Kaka's roles were stupendous

Updated: Aug 01, 2019, 07:54 IST | Clayton Murzello

Remembering ex-India batsman Ashok Mankad, the Mumbai cricket legend and huge Rajesh Khanna fan, on his death anniversary

Kaka's roles were stupendous
Victorious Mumbai captain Ashok Mankad with the Ranji Trophy at the conclusion of the 1974-75 domestic season. Pic/mid-day archives

Clayton MurzelloMumbai will have a new Ranji Trophy coach this season and the key to success would be how he gets the best out of the available talent.

Mumbai has not exactly given their senior team coaches a long rope. The most prominent case of probable regret is Chandrakant Pandit's exit, despite guiding the team to the final of the national championships in 2016-17. Pandit was then hired by Vidarbha and has enjoyed smashing success — two Ranji Trophy and Irani Cup titles each.

Ashok Mankad, who happened to mentor Pandit at Mafatlal Sports Club, was also a victim of the need to change when he was replaced in 2001, after one unsuccessful season post the Ranji Trophy triumph of 2000. Mankad, who passed away on this day 11 years ago at the age of 61, played 22 Tests for India without much success (991 runs), but he attracted the best accolades for the big runs he scored on the domestic cricket circuit, the astute captaincy he displayed while leading Mumbai and his office team and the manner in which he mentored players. Some felt he was the shrewdest captain not to have led India.

The ones Kaka (as he was affectionately known since he was a huge fan of film star Rajesh Khanna) taught the finer points of the game to, swear by his methods and his people management skills would gain an A grade appraisal in any field.

As mentioned earlier, he didn't glow in glory as a Test player but he helped in the emergence of a host of Mumbai-based India players while being the bulwark of Mumbai batting till the last of his 20 first-class seasons in 1982-83.

Ask Pandit, clearly the best domestic cricket coach in India today, and he'll tell you how Mankad picked him as captain of a star-studded Mafatlal side while traveling in a train to Chennai for the Buchi Babu tournament during the early 1980s. Pandit told me yesterday that he was stunned by Kaka's decision, simply because he was still a teenager and only in his second or third year at Mafatlal.

Sandeep Patil was another stalwart who was a beneficiary of Mankad's presence in the Mumbai set-up. Mankad was Patil's first Ranji Trophy captain (1975-76).

The flamboyant middle-order batsman was ravaged by a personal problem and loss of form during the first half of the 1982 tour of England. He had already decided to quit cricket when he received a letter from Mankad, who reminded him that people will not remember the runs he scores, but the human being in him, so he should not worry and carry on. Patil scored a hundred in the next Test at Manchester. I had the good fortune of interacting with Mankad regularly, even before he became Mumbai coach in 1999. His contemporaries and juniors waxed eloquent on his leadership skills, but he rarely spoke about himself. But on the day before his benefit match in 1995, he told me: "I assessed myself and realised that I could never emulate my father, no matter what I did. So I just went out and did my best. I fought my own battles." He felt there were people who targeted him because they couldn't have a go at his father, the legendary former all-rounder Vinoo.

Mankad's best series for India was the 1969-70 home contest against the Australians. When fast bowler Graham McKenzie rocked India's boat to have the hosts reeling at 42 for three at the start of the opening Test in Mumbai's Brabourne Stadium, Mankad and his skipper MAK Pataudi put on a India v Australia record fourth wicket stand of 146. "Ashok Mankad surprisingly walked in at number three. He did not display the slightest hint of nerves and impressed everyone with his fine technique," wrote Rajan Bala in his book, Kiwis and Kangaroos.

Mankad was asked to open the innings in the next Test at Kanpur where he scored 64 and 68. And had it not been for a smart catch at leg trap by Doug Walters off Ashley Mallett, he would have earned his maiden Test hundred at Delhi. He was dismissed for 97 which played a role in India storming back in the series. He scored some useful runs in the Trinidad and Georgetown Tests on the 1971 West Indies tour, but couldn't cope with the testing conditions during the following series in England.

"I did not have a fixed batting position. I never felt important in the side. When I was picked in one Test I wondered whether I would be in the side for the next," Mankad told me.

Mankad also accepted his failures. In the same interview he told me how gutted he was for failing in all three Tests against England in 1971. He also admitted that he "let down a lot of people who thought I had more ability." In the same breath, he emphasised that there was always sincerity in his effort.

A chunk of his 12,980 first-class runs were scored for Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy but Mankad's contribution to city cricket went beyond big runs. And although his stint as Mumbai coach could have been more rewarding, he infused a lot of good cheer in the Mumbai dressing room. "We had so many discussions; he was so full of humour," is what Sachin Tendulkar said on this day 11 years ago. Ashok Vinoo 'Kaka' Mankad was a hard-nosed cricketer and a lovable off-field character. He shouldn't
be forgotten.

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

The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper

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