By Nandu Doré Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
SON KI JAY
ERECT AND CORRECT
Major Dil breaker
How many Mumbaikars do you see in the current National cricket squad? What happened to them then you ask? Well, this is exactly why I chose to read Sanjay Manjrekar’s autobiography.
Sanjay who you ask? Rewind to the good ol’ days of Test Match cricket when all the top order batsmen in the Bharat XI comprised of Bombay based Maharashtrians. Could have been more had they managed to produce one decent Test class bowler too. This trend started ever since the evolution of cricket in India since the ancient days of Merchant & Mankad. Rather dramatically, their numbers began to decline somewhere in the 80s with the exit of Vengsarkar, Sandeep Patil, Gavaskar & Shastri. Manjrekar, Kambli & Tendulkar tried to keep the flag flying but only Sachin survived.
So what happened to this pedigreed breed? Was greed their only need indeed? Sanjay explains this trend to lack of physical fitness but then does a quick recovery by writing reams and reams eulogising Mumbai cricket and how none of us could have possibly have survived without their kind services. Jai Maharashtra! So where is Mumbai now in the cricket map of India? Unhe Zameen khaa gayi yah aasmaan nigal gaya?
Sanjay candidly explains he became a cricketer just because he was expected to be one. His dad was the world-famous Vijay Manjrekar who could crack the bat as well as his razor sharp tongue all around the park. He was showered with affection by his fellow cricketers despite his foul temper. Goes without saying son Sanjay was also well taken care of. Gavaskar personally handed him over a Gray Nicholls bat he bought just for him from England. Viv Richards also waited patiently for him to show up to congratulate him on his ’89 Barbados test ton. Volatile tempered Papa Manjrekar’s family had to bear a whole lot of brunt of this “volcano” of talent so to speak. His son Sanjay grew up to be a complexed kid with an pronounced in-built defence mechanism that he suspects showed in his batting technique.
Apparently Sanjay could occupy the crease for hours without keeping the scoreboard ticking and this is the only talent he honed in the final analysis.
Manjrekar’s short-livety as a batter can also be attributed to his devotion to himself as opposed to the interests of the team. Does it make any sense he introspected a lot about his mistakes and yet did not turn out to be a record shattering batsman? Apparently Mumbaikars also do not get along all that well with mates from North Zone. Sanjay blames it on the watching crowds too who would rather watch India lose than miss out on a Mumbaikar’s ton.
One of Sanjay’s beefs is that team management in his time expected a lot from their boys who were not really in the mood for winning any game overseas.
His book though was a li’l bit more interesting to read than watching one of his boring innings. He begins with a dramatic flourish stating to the effect that today he has nothing to do with cricket which we know is a fallacy as he is making a living as a cricket commentator. He does find his way around with words and that would explain his tremendous success he now enjoys as a TV commentator.
My initial memories of Sanjay was when in he got that fabulous double hundred against the then formidable Pakistan side in 1989. Before that he got a hundred against the Windies too in Barbados though I don’t think it was really a tour worth remembering. The Indians got thrashed 0-3 in the Tests and got “black-washed” in the ODIs as a side-dish. After the tour they even had the gall to play “masala matches” in the US in return for a handsome remuneration. Bus ek sharm hi to nahi aati in logon ko. The Cricket Board ordered them to not play those matches and yet they did. What commenced later was a Players vs Board match which was fought to the last man but no one really won the game. If only the then players showed such tenaciousness in the playing ground at that time. All this is of course conveniently omitted from the book.
Another memory is how he would consistently got himself run out in the 1992 World Cup games effectively putting India out of contention. His version is that his lack of fitness was the root cause.
A final recollection of mine was when just after his premature retirement he wrote how Indians must develop an aggressive temperament like the Pakis before they can even think of winning games overseas. Not sure how effective this ploy was as the Indians still are yet to win a Test series in Australia and by and large struggle with both bat and ball in foreign pitches.
What is rather odd and noteworthy about this book is that Sanjay is all gaga over those who were accused of match fixing – Manoj Prabhakar, Azharuddin & Ajay Jadeja. Conversely he is rather critical of Kapil Dev who was cleared of all charges. There are suggestions Kapil would fake injuries when the Windies were in town. He does not name Kapil but it has got to be a senior player who commands and demands respect. Apparently Kapil Dev encouraged a culture where seniors were to be respected as not seen as buddies, yaars or cronies. He would like it if someone called him Paaji. There are other instances where without naming names he talks about a time where a senior player did not want to face a fiery Wasim Akram and kept going to the non-striker side, giving the strike to Manjrekar. Not sure who the player could be other than Kapil Dev.
Overall he paints a sorry picture about the dressing room mileau of the 90s. Team meetings were mere formalities and no one really played to win as the fans were supposedly “not expecting” them to win in those days. Skipper Azharuddin would be mumbling to himself and the team would just not their heads pretending to hear every word. Azhar’s strategy if you want to call it that was to leave everything to Almighty.
While he is critical of players outside of Mumbai and beyond, he is very generous in praise for overseas players. And yes that would include Ian Chappell who (alongwith jigar ka tukda Greg) every Indian cricket fan worth their salt believe to be the cause of the ruin of Indian cricket. Makes perfect diplomatic sense I guess not to rub fellow commentators the wrong way. Paani me reh kay magarmuch se bair? Nuh-uh. In fact Manjrekar is also kind of giving tutorials on how to suck up to your bosses of the corporate world if you want to bring food to your dining table. He even went to the extent of apologising to viewers on behalf of Dean Jones who made a racist remark at South African Amla for everyone subscribing to cable to hear.
His bounty of overflowing encomiums extends to players across the border too. Manjrekar Jr goes as far as saying he wished he played under the tutelage of Imran the irresistable Khan. This does not automatically bring his patriotism to question (Jai Maharashtra, remember?) so we’ll let that slide. However his training his gun on North zoners should make him want to move out of his glass house. After all how do you explain freeloaders like Ashok Mankad who survived Test cricket for a decade without a single Test hundred?
Speaking of match fixing, Manjrekar was also secretly taped by Manoj Prabhakar in that sensational Tehelka expose. Now why would he wanna do that is the million dollar question. The book also addresses the burning topic of match fixing with a straight copybook defensive bat leaving the stumps totally unexposed. All we could get out of him was that Ian Chappell’s views on how matches get fixed are rather naive. Now what exactly did he mean by that is another million dollar question. Manjrekar Jr. also claims that much talked about India-Pak match “awarded” to Pakistan due to bad light was not Azhar’s doing.
All in all a book makes breezy reading for the quintessential desi cricket afficionado though I would not really qualify it as a must-read. The book covers cricket from bygone era and current times with aplomb. Though certain portions already covered by Tendulkar such as the 96 World Cup could have been edited out as it is clearly a ploy to increase the thickness of the book.