The magnificent game of cricket has seen relatively a smaller number of genuine all-rounders who are assets to any team. Be it the peerless Sir Garfield Sobers of West Indies, Keith Miller of Australia, Eddie Barlow and Mike Proctor (alas, apartheid truncated their careers) of South Africa, Imran Khan of Pakistan, Ian Terence Botham and Kapil Dev Nikhanj of England and India, respectively, and a few others.
Perhaps, we all have been so awestruck by some of these legends and their exploits on the ground that we’ve forgotten to mention or remember the lesser mortals. Incidentally, some of them like WI’s Sir Learie Constantine and India’s Moolvantrai Himmatlal Mankad, better known as Vinoo Mankad, have been inducted into ICC Hall of Fame, albeit after an inordinate delay.
Destiny always played ducks and drakes with Vinoo Mankad. The second world war cheated him of his finest cricketing years, as the 22-year-old had taken the plunge and the war broke out. Cricket pundits and analysts are of the view that a cricket player has two phases of brilliance in his career. First, when he’s in early 20s, and then when he is in the early 30s. Mankad’s early 20s went in vain. But he didn’t give up. He had a strong hunch that he’d represent India and excel.
One old cricket scribe wrote about Mankad that during the war years, while playing for Western India, Nawanagar, Hindus and Maharashtra, one could see the dedication of the young lad. So, his approach in domestic cricket never smacked of frivolity. To him, every match was important.
Result: When he was selected for India against England in 1946, he finished with 1,120 runs at 28.00 and 129 wickets at 20.76 apiece. John Arlott wrote of him: “From his first over in England, Mankad was a good slow left-hander. By the end of the tour, there is little doubt that he was the best slow left-arm bowler in the world.” Wisden chose him as one of its five Cricketers of the Year. He again distinguished himself as an all-rounder in India’s tour of Australia in 1947-48. With Vijay Samuel Hazare, Mankad emerged as an all-rounder with class and attitude and not as a pushover, pulverised by Sir Don Bradman and Arthur Morris and terrified by Ray Lindwall and the debonair Keith Miller.
But he also courted controversy that ‘immortalised’ him in cricketing parlance as ‘Mankading’ when he ran out Bill Brown in the second Test. Mankad, bowling, paused during the delivery stride of his run-up and broke the wicket at the non-striker’s end, whilst Brown was out of his crease backing up the striker in the accepted manner. He had done the same thing to Brown in the game against an Australian XI earlier on the tour, but his running out of Brown infuriated the Australian media, and running someone out in this way is now referred to around the world as ‘Mankading’.
Although such an act is not an infringement of the laws of cricket, to some it is considered unsporting and against the spirit of the game. But even Sir Don defended him and called it a perfect reaction of a gentleman bowler who warned the batsman thrice. Very recently, Sunil Gavaskar suggested that instead of calling it ‘Mankading’ and besmirching the image of a great all-rounder, it should be called ‘Browning’ because it was Bill Brown’s fault.
In 44 Tests, Mankad scored 2,109 runs and took 162 wickets with his left arm orthodox bowling. He was a right-handed batsman. He was also best known for his world-record setting opening partnership of 413 runs with Pankaj Roy at Madras Corporation Ground in 1956. He scored 231 against New Zealand in that world-record stand.
Mankad was also one of the only three batsmen in the history of Test cricket who batted at all positions along with Syd Gregory of Australia and Wilfred Rhodes of England. He was a very agile fielder. That he finally got inducted into ICC Hall of Fame is really a matter of pride for India, where cricket is no less than a religion and where the new generation knows only about Kapil Dev as an all-rounder.
(The writer is a regular contributor to world’s premier publications and portals in several languages)