I am sure that many of us must have heard of so and so team winning the Ranji Trophy during March-April when reports of riveting finals appear with coverage of India’s home test matches and previews of IPL teams in the newspapers and sometimes in the electronic media as well. I am also pretty sure that most of us know it is the premier first class competition in the country – the breeding ground for players like the Fab 5 or Anil Kumble or Zaheer Khan, for that matter. Well, I guess not many of us know when the competition started. Well today, we will try to look at the history of this decorated championship that has helped foster the careers of some of the greats of world cricket.
The tournament started off with the name The Cricket Championship of India after a meeting held in 1934 by the Board of Control for Cricket in India. It started officially during the 1934-35 season. The donor of the trophy was Maharaja Bhupinder Singh, the monarch of Patiala. Bombay, known nowadays as Mumbai, was the first team to land the trophy after defeating North India in the decisive match. Syed Mohammed Hadi from the Hyderabad team was the first batsman to have scored a century.
Till date, Mumbai have been the most prominent team in the championship with 40 wins. Their sheer dominance can be understood from the fact that they won 15 straight times between the 1958-59 and 1972-73 season. To start with state teams, clubs and cricket associations that had first class status were allowed to take part in the tournament. For example, the Cricket Association of Bengal and the Delhi District Cricket Association are regional teams while Services and Railways are all Indian entities that were given the permission to take part. Over the years the participants of this coveted trophy have changed. Following are some teams that used to participate in past:
- Northern Punjab
- Central India
- North Western Frontier Province
- East Punjab
- Southern Punjab
- Northern India
While teams such as Army, Holkar, Central India, Northern India, East Punjab and Northern Punjab were ultimately let go, teams like the North Western Frontier Province, Southern Punjab and Sind were not considered eligible anymore after the partition and consequent independence of India.
Till the 2001-02 season, the teams were divided on a geographic basis into 4 or 5 zones such as North, East, South, West. The Central Zone was added during the 1952-53 season. The matches were played in a knock out format till the 1956-57 season and after that the tournament changed to a league for determining the winner. After that the winners in different zones took part in a knockout format for winning the trophy.
During the 1970-71 season, the knock out stage started to feature the top two teams from each zone and from the 1992-93 season the number went up to 3. From 1996-97 to 1999-2000 the 15 teams took part in a second level group stage where there were 3 groups of 5 teams. The top 2 from each of these groups then went on to feature in the knock out stage. The present format for the Ranji Trophy was adopted in the 2002-03 season.