“Perhaps, in Bangladesh, Sarada might have been the first person to let people know about cricket. His knowledge about the game spread from Kishoreganj to Mymensingh to Dhaka and his legacy is still evident in the Eastern part of Bengal, where cricket has become the heartbeat of a nation”
The Bengali middle class has always played a very active part of the society of the subcontinent. Since the days of British Raj, the Bengali middle class, famously known as the Bhadrolok, has played a vital role in various social movements. Be it a protest for a noble cause or major political movements or creating a certain sporting culture, the Bhadrolok has always featured prominently.
The British came to the Indian shores with the motive of doing business, but while doing so, they started to rule the roost in undivided India. Their soldiers played a game called cricket during leisure time and the common Indians mastered the game by watching. Cricket started to spread throughout India and in the eighteenth century, it was a part of India’s sporting culture. Patiala, Rajputana, Central India, Kashmir and Bengal invested time and money in this game.
For some, cricket became a tool to attain recognition in the eyes of the British, while for those Bhadrolok along with the Maharajas of Bengal cricket was the medium to defeat the British on their own turf. But while doing so, the Bhadroloks and Maharajas played a crucial role in spreading cricket throughout Bengal.
Bengal cricket owes a lot to the Maharaja of Natore and it owes a lot more to Sarada Ranjan Ray Chowdhury. Sarada Ranjan Ray was the elder brother Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury, the paternal uncle of the great Satyajit Ray.
Sarada Ranjan Ray hailed from Kishoreganj, a district in central Bangladesh and part of the present day Dhaka Division. At Kishorganj’s Katiyadi village, the Ray family is renowned for their intellectual background and it was in this family that Sarada Ranjan Ray Chowdhury was born.
He studied at Minor school till the age of eight and then got admitted at Mymensingh Zilla School. At that time, Kishoreganj was a part of Mymensingh. Later on, after the independence in 1971, Kishoreganj was separated from Mymensingh.
The economic growth of Mymensingh District was more remarkable than Dhaka. So to suppress Mymensingh, Greater Mymensingh was separated from their 7 out of 6 Upazilla – Kishoreganj, Tangail, Sherpur, Jamalpur and Netrokona.
Coming back to our main story, Sarada Ranjan Ray shifted to a school in Dhaka where he completed his matriculation and then started his college life at the prestigious Dhaka College. At this college, Ray started to fulfil his cricketing ambitions.
Since his childhood, his interest in sports was immense. It was the time when cricket was taking its roots in Bengal and Sarada Ranjan Ray could not stay away from a bat and ball. Those who watched him in his teens said Sarada Ranjan used to walk along the muddy roads of Kotiyadi with a bat and book in his hands. He was not only a brilliant academic, but equally impressive in sporting activities as well.
Cricket became a part and parcel of his life. He not only played the game for pleasure, but studied the intricacies of the game by heart and soul. His passion for the game prompted him to write a book as well and it also prompted him to spread the game in this region.
While studying at Dhaka College, Ray and his brothers – Upendrakishore Ray, Muktidaranjan Ray, Kuladaranjan Ray and Pramadaranjan Ray – established the Dhaka College Cricket Club. It was in this club where the students were taught about cricket and this influenced them about the importance of physical exercises. There was a school of thought among the non-Bengalis that, people from Bengal are not physically strong enough to claim their authority over others.
Ray was not comfortable with such a school of thought, and decided to develop a culture where the young guns of Bengal would be interested in making themselves fit to give a fitting answer to the critics. And, Ray was successful with his motives. The Bengal boys started to take sports and physical exercise seriously, which helped Ray build a cricket team.
After completing the graduation from Dhaka College, Ray received the Premchand Scholarship and started studying Sanskrit. But, he did not complete his degree and joined Aligarh University as a teacher of mathematics. In Aligarh, he continued to spread his passion for cricket alongside teaching maths. He returned to Dhaka College as a professor in later years – a place, which he had made the home of cricket in Bengal a few years ago.
The seed, which Ray sowed a few years ago, started to reap a rich harvest as his Dhaka College Cricket team paid a visit to Kolkata to play a match against the prestigious Presidency College. The match was played at the Eden Gardens in 1884, where Dhaka College beat Presidency. This defeat was not taken lightly by the hierarchy and students of Presidency. They protested about the inclusion of teachers in the team as the experience and skill of Sarada Ranjan and his brothers – Kulada and Pramada – proved a handful for the Presidency boys.
Sarada Ranjan was annoyed by this and protested. But later on, the British Professor of Presidency College and the Officials of Calcutta Cricket Club negotiated with Ray and convinced him to exclude the teachers from his team. Ray was hurt and left Dhaka College.
The great Ishwarchandra Bidya Sagar requested Ray to join as a professor at the Metropolitan Institute. But the institution suffered from a financial crisis and it led Ray to open “S Ray and Company” which sold books and cricket kits. He opened a shop selling cricket merchandise in 1895 at Kolkata. Even though, bats, balls and other equipment sold by his store were imported, he decided to make them available for a cheap price for all.
The willow woods were imported from Sialkot. The bats were then made from this wood in his factory at Jessore Road. Such bats were cheap and teenagers could buy them easily and quench their thirst for playing the game. In 1906, his “Balanced Bat” won an honourable prize in the Kolkata trade fair.
Sarada Ranjan Ray was a good coach as well. His coaching skills did not go unnoticed by the Maharaja of Natore, who recruited him to coach his side. Sarada’s knowledge about the rules and technical aspect of the game was crystal clear. Easily, he was one of the finest intellects of cricket, who spent his life loving this game and teaching others about the game’s beauty.
His white beard made many mention the similarity with WG Grace. However, he was not just the Grace of Bengal for such likeness. Rather, he was the Grace of Bengal because of his outstanding contributions towards this game.
Perhaps, in Bangladesh, Sarada might have been the first person to let people know about cricket. His knowledge about the game spread from Kishoreganj to Mymensingh to Dhaka and his legacy is still evident in the Eastern part of Bengal, where cricket has become the heartbeat of a nation.