Cricket: And Now, a Ranji Trophy in Ireland

By Dipankar De Sarkar

Dublin, July 24 (IANS): Sixtyfive years after Maharaja Ranjitsinhji became the first head of state to visit the country during a difficult time, modern Ireland is returning the favour with an annual cricket trophy named after him kicking off this Sunday as a high-profile sporting event.

Yes, the Ranji Trophy has found a home in distant Ireland.

Sunday's match between an Irish and 'Indian' eleven will be played on the verdant and historic grounds of Trinity College Dublin, a 417-year-old university situated in the heart of the Irish capital.

The rolling trophy was originally instituted by Anne Chambers, an Irish author who has written an acclaimed book on Ranji's 1924 visit to Ireland. It was developed into a fully fledged trophy by India's Ambassador in Dublin P.S. Raghavan who wants to see it as "a big event within the context of the growing ties between India and Ireland."

"This match will now be part of the Irish cricket calendar," said Raghavan, who has persuaded Trinity College Dublin to incorporate the event annually as part of a recently-established South Asia Initiative developing academic links with the Indian sub-continent.

"It is in commemoration of Ranji's ability to cross-over racial boundaries that on the publication of my book - Ranji: Maharajah of Connemara - I made available a trophy of Irish silver to be played between an Irish XI and a team comprising Indian nationals living in Ireland," Chambers told IANS.

"I am delighted that this event is now incorporated into the more recently established South Asia Initiative at Trinity College Dublin with its aim of renewing and developing relationships between India and Ireland."

When Ranji came to Ireland on July 17, 1924, he was already a cricketing legend and, as Maharaja of Nawanagar (a former princely state in what is now Gujarat), he became first head of state to make an official visit to the newly-founded Irish Free State.

Ranji's subseqent purchase of a castle and estate in Connemara in western Ireland did much to boost the fledgling Irish state, as did his promotion of Ireland as a tourist haven, according Chambers.

"Ranji and his Indian entourage settled with surprising ease into life in this remote part of Ireland. The annual arrival of 'the Ranji' as he became known, was welcomed with great celebration by the local community to whom he became both a friend and a benefactor," Chambers said.

"His memory is still revered in Connemara today by the descendants of the many people he employed there. His Indian entourage mingled at ease in the local community at a time when racism was rife and which Ranji, despite his status and cricketing talent, had personally faced many times in England and in British-ruled India."

The Irish Ranji Trophy is not only aimed at boosting India-Ireland ties - encouraged by a recent visit to Dublin by former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam - but will also involve Indians settled in the country. At least 100 to 150 of the estimated 25,000 people of Indian origin living in Ireland play cricket at the club level, contributing to the increasing popularity of the game.

"There is actually a fairly good selection of Indian cricketers here - a place in the Indian XI is by no means guaranteed," said Raghavan.

Ireland tops the list of 34 associate members of the International Cricket Conference (ICC) and made it to the Super Eight stage of the ICC World Twenty20 held in England last month.


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