Cricket and Cricketers, Words by M. Randall Roberts

Pictures by Mr. "Rip."

 

Why is it, in these days of up-to-date cricket reporting, no one has noticed the most striking characteristic of Ranjitsinhji's play? The pose of W. G. Grace's tip-tilted foot as he stands at the wicket, Abel's serio-comic expression as he cocks his eye and ambles from the pavilion, and Mr. Key's rotundity, are as familiar as Mr. Chamberlain's eye-glass even to the non-cricketing public; but the ballooning of Prince Ranjitsinhji's silk shirt has hitherto been allowed to lie in obscurity.

RANJI FIELDING. RANJI FIELDING.

About the silk shirt itself there is no particular mystery; dozens of other cricketers wear one exactly like it; but none of these garments "balloon" with the same unvarying persistence as Ranji's. Whether half a gale is blowing on the Hove ground, or there is not enough wind to move the flag at Lord's, the Indian prince's cricket shirt always presents the appearance of the mainsail of a six-tonner on a breezy day in the Solent. Anyone can satisfy himself as to the truth of this assertion by glancing at the first illustration on page 213. The batsman's face is concealed by his arm, and his attitude in playing the ball is almost identical with that of hundreds of other cricketers. Yet there is no mistaking the player. It's Ranji as plainly as if his name was printed all over it; the curve in his shirt gives him away at once. Unkind critics, indeed, declared that the secret of his success in Australia was that, while the rest of Mr. Stoddart's team were panting for a breath of fresh air with the thermometer at 100° in the shade, some mysterious Indian deity was perpetually blowing on Ranji with a thousand cooling zephyrs. Nowadays, Ranjitsinhji's critics are becoming more sane; but when first he burst into splendour, many of his weird strokes were attributed to some supernatural agency. Ranji's most telling stroke, as every cricketer knows, is what is technically known as the "hook" stroke. Most fine batsmen are content to stop short straight balls on a fast wicket. Ranji is more ambitious. When he sees a ball of this kind coming, he stands directly in front of his wicket, and at the moment when the ball is apparently on the point of going through his body, he "hooks" it round to leg.

How hazardous this proceeding is may be gathered from the obvious fact that if the batsman fails to get his bat exactly in the proper place in exactly the proper fraction of a second, he will infallibly have to retire either with a fractured skull or "leg before wicket."

While the cricket scribes used to regard Ranjitsinhji's good fortune in escaping a violent end while playing this speciality of his as a supernatural gift, practical cricketers consider the stroke bad form. "That leg stroke of yours," said an old player to him in the pavilion at Lord's, "is all very well now and then, but it's not cricket; it's far too risky. If you miss the ball, you're bound to be out leg before." "Quite so," replied Ranji; "but one would be out pretty frequently, clean bowled, if one missed the ball—every time a straight ball came, in fact."

Ranjitsinhji's batting has been variously described as satanic, electric, and elusive. "Serpentine" would be far more accurate. Anyone in the least familiar with the famous Indian's style will at once see the point of the epithet.

The line of beauty, we all know, is a curve; and the real secret of the attractiveness of Ranji's batting (from the spectators' point of view) is that every position he assumes seems to be laid out in a curve.

In the illustration on page 215. "Rip" has but very slightly exaggerated the effect of the sinuous curves into which Ranji's body resolves itself before he makes a stroke. That he can unbend faster than any other cricketer past or present is an incontestable fact. The yarn of how in a match at Cambridge he once brought off a catch with such amazing rapidity that the batsman, under the impression that the ball had travelled near the boundary, continued running till Ranji extracted the ball from his pocket, is most likely apocryphal; but to anyone who has seen him fielding slip the feat ascribed to him won't seem impossible.

RANJI BATTING—A STUDY IN GRACEFUL POSE. RANJI BATTING—A STUDY IN GRACEFUL POSE.

By the way, it's an odd thing that while Ranjitsinhji's batting owes its attractiveness to the "curves" of the batsman, an equally graceful player—to wit, the lengthy William Gunn—is built on uncompromisingly straight lines. Somebody said that if Gunn were to model his style on Ranji's the result would be a sea-serpent—six and a half feet of curves.

Briggs has so many attitudes and antics of his own that he can't be said to have any characteristic pose. In everything he does he's "Johnny." Briggs may be said to have just missed greatness by a lack of seriousness. According to George Giffen, if he had only taken batting more seriously Briggs would have been, after W. G. Grace, the second best all-round cricketer in England. There's a deadly earnestness about his bowling and fielding, but as a batsman he always seems more anxious to amuse the spectators than to improve his average. Like other famous men, Johnny Briggs may be often misunderstood, but at any rate this is the impression he creates. About six years ago, in the middle of the cricket season, Briggs appeared to have suddenly gone "stale," and the Lancashire Committee suggested to him that he should take a week's holiday. Briggs selected a remote village in Wiltshire; but, as luck would have it, the villagers were particularly keen cricketers, and when the news got about that the great Briggs was in their midst, the captain of the local team at once waited on him to ask what would be his terms for playing in a match against a neighbouring town.

JOHNNY BRIGGS MEANS BUSINESS. JOHNNY BRIGGS MEANS BUSINESS.
AND TAKES A WICKET FIRST BALL. AND TAKES A WICKET FIRST BALL.

"I asked," says Briggs, "what I thought were absolutely prohibitive terms, namely, £10; but the terms were accepted, so of course I had to play. My side lost the toss, and I had to begin the bowling. My first ball was hit out of the ground for six, and in a short time 100 went up with no wicket down. I suggested to the captain that he had better let someone else bowl, but he said that if he took me off, the spectators who kept pouring into the ground would want their money back, and would see that they got it, too. Finally, I had two wickets for about 120 runs. The crowd looked a trifle nasty, but what finished them was when I went in to bat and was bowled second ball.

"As I left the ground I heard, 'That's him. 'E's no blooming Briggs, 'e's a blooming fraud. Let's give him a jolly hiding.' Only the railway station and a couple of stalwart policemen saved me from the jolly good hiding, and I have never tried village cricket since."

MAKES THE CROWD LAUGH. MAKES THE CROWD LAUGH.

A. G. Steel declares that the secret of Dr. Grace's phenomenal success against young batsmen is the terror inspired by the sight of his beard. Batsmen meeting the champion for the first time see an enormous man, with a great black beard waving in the breeze, rushing up to the wickets. They expect something quite different from the gently lobbed-up ball which this black-bearded giant delivers; before they can recover from the shock of surprise they find themselves clean bowled.

But W. G.'s beard does something more than frighten young cricketers. As Maurice Read says, "it talks to you." Other human beings wag their heads; Grace wags his beard when things are going wrong. It is even said that, with a team that knows him, he can indicate to the fieldsmen to change their positions by merely moving his beard.

WAITING FOR ANOTHER. WAITING FOR ANOTHER.
A RARE CATCH. A RARE CATCH.

There are dozens of persons all over the country who pose as cricket authorities on the strength of having once watched the champion practising at the nets. At a cricket match in a small Welsh town one of these gentlemen was acting as umpire, and could not agree with his fellow umpire as to whether a certain batsman was run out.

The argument waxed very fierce, until the umpire of the visiting team called out—

"What do you know about cricket? You 'aven't shook 'ands with Lord Hawke, 'ave yer?"

"No."

"Well, I 'ave," triumphantly declared the other, as the crowd dispersed.

And the batsman was declared out.

"Ranji" A STUDY IN CURVES. "Ranji"
A STUDY IN CURVES.