“His numbers might appear ordinary to a modern day cricket fan, but his value goes beyond numbers. From stepping out to greet the English bowlers without headgear and protection to challenge them on their home turf, Mankad was a pioneer of Indian cricket and the first Indian to really instill the belief into the team that they could win”.
1952 Lord’s Test – India vs England
Vijay Hazare, the Indian skipper, won the toss and chose to bat first, sending in their primary player, star all-rounder, Vinoo Mankad, to open the innings. The irresistibly talented Mankad, the sole pillar of a sagging Indian team, stood tall along with his partner, Pankaj Roy, to put on a century partnership.
His 72 was the highest score in the innings and the eventual collapse for 235 concealed to an extent the woes residing in India’s batting line-up. England would show how pristine the Lord’s surface was by racking up a monumental 537, slightly perturbed only by the relentless attack by that man, Vinoo Mankad.
The persistent left-arm spinner chugged through the England innings, bowling a mind-boggling 73 overs and picking up 5/196. Such was his commitment and dedication to the job that after bowling close to 35 overs in a day, he came out to open the Indian innings the second time.
He wouldn’t let a ball past him until he piled on a scintillating 184, not salvaging India from defeat, but definitely helping with their pride. He was all over the English bowlers, tearing into them in the company of the skipper, Vijay Hazare, and single-handedly helped them avoid an innings defeat.
Wisden noted the knock as “the greatest ever done in a Test by a member of the losing side”. The 1952 Lord’s Test is as such often called “Mankad’s Test”.
Before we delve into more details, it is quintessential to understand the backdrop to this marathon Test performance by Vinoo Mankad.
From star to outlaw
It can safely be said that Indian cricket in the 1940s and 1950s rested on the shoulders of Vinoo Mankad. A classical left-arm spinner, a brilliant fielder and an innovative batsman, Mankad is known to do more than one role in the side. He was the workhorse, a captain’s pet, the silver lining amongst India’s dark clouds.
That he has batted in every single position in Test cricket shows the kind of dire straits India was in and the value Mankad held to this team. However, all of the stardom was thrown to the wind when his request to BCCI to guarantee selection to the Indian team for the England tour pissed off the board.
The BCCI failed to grant this and Mankad, in revolt, wrote to Haslingden club in the Lancashire League stating that he would be available for an entire season. The lucrative deal made him a 19th century mercenary in the World of cricket.
But such was Mankad’s value to the Indian outfit that after the first Test Headingley, where India were 0/4 at one stage, the Manager Pankaj Gupta convinced the BCCI to recall Mankad. He returned for the Lord’s Test and as they say, the rest is history.
The record-breaking stand
The successful opening pairing at Lord’s was persisted with by India. Mankad and Roy, though not in the range as a Hobbs and Sutcliffe, was solid and did everything openers those times were expected to do.
In a home series against New Zealand, India broke up the pair and tried three different pairs of openers from the second to the fourth Test. But went back to Mankad and Roy for the final Test at the Corporation stadium in Madras.
What unfolded cannot be described with mere words. Though Indian batsmen had the wood over the Kiwis right through the series, Mankad and Roy took it a step further. The duo put on a 413 run opening stand, a record that stood the test of time and wasn’t re-written until 52 years later by Neil McKenzie and Graeme Smith.
SK Gurunathan then reported in the Indian Cricket almanac, “It was by no means the best knock played either by Mankad or by Roy. Both were hesitant in making their strokes but there was no lack of concentration and determination to stay at the wicket as long as possible. Mankad now and again played his rousing pull shot and the drive to the off but he rarely brought off his dazzling cuts.”
Mankad slammed his second double hundred in the series and went on to smash the Indian record score, a mammoth 231.
He was first called up to the Indian team for the second Test in Mumbai and responded with a sound showing, making 38 and 88 to go alongwith of 2-1-6-2 in the first innings. He was impressive right through the series, so much so that, Lord Tennyson of the Lord Tennyson’s XI side, stated that Mankad would walk into a world XI.
Although the World was robbed of the best years of Vinoo Mankad due to World War II, when he played he delighted one and all.
“With Hedley Verity gone, I don’t think there is a better left-hander than Mankad,” Australian captain Lindsay Hassett once said.
Chose by Wisden as one of its Five Cricketers of the Year courtesy a brilliant showing of 129 wickets and 1120 runs in the English summer. Playing against a Bradman-led Australian side in 1947-48, Mankad had a tough time with the ball. He still hogged headlines for his seemingly “unsportsmanlike” run-out of the non-striker when backing up in the second Test at Sydney. Later to be known as “Mankading”, the dismissal sparked a lot of controversy despite it being in the ICC law book.
However, he gained support from none other than the Don himself. Bradman, in support of Mankad, said, “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 nonstriker 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 nonstriker is very obviously gaining an unfair advantage.”
Need we tell more?
Mankad was the also the first in excess of three decades to score a ton and take five wickets in the same Test (Lord’s 1953) and became the first Indian to etch his name into the coveted Lord’s honours board. He is still one of the only three players outside Englishmen to appear in both the batting and bowling honours boards at the Lord’s. (The other two are Keith Miller and Sir Gary Sobers).
Years down the lane, it is pathetic that the late Vinoo Mankad is more remembered for that one incident which headlined his career. Not even in the wrong, Mankad’s feats as a cricketer is often masked despite him being the foundation of every Indian line-up in the years just before and after Independence.
His numbers might appear ordinary to a modern day cricket fan, but his value goes beyond numbers. From stepping out to greet the English bowlers without headgear and protection to challenging them on their home turf, Mankad was a pioneer of Indian cricket and the first Indian to really instill the belief into the team that they could win. He played a major role in India’s first ever Test win – at Chennai against England – picking up 12 wickets across innings’. However, when you have one reason to be unpopular, the thousand good things you did goes vanishing. The underrated all-rounder was a hero and deserves to be known as such. Period.