Since 2008, the Indian Premier League (IPL) has changed the face of Indian cricket for good. The game has garnered a lot of limelight and money, with a crazy following from the fans.
This has helped the IPL carve its own place in Indian cricketing chapters. But the league has shadowed one of India’s elite domestic cricket competitions.
Which competition? The Ranji Trophy — India’s premier First-Class tournament. The 90+-year-old competition may have lost its top spot, but it has a rich history.
So, in this article, we’ll delve into the history of the Ranji Trophy.
How the Ranji Trophy Came to Be?
There is no doubt that the IPL has unearthed many players, with some even making their international appearances for India. But before the league’s rise, the Ranji Trophy was a testing ground for budding cricketers.
But when did the tournament start? And how did it get its name?
The story dates back to July 1934, when the first discussions regarding a cricket tournament took place. Anthony de Mello, the founder and then secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), proposed the idea of organising a First-Class tournament in India.
You see, at that time, there was no formal cricketing structure in the country. The Bombay Quadrangular was the only prominent tournament that took place in Mumbai.
The Bombay Quadrangular infused cricket in Mumbai’s veins, which in turn produced some prolific cricketers. And that is one of the reasons behind Bombay’s or Mumbai’s dominance in the Ranji Trophy.
However, the Quadrangular tournament was pretty much limited to Mumbai and its nearby regions. To help the game reach the masses, the country needed a national championship.
Finally, the Ranji Trophy got off the floor in November 1934 with the inaugural match between Madras and Mysore, although with a different name — The Cricket Championship of India.
The first match took place at the Chepauk Ground in Chennai, and the hosts beat Mysore by an innings and 23 runs. Bombay, the home of cricket in India, got their hands on the trophy donated by the Maharaja of Patiala, Bhupinder Singh.
Later, on the suggestion of Bhupinder Singh, the trophy got its name after Jam Sahib of Nawanagar, Kumar Sri Sir Ranjitsinhji Vibhaji II. And that’s how the trophy got its name!
Who was Ranjitsinhji?
Ranjitsinhji, also known as Ranji, was the first Indian cricketer to play the game. However, he played most of his cricket in England and represented England in 15 Tests.
Ranji was one of the greatest batters to grace the field, and his legacy can be gauged by looking at his First-Class career. He featured in 307 matches, garnering over 24000 runs, including 72 hundreds, at an impeccable average of 56.37.
And it was fitting to have India’s premier tournament in memory of Ranji’s excellence at this game.
Read Next | 10 Most Popular T20 Leagues in the World
The Evolution of Teams
In the initial phases, the Ranji Trophy had 15 teams representing princely states split into zonal groups. Over the years, the tournament saw the addition of new teams, however, some of them stopped appearing, while others got replaced by their state teams after India’s independence.
Teams like Central Provinces, South Punjab, Western India, Nawanagar, Holkar, Gwalior, Patiala, Eastern Punjab, Travancore-Cochin, Madhya Bharat, and Northern Punjab were superseded by their respective state teams. While Northern India, Sind, and North West Frontier Province were based out of Pakistan, so they couldn’t participate in the Ranji Trophy anymore.
Now, as of 2024, 38 teams participate in the Ranji Trophy, representing Indian states, union territories, and 2 pan-Indian teams — Railways and Services (Indian Armed Forces).
All 28 states have at least one team in the competition, except for 2 states — Maharashtra and Gujarat — that have 3 teams. Both the western states have 3 teams each, with Maharashtra, Mumbai, and Vidarbha coming from Maharashtra, while Gujarat, Saurashtra, and Baroda hailing from Gujarat.
The tournament’s format involves 4 elite groups and 1 plate group. 32 teams are split into 4 groups of 8 teams, while 6 teams form the plate group.
The top 2 teams from each elite group advance to the quarter-final, while the bottom-ranked teams are relegated to the plate group for next season. And the top 4 teams from the plate group are promoted to the elite groups for the upcoming season.
After a gruelling season, one deserving team lifts the coveted trophy by battling it out over five days in the final.
T20 cricket might be overpowering the traditional red-ball format, but the Ranji Trophy is trying to hold its prominence. No one knows what the future holds for this premier tournament, but one thing is for sure, the tournament set the cricket scene in India on the right track.