetched as far as poetic license goes. He did meet Ranji in London, but no account talks of their being together inside a cricket stadium.

(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)