The then world record opening partnership between Vinoo Mankad and Pankaj Roy against New Zealand in 1956 was in the news again when another Indian pair came within a boundary hit of erasing it just days after its 50th anniversary. Rahul Dravid and Virender Sehwag, opening for the first time, put on a mammoth 410 in the first Test in Lahore in 2006. Ashok, the son of Vinoo, and Pranab, the son of Pankaj, and both Test cricketers like their more illustrious fathers, may well have felt a touch of relief that the world record stayed with their families. By then, of course, the Lahore Test had lost all meaning as a contest.
That was certainly not the case with the fifth and final Test at the Corporation Stadium in Madras half a century ago. The stand propelled India to victory by an innings and helped wrap up the series 2-0 for the hosts who had also won the second Test in Bombay by an innings. The other three were drawn.
It is fascinating to look back at famous opening stands, starting from the very first century partnership in the sixth Test match ever played. England's Dick Barlow and George Ulyett put on 122 in the second innings of the Sydney Test in February 1882, though it was Australia that won by five wickets.
The most prolific of all opening pairs continues to be England's legendary Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe. They figured in an amazing 15 stands of 100-plus in just 38 innings and the average stand between them was worth 87.81.
But it was another English opening great, Len Hutton, who was involved in the world opening stand of 359 with Cyril Washbrook, set against South Africa in Johannesburg in December 1948, which Mankad and Roy overtook eight years later. Before Dravid and Sehwag came so agonisingly close, the Mankad/Roy record was only once seriously threatened and that ironically enough was by a New Zealand pair. Glenn Turner and Terry Jarvis put on 387 against the West Indies in Georgetown, Guyana, in April 1972.
Roy was the first great batsman from Bengal and started his first-class career as a middle-order batsman. But since the Indian Test team was packed with accomplished batsmen down the order, he turned himself into a specialist opener. That worked for him and he made his debut in that position against England in Delhi in November 1951 and kept his spot through almost all his 43 Test matches. Roy's maiden century came in the very next Test in Bombay, his second, and he scored another century in Madras in the fifth Test. On his debut in Delhi he had opened with Vijay Merchant and then with Madhav Mantri in Bombay. It was in the third Test in Calcutta that Roy and Mankad came together for the first time as openers. And in a preview of what was to come, they shared stands worth 72 and 103 (unbroken) in the two innings. In his maiden series, Roy emerged as the big find.
But he was an abject failure when India toured England in 1952 — five times in seven innings he fell for a duck in a disastrous series for himself and the team against a rampaging Fred Trueman. One of the few bright spots was the opening stand of 106 between Roy and Mankad in the second Test at Lord's.
Mankad was one of the pre-eminent all-rounders of his era and his record remains an awesome one. Remarkably, he batted for his country in every position from 1 to 11 and had two double centuries to his credit. He was also a magnificent left-arm spinner, claiming 162 wickets in his 44 Test matches. The first New Zealand team to tour India in 1955-56 under Harry Cave lacked big names save for Bert Sutcliffe and John Reid. They had been outclassed by the Indians but did well to go into the fifth and final Test in Madras in January 1956 just one down in the series.
Mankad scored 223 in the second Test in Bombay. This followed an identical score by Polly Umrigar in the first Test in Hyderabad.
That was the joint-highest by an Indian — till Mankad himself surpassed it in Madras. That made it three double tons in one series for the Indians (there was also one by Sutcliffe for the visitors) — and it could have been four. Mankad and Roy had opened in the first Test. But India then tried out three different combinations in the next three Tests (Mankad and Vijay Mehra; Nari Contractor and Mehra and Mankad and Contractor) before Mankad and Roy walked out together again on January 6 after Umrigar had won the toss. Neither the rather tame opening bowling of Johnny Hayes and Tony MacGibbon nor the placid pitch held out any threat to the batsmen.
It was Roy who got to the three-figure mark first, in 262 minutes. The record opening stand for India (203 between Mushtaq Ali and Merchant at Old Trafford in 1936) was crossed and when Mankad reached his century shortly before close on the first day, the Kiwi bowlers had toiled the whole day without reward and the score had reached 234.
The stand crossed 300 at lunch the next day and now Mankad had overtaken his partner. The world record of Hutton and Washbrook was passed with ease and by the time the 400-run mark had been reached Mankad had scored his double ton.
Around this time Umrigar sent a note for the batsmen to go for their shots. Thinking a declaration was imminent, Roy hit out, only to be bowled by off spinner Matt Poore for 173 with the total reading 413. But the Indians batted on, much to Roy's irritation as he felt he had been deprived of a double century.
Mankad eventually fell for 231— it would remain the highest individual Test score by an Indian for 27 years. Umrigar declared at 537 for three at the start of the third day. The Kiwis folded up for 209 and 219.
The record was eventually broken by South African openers Graeme Smith and Neil McKenzie on March 1, 2008. The Proteas pair put on a 415-run stand against Bangladesh in Chittagong. South Africa went on to win the match comfortably by an innings and 205 runs.
The partnership between Mankad and Roy remains one of Indian cricket's most cherished feats and it certainly stood the test of time for almost 52 years before Smith and McKenzie rewrote the record.
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