WHEN JARDINE PLAYED THE CATALYST
The 80th edition of the Ranji Trophy, India’s premier domestic cricket championship, will commence on Sunday. 27 October 2013.
This was how it all began…
Not many people, perhaps, know that the final inspiration behind the birth of the Ranji Trophy was the firebrand England captain Douglas Jardine, whose name was otherwise besmirched by the ‘Bodyline’ controversy. When he brought the first England team to India in 1933, he was greatly impressed by the profusion of talent that he was witness to. He was particularly impressed by the eager manner in which players came together from distant places for the common purpose of playing for the country.
Talking to Indian officials on the eve of the Test match at the Bombay Gymkhana, Jardine suggested that the sooner India started a proper National Championship, the better it would be for the development of the game in the country. An intent listener was Anthony de Mello, the first Secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India. It was through his efforts that a full meeting of the BCCI was called in Simla in the summer of 1934. Sikandar Hayat Khan, the then Governor of Punjab, who was also the president of the BCCI, chaired the meeting, and it was unanimously decided to start a National Championship in the coming season.
Anthony de Mello made an excellent presentation. He placed on the table an artist’s model of a well-designed trophy – a Grecian urn, two feet high, with a lid, whose handles had the symbol of Father Time, as is seen on the weather-cock at Lord’s. Even as he was halfway through his speech, Bhupinder Singh, the Maharaja of Patiala, sprung from his seat and said that he would donate the cost of the trophy to be made in gold, provided it was named after Kumar Shri Ranjitsinhji, who had passed away just a year ago.
The proposal was accepted. It was only later that a debate rose over the issue of naming the National Championship after a man who had never played cricket in India. The Maharaj Kumar of Vizianagram (Vizzy) was not to let go the opportunity to oppose Patiala and his clique. He had an elegant trophy, almost equal in size, of chipped gold, made in London. It was designed by Lady Willingdon, the wife of the then Viceroy of India. Vizzy insisted that the National Championship be called the Willingdon Trophy.
It may sound strange, but when the National Cricket Championship of India started, the teams did not even know what trophy they were playing for.
Mumbai won the inaugural tournament in 1934-35, beating Northern India in the final. However, the winners’ trophy was presented to Mumbai the following year when they repeated the success. The great irony, as far as Vizzy and Co. were concerned, was that the Viceroy, Lord Willingdon, himself decided on presenting the trophy named after K.S. Ranjitsinhji.
Whatever might have happened, the Ranji Trophy had come to stay. Of all the cricket-playing countries of the world, India is the only one to have the National Championship named after a cricketing legend. Thus the great distinction of the Ranji Trophy, as compared to the plain County Championship in England, the Sheffield Shield in Australia, the Currie Cup in South Africa or the Plunkett Shield in New Zealand.
As years went by, sponsors and their brand names commanded a preference over cricketing celebrities. An attempt was made, some years ago, to prefix a sponsor’s name to our National Championship, whose format has undergone changes several times over the years. The effort, however, did not succeed, as any dilution of the original name, particularly as stately and as reverential as that of Ranji, could not be tolerated.
S.K. Sham was one of India’s most eminent cricket writers. This article was written in 2009, for the BCCI’s Ranji Trophy Platinum Jubilee Volume.