Shortly after news of (the former Nawab of) Pataudi’s death, a friend of mine sent me the following one-line email:
“Who was the other cricketer with one eye?……..Ranjitsinhji.”
I thought this didn’t make any sense. I had read somewhere long ago how Ranji’s cousin Duleepsinhji, on first going to England, was told by some doctor that he had a problem with his eyesight. His house master dismissed any such notion saying that no relative of Ranji could possibly have anything wrong with his eyes. Besides, I reasoned, it’s one of those things you expect would be common knowledge if true. Then it occurred to me my friend might be joking. He was talking, no doubt, about Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who did indeed have only one eye! One of the Yehudi-Menuhin-is-a-violinist. Mahatma-Gandhi-is-a…non-violinist variety, it seemed.
After dashing off a clever note to my friend saying I wasn’t aware that Maharaja Ranjit Singh played cricket, something impelled me to read up on Ranji just to be sure. On Wikipedia at first glance, there was lots about his time in England, his cricket of course, and his disputes over the title to his principality of Nawanagar. There was no prominent mention of any business of making do with one eye, etc. As I read through the Wikipedia page, though, I found the following passage deep in its bowels:
“When the First World War began in August 1914, Ranjitsinhji declared that the resources of his state were available to Britain, including a house that he owned at Staines which was converted into a hospital. In November 1914, he left to serve at the Western Front, leaving Berthon as administrator.[note 9] Ranjitsinhji was made an honorary major in the British Army, but as any serving Indian princes were not allowed near the fighting by the British because of the risk involved, he did not see active service. Ranjitsinhji went to France but the cold weather badly affected his health and he returned to England several times.
On 31 August 1915, he took part in a grouse shooting party on the Yorkshire Moors near Langdale End. While on foot, he was accidentally shot in the right eye by another member of the party. After travelling to Leeds via the railway at Scarborough, a specialist removed the badly damaged eye on 2 August.”
Don’t ask me how an eye damaged on 31 August needed removing on 2 August. I’m merely quoting Wikipedia verbatim.
This was long after his prime cricketing years. He had played his last test match in 1908, and seems to have last played serious county cricket in 1912. He played for Sussex, even captaining it briefly (as did Pataudi). For all that it is my friend who will have the last laugh. Wikipedia again:
“Ranjitsinhji’s last first-class cricket came in 1920; having lost an eye in a hunting accident, he played only three matches and found he could not focus on the ball properly. Possibly prompted by embarrassment at his performance, he later claimed his sole motivation for returning was to write a book about batting with one eye; such a book was never published.”
Was there any famous cricketer (other than Pataudi) from India who played with a visual impairment? Well, you can bet your right eye on it.
Niranjan Ramakrishnan is a writer living in the USA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.