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Indian princes and Ashes hundreds


Indian_Princes_England_Australia_Ashes_Test_CricketIn what is one of the many interesting coincidences in the history of Test cricket, there have been three Indian princes who had the distinction of representing England in Test matches against Australia – and each of them scored a century on their Ashes debut.

Kumar Shri Ranjitsinhji of Kathiawar, Kumar Shri Duleepsinhji of Kathiawar and Iftikhar Ali Khan of Pataudi were the three blue-blooded batsmen who brought a new dimension to the Anglo-Australian rivalry.

Kumar Shri Ranjitsinhji

Widely regarded as the first great Indian batsman to have played Test cricket, ‘Ranji’ (1872-1933) was indeed a path-breaking phenomenon. He made his first-class debut for Sussex against the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) at Lord’s in 1895, and immediately made an impact with scores of 77 and 150.

It was not long before he caught the eye of the national selectors, and was handed his Test debut in the second Test of the 1896 Ashes at Old Trafford. Australia won the match by three wickets after having been set 125, but Ranji stole the show.

Ranji began with 62 in the first innings, followed by a majestic 154 not out in the second. He made his second-innings runs in a little over three hours, striking 23 fours on the way. He scored a hundred runs – going from 41 to 154 – before lunch on the third day, becoming the first batsman to do so in a Test.

Trailing by 181 in the first innings, England were 33/1 in the second when Ranji strode out to the crease, and went on to play an innings described as ‘marvellous’ by Wisden. He stayed until the end of the innings, giving England a fighting total to defend, which was eventually not enough.

However, England did go on to win the series 2-1. In making his hundred, Ranji became only the fourth batsman and the second Englishman after the legendary W.G Grace to have reached the landmark on Test debut. In the first Test of the next Ashes series at Sydney in 1897-98, he made a career-best 175 in spite of illness and exhaustion, batting at number seven.

Perhaps the greatest contribution of Ranji to the game was the pioneering of a new style of batting. He had a keen eye and made great use of wrists, which led him to introduce the leg-glance. Also, he mastered the art of playing the back-foot defence with great success.

Ranji played 15 Tests in all, finishing with 989 runs at a healthy average of 44.95. He was a prolific scorer for Sussex, having crossed 1,000 runs in every season from 1895 to 1904, and captaining the county from 1899 to 1903.

In an age of racial discrimination, he broke all barriers to be remembered as one of the great batsmen of his era. In 1933, the Indian cricket board recognised his legacy by naming the country’s premier first-class tournament after him.

Kumar Shri Duleepsinhji

‘Duleep’ (1905-1959) was a nephew of Ranjitsinhji. Like his uncle, he too was a Cambridge University product and represented Sussex in county cricket, making his debut for them in 1926.

On his Test debut in the drawn first Test against South Africa at Birmingham in 1929, he failed to create an impression, managing only 12 and 1. He did not take further part in the series, but was included for the tour of New Zealand that winter, where he was the leading run-scorer with 358 runs, including his maiden hundred (117) in the third Test at Auckland.

In the summer of 1930, batting at number four, he went on to emulate his uncle by smashing 173 in the first innings of his first Ashes Test, which was the second Test of the series at Lord’s. He also scored 48 in the second innings.

Incidentally, here too the result was a defeat for England as Australia chased down a target of 72 for the loss of three wickets, after having made 729/6 (Don Bradman 254) in the first innings.

Duleep’s match tally of 221 was a new record by an English batsman in a Test at Lord’s. Though Australia won the series 2-1 (Bradman making a record 974 runs), he was one of the positives for England, finishing as the third-highest run-getter with a tally of 416 from four matches.

Duleep’s last Test series was the 1931 home series against New Zealand. In his last two Tests, he made 109 and 63 at the Oval and Old Trafford respectively. His career would have had been much longer had it not been for ill health.

Like Ranji, he too captained Sussex - he first led the county in 1931, and also headed the averages in every season until 1932, when he was advised by doctors to stop playing cricket. In all, he scored 995 runs at 58.52 in 12 Tests.

When he retired, Wisden wrote of him: ‘Of singular charm of character; extremely modest of his own wonderful ability; and with a love for the game which transcended his joy in all other pastimes, Duleepsinhji will always be remembered as one of the outstanding personalities during his period in first-class cricket.’ India’s zonal first-class competition was named after him (the Duleep Trophy ceased to be a zonal affair in 2016-17 due to a format change).

Iftikhar Ali Khan Pataudi

Also known as the Nawab of Pataudi Senior, Iftikhar Ali Khan (1910-1952) is the only cricketer to have played Tests for both England and India. He played first-class cricket for Worcestershire and Oxford University in England, and for Southern Punjab and Western India in India.

At the young age of 22, he was selected for the 1932-33 ‘Bodyline’ series in Australia, and duly made his Test debut in the first Test at Sydney. After Australia had scored 360 (Stan McCabe scoring an excellent 187*), centuries from Herbert Sutcliffe (194) and Wally Hammond (112) guided England to 300/2, at which point Pataudi came in to bat.

By the time he was last out at 524, he had ground out a patient 102, in the process becoming the sixth Englishman to score a hundred on Test debut. He also became the third Indian prince to score a hundred on Ashes debut.

England romped home by ten wickets and took the controversial series 4-1, but Pataudi himself was axed after the second Test due to non-cricketing reasons.

When Pataudi refused to take his place in a typical Bodyline leg-side field during the second Test, the English captain Douglas Jardine remarked: “Ah, I see His Highness is a conscientious objector.”

Apparently, his opposition to Jardine’s tactics cost him his place in the team. He played once more for England in the 1934 Ashes, but then fell out of favour. Twelve years later, he played Tests for India – he captained his country of birth in the 1946 series in England.

Pataudi scored 199 runs in his six-Test career. His son Mansur Ali Khan was also destined to become an Indian Test captain. Test series between England and India in England are contested for the Pataudi Trophy, named in honour of the family.

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Rustom Deboo is a cricket aficionado and freelance writer from Mumbai. He is an ardent devotee of T...

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