Vinoo Mankad: Adding lustre to cricket's hall of fame

Vinoo Mankad: Adding lustre to cricket's hall of fame

Mankad was inducted into the International Cricket Council (ICC) Hall of Fame ahead of the inaugural World Test Championship final

As a bowler, he had a vast repertoire in his armoury and figured out batsmen in the first few overs to plan how to contain or get them out. Credit: Getty Images

Vinoo Mankad was India's first great all-rounder in Test cricket.

When the ICC inducted Vinoo Mankad into its hall of fame, I was thrilled. Mankad was an amazing cricketer and our first great all-rounder in Test cricket before Kapil Dev. I was a little over nine when I saw my first Test match - the Chennai (Madras of yore) Test against New Zealand in January 1956. To my great excitement, in the first two days, a world record was broken.

Mankad, who had already scored a double century at Bombay (present-day Mumbai) earlier in the series, played watchfully for about nine hours to hit up 231 and share in a world record opening partnership with Pankaj Roy of 413 runs. This was the highest individual score by an Indian to boot- what an exciting thing for a nine-year-old in his first two days of Test match watching. He immediately became my favourite cricketer, along with Polly Umrigar.

And in the next two years, I saw him get the two greatest batsmen of my generation out with intelligent bowling. Neil Harvey was bowled by a faster one when he was threatening to play a long inning, and Garfield Sobers was caught at slip by Gupte as he slashed a deceptive Mankad delivery.

In a Test career spanning nearly 15 years after the war, Mankad was India's backbone in the bowling department and an audacious opening bat against the most fearsome attacks in world cricket. As Indian cricket was finding its feet after the war and soon after Independence, it was Mankad who fashioned our first victories against MCC and Pakistan - he took 12 wickets in each of those matches.

A bowling all-rounder, slow left-arm orthodox and right-hand bat, he had tremendous stamina and could bowl tirelessly from one end without giving the batsman many scoring opportunities. Round-arm action with quite a few variations (arm ball, faster ball, flighted turner et al.), he bowled nearly 15,000 balls in Test cricket over 70 innings, averaging around 30 overs per innings with an economy rate of about two.

Though he had the temperament to build a long inning (nurtured by English coaches and moulded by the Bombay cricket culture), he adapted his strategy for the occasion while batting. Not lacking in courage, he opened the innings in Australia against Don Bradman's Invincibles just before they toured England in 1948 (Bradman's swansong). Facing Lindwall and Miller at their best, he decided to throw caution to the winds and adopted an attacking approach, which brought him two centuries and four ducks in the series. He and Vijay Hazare were the only batting successes in that tour, with skipper Lala Amarnath failing to score big.

He bowled tirelessly against Bradman, Hasset, Barnes, Miller, Brown and Harvey. That was the tour where he had the gumption to run out Bill Brown for backing up too far despite repeated warnings. It was just another evidence of Mankad's competitive, combative spirit, and that action has been unfairly labelled "doing the Mankad". The bowler has every right; the batsman is the one taking unfair advantage.

The first professional cricketer of India, Mankad played Lancashire league during the English summers. Based on his sterling performances, many Indian cricketers followed suit since cricket paid peanuts in India. Test players in those days got merely pocket money for representing the country. Mankad took on the cricket administration, asking for extra money to compensate for his league earnings when he was picked in the team to tour England in the summer of 1952. The cricket control board refused and dropped him.

In the first Test, against an attack led by Alec Bedser and Fred Trueman, India started disastrously losing four wickets without a run on the board and was outplayed. In desperation, the cricket board sent an SOS to Mankad, then playing the Lancashire league, relenting to his demand. In the second Test at Lord's, Mankad was exceptional even by his best standards. Opening the innings, he scored 72 and 184 and also took seven wickets, bowling marathon spells. The second innings century was special with Mankad hitting the leg-spinner, Roly Jenkins repeatedly for huge sixes besides hooking Trueman fearlessly. The English press called it Mankad's Test.

In an age when our close-in fielding support was mediocre and out-fielding patchy with few athletic movers, Mankad took 162 wickets with an economy rate of 2.1, bowling against Bradman, Len Hutton, the 3W's, Sobers, Rohan Kanhai of West Indies and other great batsmen of that era. He fielded with extraordinary anticipation of his bowling to pouch quite a few 'caught and bowled' victims.

So, what made Mankad perform well at home and abroad against the best in the world?

My take on this is that he was an intelligent, thinking cricketer. In Australia, against Bradman and company, when he asked to open, he spoke to some former cricketers, like Bill O'Reilly and Jack Fingleton, to hit upon the appropriate strategy to counter Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller. After some tentative starts, Mankad employed an aggressive approach that worked at least twice to get him centuries.

As a bowler, he had a vast repertoire in his armoury and figured out batsmen in the first few overs to plan how to contain or get them out. He did not stick to a pre-conceived plan, and in this, he was more like Erapalli Prasanna than like Ravi Shastri or Ravindra Jadeja, the later day all-rounders. And it is certain that Mankad, the all-rounder, would have been invaluable in the 50 overs format and adapted very well to the frenetic T20. After his playing days, Mankad coached young cricketers of Bombay. He spotted Dilip Sardesai early and coached Sunil Gavaskar in the crucial formative years.

In 1968 when I led the Madras Colts team on a tour to Bombay, I went out to toss with the rival captain, Ashok Mankad, who was just months away from his Test debut. It was the best opportunity for me to ask him about one of my favourite cricketers, his father. Ashok Mankad spoke passionately of Vinoo Mankad, narrating some lovely anecdotes to explain the great man's approach to the game.

Not without some justification did I and my friend S Giridhar describe him as the greatest spinner all-rounder in our book, Mid-wicket Tales: From Trumper to Tendulkar.

(VJ Raghunath is with Azim Premji University. A left-hand batsman who rubbed shoulders with Test cricketers in the 1960s and 70s, he also co-authored two cricket books.)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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