A fantastic all-rounder good enough to play both as a specialist batsman or a specialist bowler, Vinoo Mankad is one of the seven players who are to be posthumously honoured by BCCI. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the career of the man who batted at every position in Test cricket.
Before Kapil Dev changed the equation of Indian cricket by bowling fast and hitting the ball hard, Mulvantrai ‘Vinoo’ Mankad was accepted as the greatest all-rounder to have played for the country.
There was good reason too.
Vinoo Mankad, through his long career, could hold his own as a genuine batsman and opened the innings in as many as 40 of his 72 Test innings. He had great powers of concentration and solid defence, and when required he could hit the ball hard. Possessing a good cover drive and strong leg side strokes, he was perhaps the first Indian batsman to loft balls into vacant areas in the outfield without trying to clear the ground.
And as a left-arm spinner, he was one of the best in business. In his early days he toyed with a chinaman, but wisely gave it up to focus on the conventional spin. He sometimes punctuated his orthodox slow break with a faster one that deceived the best of batsmen. He could vary his flight and turn – as the legend goes – in infinitesimal degrees till a batsman playing forward for overs at a stretch suddenly found himself beaten, marginally out of his ground and stumped.
Additionally, at the end of the day full of heroics with the bat and the ball, his dapper form would never have a hair out of place.
Born in 1917, Mankad first made waves against Lord Tennyson’s team that visited India in 1937-38. In the second unofficial ‘Test’, he scored 38 and 88 while picking up two wickets in the two overs he bowled. In the fifth ‘Test’ that India won, Mankad scored an unbeaten 113 from number three and picked up three for 18 and three for 55. He finished the series averaging 62.66 with the bat and 14.33 with the ball, leading Tennyson to remark that he would find a place in any World XI.
Unfortunately, his international career could not take off during his prime with the action having shifted to the battlegrounds of the Second World War. He had to wait till the 1946 tour of England to make his debut.
His versatility was extensively used by the inexperienced Indian side, as in his first Test he was sent in to open with Vijay Merchant. He did not do too badly, scoring 63 in the second innings.
With Mushtaq Ali returning to the side for the remaining Tests, he was pushed down the order and did not do too much with the bat, but did pick up five wickets in England’s first innings at Manchester. This was some achievement since an injury had temporarily made the threatening faster ball difficult to bowl.
This was followed by the eventful tour of Australia in 1947-48. Don Bradman’s side steamrolled over the Indians, but Mankad scored two hundreds – opening the batting against Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller. And although he did not take too many wickets, he ensured that he would live on in the annals of cricket as a mode of dismissal.
In the second Test, he ran out Bill Brown as the latter backed up too far before the ball was bowled. The Australian media was infuriated enough to term this ‘questionable act’ as Mankading. However, Bradman himself came out defending Mankad solidly in his autobiography Farewell to Cricket. The great man wrote: “For the life of me, I can't understand why [the press] questioned his sportsmanship. The laws of cricket make it quite clear that the non-striker must keep within his ground until the ball has been delivered. If not, why is the provision there which enables the bowler to run him out? By backing up too far or too early, the non-striker is very obviously gaining an unfair advantage.”
Bradman also singled out Vijay Hazare and Mankad as two best performers in the Indian side.
The best years
Mankad joined league cricket in England in 1947 and remained available to play for India during the winter. His commitments ensured that he could play only in the Test matches when India toured England in 1952.
The winter of 1951-52 and the subsequent summer saw some of his greatest performances.
At Madras, on a wicket that was not exactly helpful, Mankad cast a spell over the English batsmen, taking eight for 52 and four for 53 as India registered their first-ever Test win.
The second Test at Lord’s in the summer of 1952 has gone down in history as Mankad’s Test, although England won it quite easily by eight wickets. Released by his Lancashire League club after contractual problems had seen him miss the first Test, it was his first First-class match of the season.
Mankad opened the innings and within half an hour had launched Roly Jenkins over the sight screen for six. He top scored with 72 in the Indian total of 235. England piled up 537 in reply, and Mankad bowled 73 overs to take five for 196. And when India proceeded on their uphill task, he opened the innings again, after 31 overs of bowling that day, and batted four and a half hours to score 184. India lost, but Mankad went up on the Lord’s honour board for both batting and bowling – Keith Miller being the only other visiting player to achieve the feat. Ian Botham was the only other to emulate Mankad and score a hundred and take five wickets in the same Lord's Test match.
When Pakistan visited the following winter, Mankad carried on his saga of success, capturing eight for 52 and five for 79 at Delhi as India won their second Test match.
He was eventually handed the captaincy and led India to Pakistan. However, the series saw one of the drabbest stalemates of all time and apart from one five wicket haul, Mankad did not impress with bat or ball.
It was the following series against New Zealand in 1955-56 which saw some phenomenal batting by the now ageing cricketer. In the second Test at Brabourne Stadium, he scored 223 and picked up three wickets the second time the Kiwis batted as India cruised to an innings win. This was followed by the famed 413-run opening partnership with Pankaj Roy at Chennai, a world record that would stand for 52 years. Mankad scored 231 and followed it up with four second innings wickets in another innings win.
It was a fantastic peak of a sterling career, but the last one.
The end of a great career
When Australia toured the next year, Mankad’s slowing reflexes found it difficult to counter Ray Lindwall at the top of the order. At Chennai he fell trying to steer the Australian fast bowler late, a stroke that had come off with regularity back in the backyard of the same foe nine years earlier. However, as is often the case, Mankad was in denial. In very next innings, at Brabourne, he tried to repeat the stroke before scoring a run and was caught in the slips. As a result he was pushed down the order in the third Test.
Additionally, Richie Benaud was skittling the Indian batsmen out, and Mankad fell far short of returning the compliment on turning tracks. It was evident to all that his celebrated powers were dwindling.
He missed the first three Tests against West Indies in 1958-59 due to pay disputes with the BCCI. However, in a strange game of musical chairs played out by the selectors, he was appointed captain for the fourth Test. He bowled well enough to bag four wickets, but India lost by 295 runs. Hemu Adhikari was appointed captain for the last match.
By now, at the age of 41, Mankad was batting low down at No 8. At Delhi, he bowled 55 overs without a wicket conceding 167 runs – and never played for India again.
In 44 Tests, he scored 2109 runs at 31.47 with five hundreds, and took 162 wickets at 32.32. The figures are indeed great, and might have been even more impressive if he had retired three years earlier.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix