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GLORIOUS CONNECTION

And, as is the practice at Sussex...

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HOWZATT EMPIRE! Ranji came to be regarded as an adopted son of the Sussex county after his batting pursuits

As Team India pick up the pieces in the tour game ahead of the ODI series, Sussex Hove reveals its rich and long connection with pioneering Indian cricketers.

The circumstances couldn't have been much worse when Team India trooped out to play Sussex under gloomy skies on Thursday. But for some muchneeded inspiration for the coming one-day series against England, the battered Men in Blue could do worse than to look at India's long and glorious connection with Sussex. The ground at Hove, where the India-Sussex match was played, is the same one set alight by Ranji, Duleep and Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi.

The Indian connection with Sussex goes back to 1895 when Ranjitsinhji made his debut for the county after finishing his studies at Cambridge. Ranji announced his greatness in his first match against MCC at Lord's scoring an unbeaten 77 in the first innings and 150 in the second. He also took 6 wickets for 109 runs bowling gentle off breaks against an MCC side that had WG Grace. Ranji aggregated 1, 775 runs at an average of 49 with four centuries that season. The next year was even better with Ranji earning a call-up to the England team and scoring a century against Australia on debut. The 1896 county season was a prolific one for Ranji where he achieved the feat of scoring two centuries for Sussex on the same day, something not equalled since in First Class cricket, against Yorkshire. In 1898 Ranji became the first batsman to score 3, 000 runs in a season, repeating the feat next year.

Ranji played regularly for Sussex - captaining the county for five years - till 1904 when he returned to India. He played two more seasons in 1908 and 1912, having already become the ruler of Nawanagar, before returning in 1920 to play three matches for Sussex. Almost 48 years of age and having lost an eye in a shooting accident, Ranji could muster only 39 runs, ringing down the curtain somewhat unhappily on a glorious career. As the ruler of Nawanagar, Ranji kept up with Sussex, donating dressingroom armchairs to the club in 1910 and a sum of £1, 000 to the club in 1930. Many of Ranji's artifacts, including his dining room table and chairs, a blazer and rare photographs, are on display at the club's museum at Hove, informs Jon Philby of the Sussex County Cricket Club.

So also is the bat of Duleepsinhji, who like his uncle Ranji turned out for Sussex after a stint at Cambridge, with which he scored a double hundred. Duleep, whose career was cut short by illness, began playing for Sussex in 1926, becoming captain in 1932, which was also his last year with the county. By that time he had already represented England and scored the highest individual score ever for Sussex - a majestic 333 against Northamptonshire at Hove in 1930 - beating Ranji's unbeaten 285 in 1901.
The Nawanagar royals' association with Sussex did not always go down well with their subjects. A local Saurashtra paper once complained of Ranji, "He is said to have made a donation of Rs 3, 000 to the Sussex cricket Club and has promised a permanent annual grant of Rs 1, 500 to the same institution... but he should also bear in mind that it is the people's money that he gives away. "

After Indian independence yet another blue-blooded cricketer played for Sussex - MAK Pataudi, whose family name graces the trophy for the India-England Test series. Unlike his father who played for Worcestershire, Patuadi opted for Sussex. "The primary reason for choosing Sussex was my guardian in England who lived there, " says Pataudi. Besides, his coach at Winchester, the school where Pataudi studied, was George Cox, a former Sussex man. Pataudi played his first game for Sussex in 1957 when he was only 16. After that he played on and off for Sussex till 1970, having captained both India and Sussex by then. Remarkably he accomplished all this despite having lost his right eye in a motor accident in 1961. "It was hard work and lots of travelling. But it was a good learning experience, " recalls Pataudi of his county stint.

It wasn't just the royals who signed up for Sussex. One of the pioneers of Indian cricket, all-rounder Nazir Ali, played one game for Sussex in 1927. Much later, the man who is remembered as one of India's greatest fielders, Eknath Solkar, turned out for Sussex for a match in 1969. And more recently, leg-spinner Piyush Chawla played for the county in 2009. Perhaps the least known Indian cricketer to have donned Sussex colours is Uday Joshi, a Saurashtra spinner who played for the county between 1970 and 1974.

Like all the matches on the India tour, the one in Sussex was sold out. A special Sussex Indian cricket exhibition has also been mounted at Hove. The Pataudi trophy might have been lost, but India could use the Sussex connection as a springboard to salvage the rest of the tour. As it turned out, it did win that particular practice match, so it will have one more reason to remember Sussex fondly.

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