Remembering Vinoo Mankad, the greatest all-rounder
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Yesterday, as Sachin Tendulkar came out on to the field at the Eden Gardens for his penultimate Test to a mighty roar from the crowd, a minor statistic was missed by many. Tendulkar is only the second player to represent India in Tests after turning 40 (he is 40 years and 197 days old today). The only other player to have achieved this feat was Mulvantrai Himmatlal Mankad, known to the world by his school nickname Vinoo. Mankad was 41 years and 298 days old when he played his last Test, beginning 6 February 1959, also against the West Indies.
So I did some research.
Vinoo Mankad is almost forgotten today, but when he passed away in 1978, in its obituary, Wisden magazine called him “one of the greatest all-rounders that India has ever produced”, and stated that “for some years he was undoubtedly the best bowler of his type in the world”. He is also the only Indian cricketer to have a Test named after him—the 1952 Lord’s Test against England is referred to as Mankad’s Test, even though India lost—and a particular form of dismissal: Mankading.
His opening partnership of 413 with Pankaj Roy in 1956 remained a world record for 52 years, and his 231 in that innings stayed the highest score by an Indian in a Test match for nearly three decades. His 231 had broken his own previous record of the highest Test score by an Indian: 184!
At Madras, in 1952, when India beat England to achieve its first-ever Test victory, it was almost entirely Mankad’s doing, as he claimed eight for 55 and four for 53 in the two innings.
The same year, he became the fastest man in history to reach a double—scoring 1,000 runs and taking 100 wickets in only 23 Tests, a record that would only be beaten 27 years later by Ian Botham.
In 44 Tests, Mankad (who is one of the few players in cricket history to have batted at all positions—from 1 to 11) scored 2,109 runs with five centuries and at an average of 31.47. As a left-arm spinner, he took 162 wickets, with eight five-wicket hauls, at an average of 32.32.
It is perhaps unfair to compare him with Kapil on all-rounder parameters, but it’s really too much of a temptation. Kapil played 131 Tests, scored 5,248 runs with eight centuries at an average of 31.05. He took 434 wickets with 23 five-wicket hauls, at an average of 29.64.
It is illogical both mathematically and in cricketing terms to extrapolate from Mankad’s figures. But if we did do so, we would find that had he played 131 Tests, he would have scored nearly 6,300 runs, with 15 centuries, and taken 483 wickets, with 24 five-wicket hauls. Of course, this would never have happened, if for nothing else, than that India played far less international cricket then, and Mankad lost nearly nine years of his career due to the Second World War.
In 1937-38, at the age of 20, he played five unofficial Tests against Lord Tennyson’s touring side. He headed both batting and bowling averages: with 62.66 and 14.53, respectively. An impressed Tennyson is reported to have said that Mankad would readily get a place in a World XI. Then came the war, and Mankad could play his first real Test for India again only in 1946 by which time he was already 29.
On that tour, he made 1,120 runs and took 129 wickets, which remains a record for any member of a side touring England.
In 1947-48, on the tour of Australia, he ran out Bill Brown as the latter backed up too far before the ball was bowled, and the term Mankading was born. The Australian media was furious: the spirit of cricket and all that. But it forgot to mention that Mankad had warned Brown once and told him that the next time he saw the batsman back up even before the bowler had reached the crease, he would run him out. However, in his autobiography Farewell To Cricket, Don Bradman 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.”
Then came the Lord’s Test of 1952. In fact, it was the first first-class match Mankad was playing that season, so he was certainly short of practice. In the words of the great cricket writer John Woodcock: “Having scored 72 on the first day at Lord’s and then bowled 73 overs in England’s first innings, in which he took 5 for 196, Mankad went in again and made what at the time was India’s highest individual score in Test cricket—184 in just under five hours. By the time England won by eight wickets on the fifth morning, his bowling figures for the match were 97-36-231-5... No one else has ever been on the field for anything like as long in a match at Lord’s. Of the 24 hours 35 minutes for which the match lasted, he spent 18 hours 45 minutes in the middle.” Even in England’s second innings, when they had to only score 79 to win, Mankad didn’t give an inch. Of the 24 overs he bowled to the brilliant triumvirate of Len Hutton, Peter May and Denis Compton, 12 were maidens.
The British papers went to town with headlines like Marathon Mankad the Magnificent, and England vs Mankad Now, and writer after writer acclaimed him as the best all-rounder in the world, along with Keith Miller. Alex Bannister went a step further in The Daily Mail: “Keith Miller, acknowledged as the world’s top all-rounder, has never done as much in a single match as has Mankad in this Test.” In cricket lore, Lord’s 1952 will always be known as Mankad’s Test.
Mankad is hardly remembered today. In 2006, Virender Sehwag admitted in an interview that he had never heard of him, and evoked general consternation among ex-cricketers. Dilip Vengsarkar called it “nothing short of shocking”, and even suggested that the National Cricket Academy should introduce a theory paper which dealt with Indian and world cricketing history. “We would grade the players on the basis of what they knew. It helps inculcate a regard for history.”
The late Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi agreed. “If this (Sehwag’s comment) is true then… (then Indian coach Greg) Chappell had better introduce another element into (the Indian players’) daily regimen of practice and push-ups.”
I don’t agree. Players don’t become better batsmen or bowlers if they know a bit more of the history of the game and of the giants on whose shoulders they stand. Yet, if a Sehwag knew of Vinoo Mankad and his feats, he would perhaps have felt a tad more inspired. At the very least, it would have brought a warm glow to his heart. As it surely would to the hearts of every Indian.