Johannes Kotze (left) and KS Ranjitsinhji © ____
Johannes Kotze (left) and KS Ranjitsinhji © Getty Images

On August 22, 1904, KS Ranjitsinhji reduced an unsuspecting Johannes Kotze’s field placement to utter ridiculousness with his terrific strokeplay. Abhishek Mukherjee describes the genius that was Ranji.

Johannes ‘Kodgie’ Kotze was, to quote David Frith, “one of the fastest bowlers in the history of the game.” Not only that, he could bowl on and on, never compromising on pace, but was prone to temper outbursts at the slightest sight of misfield off his own bowling.

“A burly man, Kotze had a long run to the crease which climaxed in an intimidating leap. His grip of the ball was odd. He held it between middle- and forefinger. And he seemed to retain it a micro-second longer than expected, which probably increased the thrust. His body-swing helped impart violent swing to the ball, and on his day he must have been altogether a nightmare to face,” wrote Frith of him in Wisden Cricket Monthly.

Kotze played only 3 Tests without much success. In First-Class cricket, however, he was a menace, his 348 wickets coming at under 18. He toured England thrice, in 1901, 1904, and 1907, and took 193 First-Class wickets in all in England alone.

He was still raw in 1901, when he made his First-Class debut. KS Ranjitsinhji played against them once on that tour, for MCC at Lord’s. He found little success, scoring 22 and 3. Kotze got him in the second innings, caught Bertram Cooley.

Thus, when the South Africans reached Hove to play Sussex in 1904, Kotze had no reason to be in awe of Ranji. Sussex batted, and Ranji joined captain CB Fry at 96 for 2. Kotze came on to bowl soon afterwards.

Now the South Africans decided to pull Kotze’s leg. They informed him that Ranji did not enjoy playing fast bowling, which was obviously far from the truth. The advice was simple: “You just put four slips and peg away on his off and middle stumps, and you’re bound to get him.”

Kotze had set the field as instructed. He bowled outside off. The second ball disappeared to the long-leg boundary. Yes, the leg-glance.

Jimmy Sinclair decided to play on. This time he chirped at Kotze: “Never mind, Kodgie. Bring up a fifth slip and let him go on. He’ll do it once too often, you’ll see.”

So Kotze had five slips for two overs.

What followed? An ‘informant’ from the Sussex team would later tell Arthur Gilligan: “In the end, old Kodgie, who began with four slips and no long-leg, finished with four long-legs and one slip.”

Sussex were 357 for 3 when Fry declared. Ranji was unbeaten on 178, out of the 261 Sussex got during his stay at the crease.

Brief scores:

Sussex 357 for 3 decl. (CB Fry 74, KS Ranjitsinhji 178*) drew with South Africans 372 for 7 (Maitland Hathorn 139, Jimmy Sinclair 79; George Cox 3 for 100, KS Ranjitsinhji 3 for 111).