A Delicate touch to fine leg
It’s common in any sport to associate certain strokes, moves and strategies with certain players. It is no different when it comes to the game of cricket. In the present age of the aggressive helicopter shot and the switch-hit, the more delicate strokes like the leg-glance, which is the legacy of Ranjit Singhji, the original Prince of Indian cricket, could be easily forgotten. From the one-legged pull or the Nataraj(desi name) shot associated with Carribean players like Brian Lara, to the straight drive that Tendulkar is said to be a master of, the late-cut which is perceived to be Gundappa Vishwanath’s speciality to the Dil-scoops associated with T. Dilshan, every stroke in the book seems to have its perfect exponent. Simililarly, when it comes to the leg-glance, there is only one name, Ranjit Singhji, the inventor of the leg-glance,while the rest can be termed as mere imitations.
Ranjith Singhji, who was an Indian prince, played most of his cricket in England, where he was pursuing his academics during the 1890′s. It was a time when racisim was very much prevalant and people had some strong views about the game. There were a few critics, like George Bernard Shaw who said cricket was a game played by twenty two players and watched by twenty two thousand fools. Also, there were the purists, who fancied the classic -playing in the ‘v’ approach to batting, and were totally averse to any game plan that deviated from the ‘old-school’. As such, Ranjit Singhji, although being a prince, had to face the critics, the racists and the purists in order to establish himself in the field of cricket on foreign soil.
It is interesting to know that ‘Ranji’ – as he was affectionately called by his team mates (or maybe they found it difficult to pronounce his full name), invented the’ leg glance’ while trying to overcome a defect in his technique against the pace bowlers. It is said that in order to rectify his habit of moving away from the ball, Ranjit Singhji used to tie his right leg to the ground while batting during practice sessions. In his attempt to get into the line of the ball and play late, he developed a habit of delicately guiding the ball to fine leg, which evolved to be known as the “leg-glance”.
However, the purists termed this stroke as ‘un-orthodox’ and never appreciated it. The racists did not want to be taught how to play the ‘glance’ by an Indian. In this backdrop, it is totally appreciable that amidst all these negative vibes, Ranjit Singhji made his debut for the English Cricket team in 1896 against the visiting Australian team. He made 62 runs in the first innings and an unbeaten 154 in the second. Although England lost, Ranjit Singhji had shown the world his ability as a batsman and the power of the ‘leg-glance’ which is said to have caught the Aussies by surprise; they had no counter-strategy to encounter this ‘new weapon’ in cricket.
If Ranjit Singhji were to play his cricket in this era, his innovative strokes and unorthodox play would have earned him a lot more appreciation and recognition than it did during his playing days. We would’ve heard the commentators praise the “Ranji Glance” every time it was been played by this man. Similarly, it would be interesting to imagine how a switch-hit or a scoop shot would be received by the spectators of those days. Such players would have probably lost their places in the team owing to their unpopular ways.
Today, the leg-glance apart, Ranjit Singhji’s memory is still kept alive in Indian cricket by the BCCI. The all important Domestic tournament which breeds and recognises new talents is named after him.
The Ranji Trophy, as it is famously known.