Far too often in cricket discussions, the word ‘great’ is used loosely while referring to merely good players. Vinoo Mankad, whose 96th birth anniversary will be commemorated tomorrow, fits well in the ‘truly great’ category.
If Kapil Dev is by far India’s greatest all-rounder, Mankad cannot be far behind. Of course, Raj Singh Dungarpur that great romantic and true servant of Indian cricket, put Mankad ahead of Kapil and made no secret that he voted for him in the Wisden Indian Cricketer of the Century polls which Kapil won in London 2002.
Mind you, Dungarpur saw both players from close quarters. He managed the 1983 World Cup-winning captain on several tours and played first-class cricket with Mankad for Rajasthan.
What made Mankad so special? “A great bowler, clearly the best of his type in post-war cricket and possibly as good as any in any period. Certainly, he is entitled to stand with Rhodes, Verity and Parker in the line of classic slow left-arm bowlers,” wrote John Arlott, the celebrated English cricket writer and broadcaster.
And as batsman? His 1952 captain Vijay Hazare wrote in Cricket Replayed: “Mankad was fearless and believed in going for the bowling. Yet, he never once hit recklessly.”
Probably, the best possible tribute to Mankad’s batting comes in the form of an incident which occurred on India’s 1947-48 tour of Australia. Mankad had problems coping with the opposition’s spearhead Ray Lindwall’s yorkers. The Queenslander had claimed Mankad four times in two Tests. During a cocktail party after Day One of the third Test in Melbourne, Mankad asked Lindwall where he was going wrong. The Aussie turned generous and pointed to the fact that he was a touch late when it came to negotiating the yorker and suggested he reduces his back swing. Although Lindwall got his man twice again in the series (for ducks), Mankad scored two hundreds.
Indian cricket in the main has to do more to honour a man, whose contribution to their game went beyond runs wickets and catches. Almost every successful Mumbai spinner of the 1960s and early 1970s profited from Mankad’s teachings. Batsmen were benefactors too; wicketkeepers as well.
Kiran Ashar, the former Mumbai wicketkeeper-batsman, said Mankad was “something unbelievable” when he coached at the Tairsee nets at Hindu Gymkhana.
“Vinoobhai was willing to offer anyone help, but he was very straightforward. He once told a father of a trainee that his son was not cut out for cricket so he might as well focus on something else.
“If you were a poor fielder, you could never get into any of Vinoobhai’s teams and if you were playing Fellowship school whom his son Ashok played for, you were given every possible advice on how to get him out early. He made sure everyone worked hard,” recalled Ashar.
When he was a younger man, ace statistician Sudhir Vaidya wrote a book on Mankad. When he approached his hero to earn his co-operation, Mankad was not interested. He reckoned that his deeds were already well documented. Vaidya then approached Vijay Merchant, who convinced Modest Mankad that his contribution was vital. The book got published in 1969.
No piece on Mankad can be complete without mention of the 1952 Lord’s Test where he scored 72 and 184 besides claiming five in England’s first innings. He was not in the original tour party because he wanted an assurance from the Indian cricket board that he would be part of the team because he was offered a lucrative contract by Haslingden in the Lancashire League. The Board did not afford him that guarantee so he honoured his club commitment. He was summoned for the first Test at Leeds, but was not included in the XI and left the same day to play a League game.
He got his chance at Lord’s and although India lost, the game came to be known as Mankad’s Test. Even the Queen complimented him for his batting.
After the Test, Berry Sarbadhikary, the famous Indian writer and broadcaster was approached by an elderly English gentleman at a pub. He wanted to have a drink with Sarbadhikary. When the drinks arrived, he raised his glass and said, “I have seen Ranji, Duleep and Pataudi (Sr). But, here’s to Vinoo Mankad!”
The Legends Club has aptly invited Mankad’s only surviving son, Rahul to talk about the man and the player at the Cricket Club of India tomorrow. His father’s great deeds will ensure Rahul is not short of stories.
Clayton Murzello is MiD DAY's Group Sports Editor