There have been fathers and sons who have played Test cricket, siblings have often partnered each other, and even third generational ties between Test Cricketers have been common. But rarely have four men linked by an uncle-nephew relationship over the course of three generations played in the Test arena as it was in the case of Duleepsinhji.
While KS Ranjitsinhji was the trailblazing member of the family who became a legend in his lifetime, popularized the leg glance and had an amazing first class and a superb Test career, it was Duleepsinhji his nephew, following in his footsteps, who would have an as impressive, albeit short-lived career as an England batsman. A generation later, Duleep’s own nephews Hanumant Singh and KS Indrajitsinhji would play Test cricket for India, making this one of cricket’s great families.
Following in Ranji’s footsteps
Kumar Shri Duleepsinhji was born in Sarodar, a village of the princely state of Nawanagar, then ruled by his uncle Ranjitsinhji. With a living legend like Ranji to look up to, it is hardly surprising that young Duleep would seek to follow in his uncle’s footsteps as a cricketer. But ultimately it would be his own talent that would determine his success.
Arriving in Cheltenham in 1921, 16-year old Duleep captured the imagination of not only his host CB Fry (a close friend of Ranji) but also the likes of Neville Cardus with his sublime batting even at this early age. In his inimitable style, Cardus would write: “He at once revealed he was kin not only in race but style with the batsman described by George Giffen, the Australian captain, as a ‘so-and-so’ conjurer. But, Duleep’s cricket was more definable by English traditions than that of his uncle. He was supple of wrist, without the oriental jugglery, the Ranjitsinhji legerdemain.”
Sussex – The cricketing home of Indian Princes
By the time Duleepsinhji arrived in Cambridge after the cricket season of 1924, his performances for his school had clearly marked him out as a remarkable batsman. Walking into the Cambridge XI in 1925, he scored 932 runs including two hundreds — 130 against Somerset at Bath and 128 against the Army at Cambridge — and finished up second in batting with an average of just over 49.
It was a year later that Duleep qualified for Sussex and made his debut for the county in 1926. He played for Sussex till 1932, leading them in his final year, and heading the side’s batting averages every season, just as Ranji had done during his stint.
In his first ever match he scored 97 against Leicestershire just failing to emulate Ranji’s debut century but rectified this by scoring 115 against Hampshire in the very next match. The following year he scored 101 against Yorkshire, and followed it up with 254 not out against Middlesex. English cricket would then be denied his brilliance for over a year because of a serious bout of pneumonia. He returned the following year to score six hundreds, and 1,706 runs in 22 games.
By 1929, Duleep was an accomplished batsman being spoken of in the same breath as Wally Hammond and Frank Wooley with his strokes all around the wicket. When he played Kent that season, Tich Freeman got him caught by Les Ames in the first innings for 68 and stumped in the second for 137. The story goes that Duleep bet Lord Harris the Kent patriarch, that he would score a double hundred in the return match at Hastings. In the first innings the 115 was a disappointment for him and he made amends in the second by piling up 246 wonderful runs.
Poor health would, unfortunately, confine Duleep’s first-class career to only eight seasons. In this time he scored 50 centuries. He also played 12 Tests scoring 995 runs at an average of 58.52, with 3 splendid hundreds. He was in Douglas Jardine’s 1932 side for the Bodyline series but had to drop out as he developed an ailment of the heart which was to afflict him for the rest of his life.
Much later, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi would also be Sussex alumni, making this the most princely of counties from an Indian perspective.
1930 – Duleep’s Year
1930 was the apogee of Duleep’s career. He appeared in his first Test match against Australia, at Lord’s, in an encounter that has gone down in history as one of the most glorious ever. Played under brilliant sunshine for four intoxicating days, it was according to Cardus an ‘apotheosis of cricket’, combining all that is wonderful in the noble game.
Duleep came in at 53 for 2, after the loss of Jack Hobbs and Woolley, and when Hammond fell it was 105 for 3. Duleep batted for a little less than 5 hours, cutting, driving and glancing — his stroke-play bringing the crowd to its feet throughout his stay at the crease. The late-cuts left even the normally taciturn Australian slip fielders shaking their heads in admiration. When he had reached 173, with the team score on 387, he stepped out to Clarrie Grimmett and was caught in the outfield by 22-year old Don Bradman.
The following day Bradman’s 254 would set Lord’s on fire putting Duleep’s magnificent innings in the shade. Duleep would, however, follow his first innings effort with a delectable 48 in the second.
Notwithstanding his brilliance in the match, not everyone was equally impressed. Sitting in the stands, uncle Ranji was not amused when he got out in the first innings and was overheard saying: ‘The boy was always careless’.
In 1931 Duleep scored 2562 runs and 12 hundreds, four of the tons in successive matches against Worcestershire, New Zealand, Middlesex and Hampshire. That year he was made the captain of Sussex, yet another feather that had adorned the princely crown of Ranji and would not be denied to his nephew.
The same summer, Duleep ended the Tests with 109 at The Oval and 63 at Old Trafford against New Zealand.
Alas, in what must be counted among the gravest tragedies of cricket, these would be his last appearances in Test cricket, forced to stop playing because of the diagnosis of the heart problem.
333 Reasons to remember Duleepsinhji
It was in 1930, when his cricket was at its peak, that Duleep played an innings for Sussex which would earn him immortality.
The Northamptonshire attack was not a bad one. Nobby Clark and Vallance Jupp had played for England, and Austin Matthews would wear the England cap soon.
Albert Thomas dismissed Ted Bowley for one and KS Duleepsinhji walked out to bat in just the second over. The Northants bowlers at that stage could not be faulted for their effort. In fact, they were doing a stellar job on the batsmen at one end of the 22-yards. James Parks was out for nine. Clarke got Thomas Cook for 19. James Langridge walked back for 17. Henry Parks was bowled for 11.
The problem was that at the other end of the pitch, 22-yards and seemingly a cricketing galaxy away, Duleep was wielding his willow with the elegance of a possessed Van Gogh brush.
The procession of measly scorers at the other end did not matter, because, by the time Henry Parks was the fifth man out, the score was already 235. Duleep had added 77 with Cook, 75 with Langridge and 53 with Henry Parks. Then Maurice Tate joined Duleep and runs flowed from both ends. At one end Duleep caressed the ball through the covers with sublimeness and then leg glanced the next ball past square, evoking memories of Ranji. At the other, Tate adopted far more rustic methods that however had a similar effect on the scoreboard.
The runs kept coming at such a rate that the scorers could barely keep up. After just about five hours at the crease, Duleep went past the 29-year-old record of uncle Ranji to become the highest scorer for Sussex. When Tate fell to Reginald Partridge for 111, the two had added 255. Understandably tired from this extraordinary display of batsmanship, Duleep stepped out to Matthews and was stumped. His magnificent effort had yielded 333. The innings contained 33 boundaries and a six during five and a half hours of sheer cricketing wizardry. The Sussex score stood at 514 for seven.
Of purely academic interest is that fact that Sussex captain Gilligan declared at the overnight score of 521 for 7 and Northamptonshire crashed to a defeat by an innings and 209 runs. Tate followed up his century with seven wickets in second innings.
Duleep had not only scored an incredible triple century in a short space of time but his innings was so far ahead of anything the opposition could hope to match that the combined scores of the two Northants innings was less than his individual score, an occurrence that has rarely been witnessed in cricket before or since.
Duleep’s score for Sussex that 7th day of May 1930, stood as the county’s highest individual number for 73 years before the Zimbabwean batsman Murray Goodwin struck an unbeaten 335 against Lancashire in September 2003.
The career after cricket
Forced to give up cricket in his prime due to the heart problem, Duleep would, however, remain in the limelight outside cricket, serving in advisory and selectorial roles for both England and India.
Ranji had represented British India as a diplomat. India was now independent, and following in his uncle’s diplomatic footsteps, just as he had done during his cricketing career, Duleep joined the Indian Foreign Office.
In 1950 he was appointed India’s High Commissioner to Australia and New Zealand. In 1954, he was posted as chairman of public service commission in Saurashtra. He also served as chairman of the All-India Sports Council, a position he took up a few months before his demise.
Kumar Shri Duleepsinhji passed away from a heart attack in 1959 at Bombay. His cricketing career had been brief in its timeline but incredibly rich and evocative in its elegance, grace and impact, qualities that surpass and survive mere mortality, and perhaps even make it irrelevant.
It is indeed fitting that every time two of India’s Zonal teams step out on the cricketing field to do battle, the ultimate prize at stake is a glittering trophy that bears testimony to the magnificence of the genius it is named after – Kumar Shri Duleepsinhji.