Behind Jamnagar’s reputation as an oil town, there are its bird sanctuaries. Behind its bird sanctuaries, stands Ranji—its 20th century cricket star Maharajah

01 November 2010

NEAR LAKHOTA LAKE in the centre of Jamnagar, gulls screeching behind us, we finally find a statue of Ranji. He’s dressed as his pedigree demands: turban and floor-length cape, red garland around his shoulders, and the whole statue is gold–plated. He was a Maharajah, after all. He looks about as un-cricketer-like as it is possible to look, which for any other Maharajah would not be a point of discussion. Yet it is as a cricketer, and an English cricketer, that Ranji is most fondly remembered.

Though there is a famous photograph from his last full year playing cricket for Sussex in 1912, taken as he strides out to bat at the age of 40, and he looks pretty un-cricketer-like there too. The years have left their mark: this is not the slim and elegant figure of his glory days. Ranji has, you can tell, ingested a few too many dhoklas. And it’s those same dimensions he sports as he stands in princely finery on this pedestal, reclining lions on either side of him.

After a legendary cricket career in England, Prince Ranjitsinhji Vibhaji, Ranji to fans everywhere, returned home to rule the small princely state of Jamnagar in Gujarat. He became a wise and generally loved Maharajah, but he took no interest in Indian cricket. As Anthony de Mello, one of the founders of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, once wrote: “It is my understanding of this great and strange man that his heart was in England.” Ask Ranji to help the sport in his own land and he would reply: “I am an English cricketer.”

Dilip D'Souza  has won several awards for his writing, including the Outlook/Picador prize. His most recent book is Roadrunner: An Indian Quest in America.

Keywords: cricket England Lakhota Lake Jamnagar Ranji Prince Ranjitsinhji Vibhaji Dilip D'Souza cricinfo Sehwag Vinoo Mankad Khijadiya Bird Sanctuary Bal Hanuman Temple Kala Ghoda Lords stadium Rahul Dravid