Revisiting Ranji

A visit to the school where one of cricket’s greatest icons learnt the game.

Rajkumar College is a school in Rajkot.

As you enter the campus, you can see time frozen in brick and cement. Walking towards its cricket ground, you see little boys running around in their games hour. Don’t worry, they’ll leave the turf wicket alone. Follow the perimeter of the outfield. Look at the scoreboard. Ignore the fact that you polished your shoes in the morning. Watch out for a concrete platform, with three rows of steps in front, surrounded by trees. As the sun warms your back, make your way to the pavilion. Just another school cricket ground being described. Right?

Not quite.

“You are at the place where Ranjitsinhji learnt his cricket”, exclaims Jaidevsinhji Jadeja. The concrete platform (pic below) used to be a pavilion, where the man who invented the leg glance sat, waiting for his turn to bat. As a school boy, before Principal Macnaughton took him away to England.

One day after Saurashtra defeated Punjab to enter the 2012-13 Ranji Trophy final, Yahoo! Cricket decided to find out what was left of the Late Maharaja Ranjitsinhji, the Jam Sahib of Nawanagar. The search for a cricket museum dedicated to him left one disappointed. But thankfully, it was pointed out to us that a school once meant for the Princes of Kathiawar remains a living memorial.

But you will never make that out.

The prince displaying his patent. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

To those unacquainted with this royal cricketing icon of the late 19th century, Ranjitsinhji (in the pic above), or Ranji as he is usually referred to, lived between 1872 and 1933. Educated at Cambridge, he rose through the university and county cricket ranks before he played 15 Tests for England. He made two Test hundreds, including one on debut in 1896. He quit cricket to return to India to take over his kingdom. He continued playing domestic cricket in England, often despite his bouts with asthma.

His nephew, Kumar Shri Duleepsinhji, followed Ranji’s illustrious footsteps to Cambridge where he rose to play 12 Tests for England. His Test average of 58.52 for his 995 runs is still among the highest of the game. The Ranji Trophy and Duleep Trophy have been named after the two princes.

An undated portrait of Duleep (Topical Press Agency).

Back to the school.

The Maharaj Shri Duleepsinhji Memorial Pavilion is a new addition. The school’s sports in-charge Bhishma Dev Shaktawat will tell you that it was built in 1962. As you enter, the wall on your left has Ranjitsinhji’s records as a cricketer, and his cricketing sketches, that were commissioned when he went past the 3000-run mark with the willow. The wall on the right is dedicated to Duleepsinhji. The 33-year-long gap between uncle and nephew shows there were more cameras around to capture Duleep’s cricketing stories.

Ranjitsinhji’s sketches were presented to the school by his nephew Lt. Col R.K Jayendrasinhji of the 18 Rajputana Rifles. The army officer’s 65-year old son, Jaidevsinhji, to whom a quote is attributed earlier on in this article, tells us that the old pavilion, of which only the steps remain, was razed after it had outlived its utility. He further reveals that it was alive as a structure till 1964. The gentleman adds that he indirectly owes everything to his grand uncle. For he educated his father and put him in the army.

The pavilion named after Duleep.

“I don’t think there is anyone left”, he replies when we ask him if he knows anyone who had interacted with Ranji. It was a long shot expecting to speak to someone who has spoken to the cricketing legend.

“It seems to look like just another cricket ground. But every time I step in, I can feel its history. There is a shortage of funds. One can’t blame Rajkumar College. They have other priorities. The BCCI should give some money”, he adds.

You can’t find anything related to Ranji at Rajkumar College. There is a swimming bath, in his name that’s over a hundred years old. Jaidevsinhji informs that Ranji’s bat, his clothes, artificial eye (he lost one in a shooting accident), medals, ash tray, cigar case, amongst other memorabilia were at the Jamnagar Palace. And for obvious reasons, they are not available to the public. There have been burglary attempts.

A board at the College tells us of Ranji's impressive exploits.

If the BCCI decides to make a cricket museum, would the family part with these prized possessions?

“You will have to ask Wing Commander Shatru Shalya Sinhji that question. He is the present Jam Sahib of Nawanagar. If you approach him the right way. You never know, he might agree. Once, he gave away Ranjitsinhji’s bat to Ross Edwards during the Ranji centenary match in 1972”, comes the answer.

When asked if there was someone in his family who still played cricket.

“Ajay Jadeja was the last. Nobody wants to run and sweat anymore. The competition for a First Class spot is intense”, he comments.

Back to school?

Portrait of Ranji taken in 1982 in Jamnagar, India. (Photo by Adrian Murrell/Getty Images)