The Ranjitsinjhi Principle - 'The Way of Greatness'
Dr. Rene Ferdinands - Department of Physics & Electronic Engineering, The University of Waikato
[ This article was produced in consultation with Owen Mottau - Batting Technical Specialist, Sri Lanka.]
After years of research, and much debate, a major discovery was found in the pages of the classic book by K.S. Ranjitsinhji, The Jubilee Book of Cricket, William Blackwood and Sons, London, 1897. Kumar Shri Ranjitsinhji, who represented England in Test cricket, is considered the major exponent of style in the Golden Age of cricket. His contemporaries could only describe him as a genius, and his name is often linked with the names of past great players: W.G. Grace, Victor Trumper, and even Sir Donald Bradman. Here is a short account by C.B. Fry (1905) in an assessment of his abilities:
"There are many batsmen who make some one stroke with such wonderful ease and effect that all their other strokes receive in comparison but scant appreciation. In Ranjitsinhji's case every turn of his bat has this appearance of extreme facility, to such a degree, indeed, that his style seems almost casual or careless. The distinctive trait of his cricket is an electric quickness both in the conception and execution of his strokes. Thereby he is able to do such things as a slower wrist and eye dare not attempt. In making the ordinary strikes, he differs from the run of batsmen in that he judges the flight of the ball about half as soon again, and can therefore shape for his strokes more readily and with more certainty. At the same time he need not, owing to his marvellous rapidity of movement, allow himself as much margin for error as others find necessary. And it is this quickness that enables him to take, even on the fastest of wickets, the most unheard-of liberties without fatal results."
Figure 1. Batting genius K.S. Ranjitsinjhi demonstrates his stance - a model for his era. It is still admired for its aesthetic form.
In an era of uncovered pitches, he scored for Sussex from 1895 to 1908 more than 17,000 runs at an average exceeding 65 (Parker, 1975). Why was Ranji, as he was affectionately known, so much superior to his contemporaries? Obviously, a supernatural ability had something to do with it. But was there any technique that gave him an advantage? He was always reported to have had the most brilliant of footwork, so it reasonable to deduce that he had an efficient initial movement. There is only one filmstrip of Ranji batting, but nothing could be revealed here because he was only hitting some casual warm-up strokes. However, it is a great fortune that Ranji described his preliminary movement strategy in his book:
"There is a difference of opinion as to whether a player should stand with his weight equally distributed on both legs, or let all of it fall upon the right leg. I think the weight should be almost entirely upon the right leg."
Further information can be gleaned from Great batsmen. Their methods at a glance by C.B. Fry and G.W. Beldam. In this book there are a series of still photographs that give a good account of how Ranji played. There are photographs of his stance, and most importantly, position during the initial movement. His stance was balanced with the feet close together, and the front foot pointing to cover (Figure 1). The rear foot was probably pointed just backward of point. In the next photograph, Ranji adopted his characteristic initial position, which will from now on be referred to as the "Ranji position" (Figure 2). A significant portion of the weight was thrown onto the ball of the back foot, which was also turned slightly so that it pointed slightly in front of the batting crease. Bending at the hips helped move the head forwards, and the bat was lifted to about shoulder height primarily by the lifting action of the wrists. This is an accurate depiction of Ranji's initial movement. However, the question must be asked: "Is the Ranji position mechanically useful?" This is an important point of inquiry. It is entirely possible that the Ranji position is merely an elaborate stylistic embellishment, or a position of comfort that would not confer any mechanical advantages to a batter at all.
To investigate the mechanics behind the Ranji position, we used a qualitative optimisation modelling approach:
Qualitative Optimisation Analysis: Ranji Position
Required Output: Initial position that optimises ability to move back and forward, and execute efficient stroke play.
Cost Function: Time to execute stroke.
1. More weight on rear foot
2. Head moved forwards
3. Bend of the hips
4. Shoulders and hips approximately aligned from wicket to wicket
5. Wrist-lift of the bat
Head behind the ball with two-eyes almost parallel
Vertical bat during stroke
Figure 2. Ranjitsinjhi's initial movement - weight predominantly on the back foot, and head forward. The wrists are mainly responsible for lifting the bat, and the bat face is open. Note that the height of the backlift is not recommended. Ranji's head is well forward. By moving the head slightly forwards (in the direction of the blue arrow), a torque (light green arrow) can be easily applied about the effective centre of rotation of the pelvis (yellow circle), causing the elevation of the hips - position 1 to position 2 (orange lines). This lifts the back leg, allowing Ranji to move back quickly to counter a short delivery. Also, the elevated hip line (right lateral pelvic rotation) is a source of stored energy, which can be released during the downswing to generate bat speed.
The qualitative model captures the essential features of the Ranji movement, and places them in a biomechanical context. To adopt the Ranji position with weight on the rear foot and head forward, the right pelvis must be shifted backwards and laterally rotated to the right (for right hand batter). With the weight predominantly on the rear foot, front foot movement is made very much more efficient. The great Ranji says, "It is worth noticing that in every kind of exercise where the legs are used, the leg which it is necessary to move forward ought not to have any weight upon it at the time of being moved." This is very sound biomechanics. In this position, a torque can be easily applied about the pelvis's centre of rotation to lift the front foot. However, Ranji goes further and suggests that alternative methods of moving forward are inefficient: "If a man stands with much weight on his left leg he has to transfer the weight to his right leg before making a forward-stroke, if he is to make the stroke without overbalancing himself." This argument holds just as true for batters who have the weight evenly distributed on both feet - some weight has to be transferred to the back foot before the front one is moved. Certainly, the method prescribed by Ranji is more efficient, and saves time: it partially minimises the cost function, and so is a step in the right direction.
The Ranji position has been shown to make front-foot movement quicker. However, we are interested in an initial position that optimises both front and back foot movements. Can the argument for extra weight on the back foot to improve front foot play be applied in reverse to conclude that back foot play would be made more difficult? Ranji had experimented with his method for a long time and had this to say in reply: "It is a curious thing that by keeping the weight on the right leg a player can move forward more readily than from the alternative position, and yet he can move backwards if he wishes to do so without the slightest difficulty. That is to say, the position recommended facilitates forward-playing, and is no hindrance in playing back or cutting." Now Ranji is making definite claims that his initial position is an optimal one! Interestingly, a simple treatment of mechanics seems to supports Ranji's claim (Figure 2). The Ranji position forms a characteristic C-shape. When the body is in this configuration, the head is in front of the body's centre of mass. The position of the centre of mass is not constant; it varies with the configuration of the body. In the Ranji position, the centre of mass may move slightly forward from its position when the body is stationary, but it is still behind the position of the head. The importance of this cannot be overemphasised, because in the Ranji position there is more weight on the rear foot, which means that weight has to be transferred to the front foot before the back foot is moved. Normally, this would mean that the ability to play back has been diminished. However, if the head is moved slightly downwards in conjunction with a right lateral pelvic rotation, weight can be quickly applied to the front foot. Effectively this movement generates a couple about the pelvis's centre of rotation, which slightly elevates the hips, and lifts the back foot. The secret lies in the position in the head. If the head is behind or even in line with the body's centre of mass, then the act of reloading weight onto the front foot becomes more difficult, and time consuming. Also, the position of the centre of mass with respect to the virtual centre of pelvis rotation is important.
The Ranjitsinhji principle is a very strong candidate for an optimal solution to the initial movement problem. Compared to alternative stances or movements, which involve a different weight distribution strategy, the Ranji position appears superior. It optimises the ability to play forward without diminishing the ability to play back. In fact, it appears to improve the ability to back. In an era of cricket when fast bowling can dominate cricket matches, this is indeed a practical principle. It definitely appears that K.S. Ranjitsinjhi did achieve a considerable advantage over his contemporaries by using this method.
What has been discussed so far about the Ranjitsinhji principle satisfies part of requirements for an optimal solution - it has optimised the ability to move forward and back. In this way, the cost function (i.e. the time to execute the stroke) has been partially minimised. Yet there are other considerations that would have an effect on the cost function, such as back lift. Recall that the qualitative model for the Ranji position also specifies efficient stroke making as a required output. The initial movement cannot be considered separately from the rest of stroke making. There has to be a unity that binds the separate facets of technique into one smooth process. Therefore, there is still more to be considered before we can claim that the Ranjitsinjhi principle forms the foundation of elite batting.
Modernising the Ranjitsinhji Principle
However brilliant K.S. Ranjitsinhji was, it is unlikely that his style of batting would be as effective today without some modifications. Bowling is faster these days, and fast bowlers can often operate in tandem for much longer than they did in the past. Also, pitches are different. The pitches in Australia are generally fast, and this encourages the strategy of persistent short pitch bowling. It should be no surprise therefore if we fashion the Ranjitsinhji principle to cater for the modern climate.
The Ranjitsinhji principle in its pure form optimises the movements forward and back. In the modern game, it is necessary to move back and across. Though Ranjitsinhji himself did this better than his contemporaries, the principle can be further adapted to perform this task more efficiently. Rather than merely adopt the Ranji position, one can move slightly back and across before placing more weight on the back foot while ensuring that the head is kept forwards. Therefore, the Ranji position is adopted in the same way as before, but now with the rear foot about 15-30 cm back and towards the off-stump (Figure 3). This gives several advantages. First, it gives the batter a good indication of the position of the off-stump. With the modern emphasis of bowling in a channel on and just outside off-stump, a batter must have some means of knowing when to let the ball pass to the wicket keeper. Second, the batter is already in a partial back foot position. Short-pitched fast bowling is the norm today. Therefore, it pays to be biased towards the back foot position before the ball is delivered. From this position, the batter can move further back if the ball is short without compromising the ability to move forward if the ball is pitched up, because there is extra weight placed on the back foot. Third, for most deliveries that are played on the front foot, the front leg has to travel slightly to the left of the line of the ball. By moving back and across, the front foot is inside the line of the back foot. This tends to minimise the effect of the front foot moving too early, which usually results in the front foot moving outside the line of the back foot, and unless the ball is pitched on off-stump or wider, causes the batter to play across the front pad. This increases the likelihood of an lbw dismissal. Fourth, in the modern Ranji position the batter is in a more balanced position because the area of base support is increased. Fifth, leg-side play is enhanced because the front foot is on the left side of the back foot, providing the ideal position from which to play balls on or around leg stump. And, finally, the elevated hip line (right lateral pelvic rotation) is a source of stored energy, which can be released during the downswing to generate bat speed.
Figure 3. The modern Ranji position. The back foot has been moved back and across towards the off stump with about a 60/40 weight distribution on back and front foot, respectively. Note the forward position of the head, and the lift of the bat with the wrists. By moving the head slightly from position 1 to 2 (yellow lines), a torque (green arrow) can be generated to laterally rotate the pelvis to the right (orange lines - position 1 to 2), which lifts the rear leg allowing it to move back and across towards the off stump. This position enhances the batter's ability to move back against fast bowlers, and leave balls outside the off stump. It also the ideal starting position to launch a forward movement of the front foot, and greatly improves on-side play. Great power can be generated off the back foot by laterally rotating and shifting the pelvis to the left (i.e. forwards) during the downswing of the bat.