Down Memory Lane with Vinoo
SUPPORTED by his wife Manorama and son Ashok, the great Vinoo Mankad came into the sitting room of his Marine Drive apartment. He has been ailing for two years now. Just before Ashok went to Australia with the Indian Cricket team, Vinoo's condition was critical and the doctors attending upon him had to decide between amputating his left foot and doing a femoral artery graft. The doctors' decided on the latter. Since the graft, he has not been the same.
Emaciated, weak and unable to raise his voice above a hoarse whisper, it could have been the ghost of Vinoo. He is in his sixty second year and according to Ashok, the indomitable Mankad spirit has been crushed. Ashok said: “I think my father has lost the will to live”.
Mulvantrai Himmatrai Mankad (born April 12, 1917, at Jam Nagar) is undoubtedly India’s greatest ever all-round cricketer. In Cricket’s Hall of Fame, he has his place among the best all-round players alongside Sir Garfield Sobers and Keith (nugget) Miller.
The Australian Miller was his contemporary but it was very hard to choose between the two. Miller was flamboyant, a child of nature, uninhibited, his batting based on the drive and his bowling fast and furious. Mankad, in contrast, did not have the star appeal of the Australian. While Miller with his height, his gold mane and his Grecian physique, was a sight to behold, Mankad was stocky and nearly rotund — the roundhead to Miller's cavalier. Mankad bowled slow left-arm and as a batsman was effective, strong with side-shots like the cut and pull, though quite unusually for a back-foot player, he liked to lift.
The name he is known by in cricket, Vinoo, was the result of somebody (may be Wensley his coach) not hearing properly that it was Minoo. This was the nickname his school chums gave him. Minoo was the shortened form of Mulvantrai. What happened to Himmatrai is not known. To cricket he became Vinoo Mulvantrai Mankad.
Mankad's cricket progress received a severe setback because of the second World War. The period from 1939-1945 was spent cooling his heels like many other great cricketers of the period. If Vinoo had played Test cricket at the time — he was then at his peak — he may have broken more records. It would come as a surprise to those who do not know that when Mankad thrilled Lord's in 1952, the Test which has gone down into history as Mankad's own, the great man was 35 years old. Today's cricketers at this age would have said enough and sat back to enjoy the fruits of years of toil. He played Test cricket till 1958-59, his last was the fourth at Madras against the West Indies, led by Gerry Alexander.
He led the team because Umrigar withdrew from captaincy. He was 41 years old. He played 44 official Tests making 2109 runs and taking 162 wickets. He has figured in every conceivable position in the batting order but finally settled down to opening the innings. His three great centuries, two against Australia and one against England, he got as an opening batsman.
Talking to him was not easy. He had difficulty expressing himself. But the beady small eyes were attentive during the hour in which he subjected himself to questioning.
Asked as to whether he had finished school, Mankad replied: "No. I had no education. I did not like school. Anyway, how can one go to school if the day was spent at cricket?.Eight hours a day at the least.” The Jamsaheb of Nawanagar, a lover and patron of cricket and cricketers, saw the talent in the lad and at 15 years of age Vinoo saw himself in England. This was in 1932. He was coached. He does not like the word “coached”. He said: "These coaches polished my cricket."
In 1936, A.F. Wensley, the England pro, took charge of Vinoo’s cricket education. Prince Duleep helped him too. It was Wensley who told him to bowl spin and give up fast bowling. “Wensley came to me and said that I will not go anywhere as a medium-pacer. My bowling was okay on matting surfaces but Wensley felt that on turf I would be innocuous. Moreover, Nawanagar needed a left-arm slow bowler". So Mankad. The spin bowler, arrived.
The Jamsaheb took great interest in Vinoo's career. 'If there was anybody who had immense faith in me it was the Jamsaheb. I remember how he tried to get me into the Lahore 'Test' against Lord Tennyson's team. He failed because the other selectors said I was too young. But when I played at Bombay, the Jamsaheb resigned from the Committee. He did not want to be involved in selection when I was concerned because charges of favouritism may be levelled at him”.
In 1946, he toured England with the Indian team led by the Nawab of Pataudi (Sr.) and completed the double —1120 runs and 129 wickets — the only Indian cricketer with this distinction. England and Wisden (which named him one of the cricketers of the year in 1947), agreed that an outstanding all-round cricketer had made his appearance- He was flooded with offers from the Lancashire League and from 1947 till 1962, he was a regular feature of it. Vinoo’s performances in the League are still talked about. He bettered the late Sir Frank Worrell’s all-round record in the League and then broke the record for the number of wickets taken in a season in .the League. He was the complete professional uncompromising, unemotional and unsparing.
The line of attack is important because there are more ways in which a batsman can get out. He has to reach wider to hit me and there were times when I was able to anticipate a caught and bowled opportunity.
Other than the leg-spinner I bowled, I had a very fast incoming delivery and a looped armball which was bowled with the wrist rolling over the ball- This delivery would deviate sharply into the right hand batsman though slowly.
Of the 1946 tour to England, he remembers Compton and Hutton as outstanding batsmen.
He said: "Hammond was on the decline. But Compton was superb. He was a dasher, but so safe that bowler had no chance. Hutton was sound and the more difficult the pitch, the better he played.”
Asked how Lindwall seemed to have the hoodoo on him before he broke it at Melbourne in the third Test, Vinoo said: “I was desperate against Lindwall because he had Barnes always stationed close on the on-side. I was bent on hitting Barnes out of there. Lindwall told me that Barnes was stationed there to distract me. He said I should not bother about Barnes at all. Also he talked about my backlift which was high enough for his yorker to slip through. I ignored Barnes and shortened my back-lift.”
Of the other Australian batsmen who impressed him, apart from Bradman, he mentions Bill Brown, Neil Harvey and Lindsay Hassett. “Harvey had beautiful footwork and it was a real challenge to bowl to him".
Lindwall and Miller were the finest pair of fast bowlers he has played. "Lindwall bowled a really fast delivery once in every over. He was always testing you. Miller was unpredictable and erratic but could produce the unplayable delivery".
Lord's 1952 is one of the finest chapters in the history of cricket The Times (London) described his performance (72, 184 and five for 196 off 72 overs) as "something to remember for a very long time. For endurance and uncharactered skill, it has possessed all the breadth of the plains of his homeland and all the height of the Himalayas". The Daily Telegraph said: "Mankad's innings will take its place among the classics".
Vinoo is the only Indian Test batsman to have made two double centuries in a series. This was against New Zealand. He had a stellar role in India's first Test win against England at Madras in 1951-52 where he bowled, in the match, 69.3 overs, 24 maidens for 108 runs and 12 wickets.
Asked how he would compare himself to the present day Indian spin bowlers, Vinoo (already exhausted, and leaning on the pillow which supported him) arose and said: "They may not have survived in our time. They dont know how to bowl on good pitches".
Vinoo Mankad meant it. He got up and went to his bedroom refusing assistance from his wife.
Mankad, the magnificent, never was on the Indian Test Selection Committee. And this is something one cannot understand. The toast of England and Australia, where he has fought his most stirring battles for India, Mankad is now at the end of his life, almost forgotten by his countrymen.
(The article was published in the Sportstar magazine dated July 29, 1978. Vinoo Mankad passed away 22 days later.)