Was It All Cricket?
The names of Ranjitsinhji, Duleepsinhji and Pataudi complete this picture of Empire cricket. The Indian prince will always remain as one of the greatest batsmen the game has known. His entry into Test Match cricket at Manchester in 1896 caused a sensation. His playing of Jones made a great impression upon the Australians; he could back-cut so late as to be able to guide the fastest deliveries through the slips. Fast rising balls he could flick away on the leg side in a manner that no one had ever done before; several times Jones thought he had hit him in the ribs, even on the head, only to see the ball flying to the fine-leg boundary. Ranjitsinhji batted with even greater ease and grace than Palairet and Trumper, and made strokes neither of these batsmen attempted. While most of these amazing strokes were on either side of the wicket, usually behind point or square leg, his off-drive was timed so sweetly that only the most fleet-footed outfield could intercept the ball before it reached the boundary. The Prince was just over thirty years of age when I saw him play in 1903. Although still a wonderful batsman, Australians who played against him on three tours in England told me that he was greatest in 1896 when he was named “The Wizard,” a title suited to one whose style of play has been likened to the deftness of a magician. They told me stories in England about his thoroughness when at university. He was a rich young man and at times engaged the best professionals to bowl to him at practice. It is significant that he often had England's fastest bowlers bowling to him at the nets. No wonder he played Jones with such ease and confidence!
Duleepsinhji, who visited New Zealand in 1929, gave glimpses of the same artistry that his uncle had shown some thirty years earlier, and New Zealanders who saw “Duleep's” batting will be able to appreciate how great a batsman “Ranji” must have been. Pataudi took five hours to make a century in a Test Match at Sydney, so it cannot be said that all Indian batsmen are brilliant.
In the years when India was developing her cricket, a great patron in the person of the Maharajah of Patiala was to play a notable part. He engaged leading English professionals to coach the young Indians, invited teams from England to tour the country, and in many other ways proved as great a benefactor to Indian cricket as Sir Abe Bailey was to South African.