Clayton Murzello: Vijay Manjrekar was streets ahead

The recent Dadar street signage dispute concerning the late batsman was another example of blatant disrespect to our erstwhile achievers

Vijay Manjrekar poses for a picture on the 1959 tour of England. Pic/Getty Images
Vijay Manjrekar poses for a picture on the 1959 tour of England. Pic/Getty Images

Vijay Manjrekar re-emerged in cricketing space last week because someone forgot that he was too accomplished a batsman to be knocked off from a street sign in Mumbai.

Cricketeer (yes, that’s how it was spelt) Vijay Manjrekar Lane became Parampujya Jambhekar Maharaj Path and no one, except Dadar-based cricket writer Devendra Prabhudesai, spotted the change and brought it to the notice of this newspaper. The BMC acted on mid-day’s page one story and soon, the board was restored albeit with another spelling error — Manjarekar.

In a way, the late former Mumbai and India batsman is jinxed when it comes to honours. When the Mumbai Cricket Association renovated the Wankhede Stadium for the 2011 World Cup, the authorities there somehow forgot the signboard to the Vijay Manjrekar Dressing Rooms. In a classic case of better late than never, the Mumbai cricket chiefs set it right this year after mid-day kept bringing up the issue.

The younger generation can’t be blamed if they haven’t heard of Manjrekar, because very little has been done to educate them about past cricketing greats. Today, while some people know him as the father of India batsman-turned-commentator Sanjay Manjrekar, very few are familiar with the legend that was this remarkable player.

Rusi Modi, another Mumbai stalwart, who played for India from 1946 to 1952, described Manjrekar aptly in his book, Some Indian Cricketers: “Manjrekar scored 3208 runs in Test matches with seven glorious centuries. He was an artist of variable moods. But he was greater than the statistics would seem to suggest.”

He made his Test debut as a 20-year-old in the third Test of the 1951-52 series against England in Kolkata and scored 48 before being bowled by Roy Tattersall. Manjrekar saw enough of this off-break bowler to start aping his action and soon acquired the nickname ‘Tatt’. He was in the India tour party for the 1952 tour to England and was put to the test at Leeds against Alec Bedser, debutant Fred Trueman and Jim Laker. He came good by scoring 133 and putting on 222 with his skipper Vijay Hazare for the fourth wicket before India folded up for 293. The youngest member of Hazare’s side provided hope. The captain could not fathom how a 20-year-old, playing his first Test in England, could not be troubled by any of the English bowlers.

The second innings for Manjrekar was as much disastrous as it was delightful in the first. Manjrekar faced up to Trueman with the scoreboard reading 0 for three. When his off-stump was uprooted by Trueman, it was 0 for four.
Manjrekar’s next Test hundred came in the fifth Test against West Indies at Kingston in 1953. Finally, he struck form on the tour, but what pleased captain Hazare most was his willingness to keep wicket with both wicketkeepers Nana Joshi and ES Maka on the injured list.

He was utterly feared by the opposition on home pitches and Ted Dexter, who captained the 1961-62 English team in India, appeared fed up at the sight of Manjrekar who took 586 runs off Dexter’s bowling attack in that series. The stylish England batsman included Manjrekar in the list of great batsmen in his book, From Bradman to Boycott. Dexter admitted not realising the full meaning of ‘control’ until that tour of India. He wrote: “I count Manjrekar as a key figure in my cricket education. Until I saw him bat, at considerable length, I had never appreciated the extent to which a batsman could be in total —and I mean total control of what he was doing, and of everything the bowler was trying to do to him.”

Five of Manjrekar’s seven hundreds were scored on home soil. The last one was against New Zealand at Madras in 1965 and he never wore an India Test cap again. The selectors dropped him. He was 33. But people in the know say skipper MAK Pataudi did not support that decision. The fact that Manjrekar was a trusted sounding board when Pataudi became India’s youngest captain at 21 had nothing to do with it. He believed that Manjrekar still had much to offer. Manjrekar announced his retirement and Pataudi urged people close to the batting stylist to change his mind, but Manjrekar was in no mood to scratch out ‘retired hurt’ from his Test scorebook. Indeed, he had so much to give and he became Indian cricket’s journeyman by playing for Andhra, Bengal and Maharashtra as a professional after his initial stint with Bombay.

He also took pleasure in guiding younger players. Erapalli Prasanna is ever grateful for the encouragement he received. In One More Over, the ace off-spinner revealed how Manjrekar, who had played a key role in Rajasthan’s one-wicket win over Mysore in the 1965-66 Ranji Trophy semi-final with a splendid innings of 175 even as Prasanna’s 12 wickets in the game went in vain, took him aside and said, “I always told you, you are a good bowler. Now I am convinced you are the best.” In the same book, Prasanna declared: “The finest Indian batsman I have ever bowled to is ‘Tatt’ Vijay Manjrekar.”

As for the lane named after him, Manjrekar deserved a better honour because he was streets ahead of so many of his batting contemporaries.

mid-day’s group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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