It has been two decades since the seventh edition of the Asia Cup was contested in Bangladesh.
The Kathiawar peninsula in western India has produced great cricketers for not one but three nations.
India, of course, as well as Pakistan and England.
Sir Ranjitsinhji Jadeja, know to the cricketing world as Ranji, made his debut for England late in the 19th century and played until the early 20th century.
An average of 44 over 15 Tests only tells part of his ability. He was unconventional in the sense that rather than relying on the copybook style of play suggested by the coaches of the time, he relied on his excellent reflexes to hit even good deliveries to the fence. He was a prince both in real life and in the field of cricket.
His nephew, Duleepsinhji, played for Sussex and England, with an impressive average of 58.52 over 12 Tests.
The Ranji Trophy and Duleep Trophy are still the two most important first-class tournaments in India.
“Both Duleep and I are English cricketers” – this comment by Ranji prior to the selection of the Indian team to tour England in 1932 greatly hurt the feelings of the general public of the country. There was a great hope that Duleep would lead the Indian team.
Duleep, in fact, was slowly moving away from the game to concentrate on his health issues. Instead of him, it was the Maharaja of Porbandar who officially led the tour, although the Maharaja spent little time on cricket fields during the trip.
However, Duleep did use his influence to get Amar Singh included in the team.
Both Amar and his elder brother, L Ramji, are mythical characters in Indian cricket history, so it’s important to separate the myths from the facts.
Amar was a medium fast bowler and a useful batsman, while Ramji was an out-and-out fast bowler and a rabbit with the bat. Ramji had a genuine fast bowler’s temperament to the extent that he infuriated two Maharajas – Maharaja of Patiala and the Maharaja of Porbandar – in separate incidents. Both the princes were influential characters in Indian cricket at the time. Not surprisingly, his career shows just one wicket-less Test at home.
His temper also jeopardised the prospects of Amar, but the brothers always had the support of the princely Jadeja family of Nawanagar.
Amar played seven Tests for India before his death in 1940 at the age of 29. During the 1936 tour to England he received plaudits from both Len Hutton and Wally Hammond. At that time, he was playing as a pro in the Lancashire league and was available for the Indian team only in the big matches.
There is nothing mythical about the next big name to come from Kathiawar: Vinoo Mankad.
A batting average of 31 and a bowling average of 32 show his class as a genuine all-rounder. After starting his Test career after the World War II, he featured in five Test victories, averaging over 100 with the bat in these matches, and took more than 40 wickets at only 13 per wicket. His 162 wickets was an Indian record until 1976.
He was allocated the No.6 slot in the 20th century Indian team selected by the experts. A left-arm spinner, he kept Bishan Bedi out of the dream team. In fact, he started the tradition of left-arm spin in Kathiawar which is still going strong.
Salim Durani, Dilip Doshi, and Ravindra Jadeja of modern era would make a decent list, although both Durani and Doshi played a lot of their domestic cricket for other states.
Then there were Karsan Ghavri and Dhiraj Parsana, both Test players from Rajkot, and both left-arm medium pacers who could bowl slow if necessary.
Meanwhile, the royal house of Jamnagar continued its contribution to Indian cricket; the 1960s saw the emergence of Indrajitsinhji – a capable wicketkeeper who played just four Tests for India, mainly due to the presence of Farokh Engineer.
However, he became a small part of a famous Indian victory at Bombay against Bob Simpson’s Australia during the 1964-65 season. In the second Test of the series, he scored 3* from 41 minutes in the second innings, but most importantly his 32-run partnership with Chandu Borde took India to a nail-biting two-wicket win.
In modern times, Ajay Jadeja came from the Jamnagar royal family, but he had his education in Delhi, and played first-class cricket for Haryana in northern India.
Salim Durani introduces us to another major place of Kathiawar talent, the princely state of Junagadh. Salim is India’s only Afghan-born Test cricketer, but he grew up in Junagadh and his father was involved in cricket coaching there.
Like Vinoo, Salim was a left-arm spinner and an aggressive batsman. His average of 25 with the bat and 35 with the ball doesn’t look great but he was a big-match player. During the 1961-62 series against Ted Dexter’s England, he took 18 wickets in two Tests to help India win the series 2-0. Then, in the tour to the West Indies he scored his only Test ton.
But the bad defeat by India during the tour started a safety-first approach, which meant Bapu Nadkarni – a bowler known for his remarkable economy – was often preferred to Durani.
Then came Bishan Bedi, and when Durani was given a surprise recall during the 1971 tour to the West Indies. He was expected to contribute mainly as a batsman, but in the famous victory at Port of Spain he dismissed Garfield Sobers and Clive Lloyd to become a part of Indian cricket folklore.
He didn’t do much in his final series, against Tony Lewis’ England in the 1972-73 season, but he remained a crowd favourite. In fact, he is the only batsman in Test history who produced sixes to satisfy public demand.
As for the Pakistan connection, as I stated earlier the father of Durani was a cricket coach and his most famous pupil was Hanif.
Yes, the famous Mohammad family had their origins in Junagadh.
The small state had a majority Hindu population but a Muslim ruler and after the British left, the prince wanted to join Pakistan. But public opinion was against it and he left his state to live in Pakistan.
The Mohammads also went to Karachi and started a memorable chapter in Pakistan cricket history. Hanif’s son, Shoaib, played for his country and Shehzar, the son of Shaoib, is a first-class cricketer now.
The peninsula is still represented in the Indian team, with Cheteshwar Pujara from Rajkot and Ravindra Jadeja from Jamnagar.
Jadeja is a quiet worker but his batting average of 35 and bowling average of 24 demands admiration.
I won’t compare Pujara with Ranji, because they represent entirely different type of batting style and because comparison to Hanif would be more appropriate. There is similar type of application and determination to frustrate the opposition bowling.
He may not be the most elegant stroke maker in the game, but he is a difficult man to dislodge and almost 6000 Test runs with a batting average of 48.66 is testament to his value.