Vijay Merchant © Getty Images
Vijay Merchant © Getty Images

Born, October 12, 1911, Vijaysingh Madhavji Merchant was an Indian cricketer, who went on to represent Indian cricket team in 10 Tests matches. A stalwart of First-Class cricket from Bombay, Merchant has an astounding record at domestic level but unfortunately Second World War ruined his international career. Abhishek Kumar digs out 22 important things about the doyen of Indian batsmanship. Also Read: Vijay Merchant: Life and times

1. Real Name

Very few people are aware of the story behind Merchant’s real name, Vijaysingh Madhavji Thakersey. When he was taken to school for admission, the Principal — an Englishman — asked his name. When the boy said ‘Vijay Thakersey’, the Principal asked what the name meant. Little Vijay responded, “Sir, we are merchants.” The name Vijay Merchant stuck.

2. Second-greatest batsman of all time in First-Class cricket

Though he did not play much international cricket, Merchant continued to rule First-Class cricket with an average of 71.64 in 150 matches with 45 hundreds and 52 fifties. His average stands just after Don Bradman with 95.14.

3. Bradman of Ranji Trophy

It will not be an exaggeration to call Merchant The Bradman of Ranji Trophy. Merchant scored 3,639 runs at 98.75 in the tournament, way ahead of Sachin Tendulkar (4,281 at 85.62).

4. Hailed by CB Fry

In his 1936 tour to England, Merchant scored 282 Test runs at 47. He is also called the first person who brought the era of safety- first batting in India. In the same year, he was named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year and incited CB Fry to say, “Let us paint him white and take him with us to Australia as an opener.”

5. Dejected Bradman

Because of his poor health, Merchant opted out of the Australia tour of 1947-48, which upset the Australian cricketers — including Bradman. The great man wrote: “Worst of all, we were denied the sight of Vijay Merchant, who must surely have claims to be the greatest of all Indian players.”

6. Oldest centurion of India

Of Merchant’s 3 Test hundreds, 2 of them came in his last 2 innings — albeit with a 5-year gap. When he was playing his last Test at Kotla against England in 1951, Merchant was 40 year 21 days. He scored 154 in the first innings of the Test, and remains the oldest Indian batsmen to score a Test century.

7. Second Innings

Besides being a great cricketer, Merchant was a noted philanthropist. In an article on CricketCountry, Sudhir Vaidya wrote that he heard him saying one about his nature of contributing towards humanity, “I do not believe in God. I do not go to any temple. But before going to bed, I try to recollect the services I offered humanity during the day. Even if I remember one or two instances, I feel satisfied. That is my service to God. I have not slept any day without offering some service to humanity.”

Merchant called his post-retirement philanthropic work as “second innings” and would always discouraged people who give money or food to beggars and rather than, he would ask to bring those beggars to his mill — Hindoostan Spinning & Weaving Mills, which was part of his family business of Thakersey Group. “Whenever possible, bring them to me at my mills, I shall provide them a job which would offer them a permanent income. Your alms to a beggar would satisfy his requirements temporarily, but I shall provide him a permanent solution,” said by the philanthropist Merchant.

8. NASEOH

Merchant was the founder President of National Society for Equal Opportunities for the Handicapped (NASEOH) which helps in enriching the lives of the differently-abled. He was awarded with the National Award by the Government of India for Best Individual work for the handicapped.

9. Merchant commanded great respect from the masses

During a Test between India and West Indies in 1974-75, play came to a halt due to some trouble in the spectator’s stand at Wankhede stadium. Chief Minister of Maharashtra Shankarrao Chavan then asked Merchant to address the crowd. Once Merchant asked the spectators, the aggressive crowd calmed down and the match was resumed.

10. When Mahatma Gandhi became the part of Vijay Merchant’s MCC team of 1933-34

When MCC team toured India in 1933 for the first time, Merchant’s sister Laxmi went to Mahatma Gandhi for an autograph. Co-incidentally, Gandhi took that page of her book which contains the signatures of 1933-34 MCC team and gave his autograph as the 17th member of the team in which Merchant was also among those members.

11. Denis Compton runs out Vijay Merchant through his football skills

During the third Test between England and India in 1946, Merchant was run out by Denis Compton in a bizarre way. After a solid start from India for the first wicket, Merchant was the only one to stand at the crease for a long period and kept scoring runs. He was at 128 when Compton, an accomplished Arsenal footballer, kicked the cricket ball from mid-on and Merchant was run out.

12. Merchant’s influence on John Arlott

During India’s tour of England in 1946, Merchant not only impressed everyone with his batting but also created an impression with his strong social and political views. While he was delivering a speech on relationship between the two nations during a banquet at Lord’s, young John Arlott questioned on India’s freedom from British in view of the on-going religious riots: “Shouldn’t the white man stay on to secure the peace?” Merchant replied very gently by reminding him that the British also had to undergo a civil war to form their own political liberties. Arlott later became one of the most renowned faces for his anti-apartheid views and also credited Merchant for opening his eye on social and political horizons.

13. Cricket with Vijay Merchant

There was a radio programme aired every Sunday afternoon on All India Radio in the 1970s and 1980s called Cricket with Vijay Merchant. ER Ramachandran once mentioned that Merchant was one of most prominent men behind Gavaskar’s retirement by using his radio show.

14. Merchant-Hazare contest

During the Second World War, there were no international matches played, but domestic cricket continued in India. Merchant and Hazare competed with each other at the expense of the hapless bowlers. Merchant scored 243 against Muslims in the Pentangular, followed by Hazare’s unbeaten 248 against Muslims. Merchant beat this with an unbeaten 250 against The Rest. Hazare went past him with a mammoth 309, but the record stood for a week, for Merchant slammed 359. This continued in the Ranji Trophy as well during the match between Bombay and Baroda, where Merchant scored 141 and Hazare 101.

15. The casting-vote

After a decade of Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, the selection committee led by Merchant decided to focus on youth. After the 1-3 home defeat against Bill Lawry’s Australians at home, Merchant used his casting-vote as Chairman of Selectors to replace Pataudi with Ajit Wadekar.

It is said that Merchant was unhappy with the fact that Iftikhar Ali Khan Pataudi led India in 1946 against England ahead of him. Mansur’s nephew Saad Bin Jung, a First-Class cricketer, once referred to Merchant as “a staunch detractor of the [Pataudi] family since 1945”.

Pataudi’s sacking from the team happened in a quite dramatic way. MN Dutta Roy, the East Zone selector, wasn’t available on that day, which meant there were four selectors. CD Gopinath (South Zone) and MM Jagdale (Central) voted for Pataudi, while Merchant (West) and Bal Dani (North) supported Wadekar. The result was to be decided by Merchant’s casting-vote, and the unthinkable happened as Wadekar was selected to lead the team.

16. Brother

Vijay’s brother Uday was also a First-Class cricketer and turned out to be a good batsman, but it was clear that he was overshadowed by Vijay. Uday had a decent career in domestic cricket, scoring 2,789 runs at 55.78.

17. Merchant-Hazare rift

While both men were extremely successful from late 1930s to early 1950s, they were also rivals for each other with a healthy respect for each other. Hazare was never a natural captain due to which his batting suffered, which led to Merchant say that captaincy prevented Hazare from becoming India’s finest batsman and considered one of the tragedies of cricket.

18. Role Model

Merchant’s inspiration was Palwankar Vithal — brother of the legendary Palwankar Baloo.

19. Madhav Apte’s training

When a young Apte was under training in his college in the shadow of former Indian all rounder Vinoo Mankad, it was his part of training to watch Merchant bat in the nets. “Vinoo used to make us stand behind the nets when Vijay-bhai was batting very early in the morning against the new ball. There used to be dew around and the way he left the moving ball used to be a lesson for us,” said Apte.

20. Try it if you can

Syed Mushtaq Ali dedicated a chapter on his autobiography on the second day’s play in the Old Trafford Test of 1936, where both teams combined scored the most runs in a day (588). Merchant’s popularity on the 1936 tour became a concern for Vizzy, who asked Mushtaq to run Merchant out. When Mushtaq told Merchant, the great man responded with a smile: “Try it if you can”.

 21. Amitabh Bachchan and Namak Halaal

In Namak Halaal (1982), Amitabh Bachchan, in one of his most famous monologues, mentioned Merchant and Hazare (“In the year 1929 when India was playing Australia at the Melbourne stadium Vijay Hazare and Vijay Merchant were at the crease…”). However, neither Merchant (then 18) nor Hazare (then 14) came anywhere close to playing cricket in Melbourne in 1929.

22. Some breathtaking facts

Merchant had an amazing record in First-Class cricket with most double-centuries by an Indian cricketer. He made 11 double-hundreds in his career, and all those came between December 1941 and July 1946 in just 69 innings.

In the span of one month between November 30 and December 30 of 1941, Merchant scored 170*, 243*, 221 and 153* in four consecutive innings. He was also the only Indian to score two consecutive double hundreds twice in his domestic career, one of three men to score four 200s in same domestic season, one of three Indians to make a century in his last Test, and the only Indian player to score a century and take a hat-trick in a First-Class match. 

Inputs by Abhishek Mukherjee