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A freewheeling chat with Sanjay Manjrekar on his 50th birthday

Sanjay Manjrekar completes a half-century in life today. It has been a journey of more ups than downs, although his career didn’t quite move along expected lines despite scoring a hundred in just his third Test against the best team in the world then — the West Indies — at Barbados.

Sanjay Manjrekar

Not many had anticipated back then that the highly skilled middle order batsman would manage just 1274 runs after totaling 769 in his first two full Test series. But cricket’s strange ways haven’t spared even the most talented players. After giving up the game in 1998, Manjrekar joined his Mumbai seniors Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri in the commentary box and worked zealously on his new craft just like he had at batting.

Stepping out of the Wankhede Stadium players’ enclosure in 1995Stepping out of the Wankhede Stadium players’ enclosure in 1995

All the while, singing has been another passion he has juggled. He is known to be the star of an evening with his Kishore Kumar renditions. Those who’ve managed to make it to post-match celebrations of a festival game between traditional foes Dadar Union and Shivaji Park Gymkhana last December would agree.

Acknowledging cheers from the Wankhede crowd en route his 377 in 1991 for Mumbai against Hyderabad in the Ranji Trophy
Acknowledging cheers from the Wankhede crowd en route his 377 in 1991 for Mumbai against Hyderabad in the Ranji Trophy

And more recently, he has been a conscientious Mumbaikar, putting his neck on the line to attack those behind illegal hoardings and poor traffic manners.

With Mohammed Azharuddin, Arshad Ayub and then India team manager Abbas Ali Baig in 1991
With Mohammed Azharuddin, Arshad Ayub and then India team manager Abbas Ali Baig in 1991

We caught up with Manjrekar while he was holidaying in Europe.

Q. What did a half century mean to you when you were batting. And how’s that different from making a 50 in life?
A. It felt great when I got a 50 while batting, but in life, it’s exactly the opposite. I am not taking this ageing thing
too well.

Q. Your first memory of a cricket match would be of?
A. My father’s club game at Shivaji Park Gymkhana.

Q. What’s the best cricketing advice you received from your father?
A. Never make cricket your life, play it as a game.

Q. Do you remember the day you got your first bat?
A. I got my first bat when I was a little kid. I don’t actually remember exact bat, but  I remember all those that I got when I got older.

Q. Your school coach — Subhash Bandiwadekar... what sort of a bloke was he?  
A. He was a typical street-smart Mumbai cricketer. He was the one who got me to bowl leg spin. I was in the India under-19 camp as a leg-spinner.

Q. Why would you rate the decision to play for Dadar Union Sporting Club as one of the earliest turning points in your cricketing life?
A. A great cricket culture, simple! Sunny (Sunil Gavaskar) played for that club, so that had to be the club for me.

Q. You said that tournament wins at Dadar Union were celebrated with Energee. What’s your favourite Dadar Union victory memory?
A. The last over win in the Purshottam Shield final under my captaincy at PJ Hindu Gymkhana. Again, we celebrated that with Energee and yes, we mixed some Mangola in it.

Q. Your mother used to collect your press clippings. Have you preserved her work?
A. Yes. My sister Anjali took over from her.

Q. Did the pressure of being VL Manjrekar’s son get unbearable?
A. No, but I got the feeling sometimes that people didn’t like me only because I was
his son.

Q. Who delivered the news to you about being picked for India in 1987-88?
A. Don’t remember  actually. Funny.

Q. Your finest hour — Test hundred in Barbados or the double century in Lahore (both in 1989)?
A. Any day, the 100 at Barbados.

Q. Who in your opinion was the complete fast bowler —Malcolm Marshall or Wasim Akram?
A. Both were complete; both had no weaknesses.

Q. There was a picture published of you and Marshall in discussion at the pavilion of one of the West Indies grounds. Do you remember  that talk?
A. Of course, I do. He was telling me how to adjust my batting in different countries like England etc.

Q. There was another photograph which, when it appeared in an Indian magazine, left you embarrassed and angry. The one in your birthday suit at sea. Are you still embarrassed?
A. You have a better memory of it than I do. Now, when I think about it, I was just being silly.

Q. You retired when, as you said to the media at the Wankhede press box in 1998 that the fire stopped burning. Were you disappointed at yourself or the selectors?
A. Myself. I never held grudges. I knew it was I who was to blame for my limited success at the international level.

Q. You have been a full-time TV commentator for 16 years now. What’s the most exciting part of the job?
A. Reacting to the action on the field gives me a high and doing some analysis gives me a great thrill.  And then later, listening to your own voice over the action is a pleasure too.

Q. Is there a commentator who continues to be a favourite?  
A. Oh yes, Ian Chappell, Nasser Hussain, Pommie Mbangwa, Simon Doull, Ian Smith, Harsha Bhogle are all very good.

Q. You feel very strongly about the thickness of modern bats and how they are unfair. Do you foresee some action taken by the ICC?  
A. Action will come. They have no choice.

Q. You’ve been a forthright commentator and writer. That’s unlikely to change with age?
A. Don’t know, I will be myself — that’s for sure. If I change as a person, my views will change. But the easiest thing to do is please the masses by saying what they want to hear.

Q. A health tip to keep fit like you?
A. Diet, diet, diet!

Q. Finally, what would you like to see change on Mumbai streets?  
A. Strict vigilance and penalties.

94.83 Sanjay Manjrekar’s Test average against Pakistan in four Tests there in the 1989-90 season. At the end of his Test career in 1996, his average was 37.14

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