Vinoo Mankad

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This is a chapter from The Indian Masters, published originally in 2015

The 2004 edition of Wisden’s Cricketers’ Almanack has a full page listing those who have attained the “double” of 1000 runs and 100 wickets in Test cricket: 41 in all.  There are some quite surprising names.  Such is the amount of Test cricket played in modern times that Curtly Ambrose and Abdul Qadir have each scored over a thousand runs and Carl Hooper has taken over one hundred wickets.  So in a sense that does not seem a very select group.  When it comes to two thousand runs and one hundred wickets there is a good deal of whittling down to be done.  One is left with nineteen, including obviously the greatest players: Sobers, Imran, Botham, Hadlee, Warne (yes he has scored more than two thousand Test runs), a number of whom have achieved “multiple” doubles.

Fifty years ago, the position was very different.  The 1955 edition of Wisden does not have an equivalent entry: there is no specific section on all-round achievements in Test cricket.  One has to rely on the batting and bowling records (respectively for those who have scored 1500 runs – as opposed to 2,500 which a batsman has to have scored to get in today – or taken 75 wickets – as opposed to one hundred.  And that section tells us that, as at 30 September 1954, only three players had scored two thousand runs and taken one hundred wickets in Test cricket: W Rhodes (England), K.R. Miller (Australia) and V. Mankad (India).

“Great” is a word that is much abused in sport.  But there can be no doubt that anyone compiling a list of “great” cricketers from every age, taking into account character as well as statistical achievement, would unhesitatingly include Wilfred Rhodes and Keith Miller.  Rhodes was turned into a premature parody of a “Last of the Summer Wine” character by Neville Cardius but he was immersed in cricket lore in a way that seems incomprehensible nowadays and his achievements on the field were truly phenomenal.  Miller’s genuine sense of style made the great all-rounders of the 1980s seem somehow shrill, petulant or boorish in comparison.  Like most of the players of his generation he had lived a life which enabled or required him to put cricket in perspective. 

And Vinoo Mankad?  Who, now, remembers Vinoo Mankad?  Looking again at the list in the 2004 Wisden, there is another intriguing set of satistics.  Ian Botham, as we all know, reached the double of one thousand runs and one hundred wickets in the fewest Tests, twenty one.  This was on everyone’s lips when Kapil Dev reached the same milestone in twenty-five Tests a little while later.  But nobody seemed to remember that Mankad had got there in twenty-three Tests, far ahead of most of the field until the Botham – Kapil era, though Australia’s Monty Noble took 27.  Richie Benard took 32, Sobers, 48.

There are of course many things that people remember about Mankad.  He still holds one splendid world record, the most conspicuous and memorable of Test partnership records: 413 for the first wicket with Pankaj Roy against New Zealand in 1955-56.  New Zealand were not strong – they had yet to win a Test match – but it is a world record nonetheless and it remains India’s only world record partnership.  Mankad’s 231 was then the highest Test score made by an Indian.  That record remained Mankad’s until it was overtaken by Sunil Gavaskar in 1983.  Mankad beat one of his own records, that for an Indian pair for the first wicket in first-class cricket, 293 made with Vijay Merchant against Sussex in 1946. 

The New Zealand series was a triumph for the Indian all-rounder.  Before it started he scored a century for South Zone against the tourists. India won the five Test series two-nil, the victories coming in the second Test at Bombay and the fifth at Madras.  At Bombay, Mankad scored 223 batting for eight hours and hitting 22 fours.  He equalled what was then the highest Test score by an Indian, made by Polly Umrigar in the first Test in Hyderabad.  India won by an innings: Mankad took three wickets in the second innings. 

The record came in the fifth Test.  Mankad and Roy batted well into the second day, Mankad spending eight and three quarter hours at the crease.  India made 537 for three and New Zealand were duly overwhelmed, Mankad taking four for 45 in 40 overs in the second innings. 

That does not, however, rank as Mankad’s greatest all-round performance.  That had occurred against England at Lord’s in the second Test of the 1952 series.  Mankad, who had been one of the successes of the previous tour, in 1946, had quite absurdly, not been in the original party, and had opted, to play for Haslingden in the Lancashire League.  This was a handicap for India: not only was Mankad experienced in English conditions but he had played a major part, particularly as a bowler, in India’s sharing the spoils in a five match series with an admittedly below-strength MCC side in India in 1951-52.

The first Test of the 1952 series at Headingley starkly demonstrated what India were missing.  This was the famous game when India started their second innings by losing four wickets in the first sixteen balls, without scoring a run.  The lower order made a gallant recovery but the psychological damage done by Alec Bodser and, particularly, Fred Trueman, was almost irreparable. 

Help, however, was at hand: Mankad was released to play in the three remaining Tests.  His impact on the game at Lord’s was utterly extraordinary.  As John Woodcock has said, Mankad more or less took on England single-handed.

Vijay Hazare won the toss and, rather bravely in the circumstances, elected to bat.  Mankad opened with Roy (who was in the middle of a nightmare “trot” which saw him make five noughts in seven Test innings – or outings perhaps – as an opener).  Mankad was utterly composed and confident in his first first-class innings of the season.  Before half an hour was up he had hit leg-spinner Roly Jenkins’ fourth ball over the sight-screen for six.  The openers were only separated after lunch, with the score on 106, when Mankad was caught at leg slip off Trueman for 72.  India then collapsed, only Hazare standing firm as they were out for 235 shortly before the close of play. 

England responded with 514, culture and elegance from Len Hutton and Peter May on the second day being followed by a bludgeoning assault by Godfrey Evans on the third.  On those two days Vinoo Mankad bowled 73 overs of nagging, accurate left arm spin, taking five wickets at a cost of 196 runs. 

And then he had to go in and open the batting again.  Roy was out to Bedser for a duck but Mankad was undaunted, hitting Jenkins’ first ball for six this time and finishing the day on 86 out of 137 for two.  The next day he carried remorselessly on, putting on 211 for the third wicket with Hazare (49) and finishing with 184, made in 270 minutes with nineteen tours and that six.  When he was out India were 270 for three.  They finished on 378 and England had eighty minutes left of the fourth day and the whole of the fifth in which to score the 75 needed to win.  Without exactly opting for a draw they took a decidedly cautious approach and actually needed a further three quarters of an hour on the fifth morning to reach their modest target.  Mankad bowled 24 overs for 35 runs.

It was an epic display.  There have probably been greater all-round performances in Test cricket: Botham’s performance in the Golden Jubilee Test in Bombay in 1980 springs to mind; Alan Davidson in the Tied Test at Brisbane is another that shines out; Imran Khan against India at Faislabad in 1982-83 also.  There have been longer spells of bowling: Sonny Ramadhin at Edgbaston in 1957.  And there have been quite a number of cases where a batsman, by dint of playing an exceptionally long innings, has been on the field for just about the whole of a Test match.  The Lord’s Test of 1952 lasted twenty-four hours and seventy-five minutes and Mankad was on the field for twenty of them.  If he was out batting, it seemed he was bowling  The combination of endurance, courage, skill and inspiration – he was playing in a young and relatively weak side – make Mankad’s performance – albeit ultimately unavailing – one of the most remarkable individual feats in Test history.

The stint at Haslingden was far from being an isolated affair.  Indeed, although he never played county cricket, Mankad had a professional association with English cricket that lasted longer than that of any other Indian player.  In all he spent fifteen seasons in the Lancashire, Central Lancashire and Bolton Leagues.  He started with Castleton Moor of the Central Lancashire League, for whom he frequently opened the batting and bowling, as well as fielding dynamically and coaching the local boys.  In 1949 he scored 1466 runs and took 124 wickets.  After three years, he moved to Hasingden in the Lancashire League.  He continued to break records there but after his Lord’s triumph he returned to endure a double failure against Ramsbottom.  As was said at the time, and reported by John Key: “To cock a snook against England in a Test match at Lord’s is one thing; to tackle Ramsbottom at Ramsbottom is up another street, tha’ knows”.  He averaged 104 for Haslingden in 1953 and took seven for two against Lowerhouse in the same year.  When he finally went home for good, he left in the small Lancashire cricketing towns, not only a host of records, but as Kay put it, a legend of sporting prowess second to none. 

One aspect in which Mankad differed dramatically from Botham and Kapil Dev – and for that matter all the other great all rounders, except Miller was the age at which he first played Test cricket.  He was already 29 when he made his debut against England in 1946.  Of course the war had put a stop to Test cricket.  Not that Mankad was inexperienced in cricket terms.  An ethnic Gujerati, Mulvantra Mankad (“Vinoo” was a schoolboy nickname, which stuck, as these things sometimes do, for life) had the good fortune to be born in one of the so-called “princely” states.   But it was not an “ordinary” princely state, if there was such a thing.  It was Nawanagar, the seat of Ranji himself, and hence it provided a retreat in winter for a succession of Sussex professionals.  Young Vinoo was the beneficiary of this.  He was “discovered” as a medium-pace bowler and tail-end batsman by Ranji’s nephew, Duleepsinjhi and coached by the 1920s all-rounder A.F. Wensley.  Wensley persuaded him to concentrate on his orthodox slow left arm spin and forgo the wiles of the [now politically incorrect but ever-tempting] “chinaman”. 

Mankad soon made a name for himself in domestic cricket and his achievements reached a wider audience when he was comfortably the most successful home player to face Lord Tennyson’s unofficial touring team in 1937-38.  The war brought an end to international cricket but the Ranji Trophy continued unabated.  Nonetheless it must have been with a zestful appetite that Mankad approached the 1946 tour of England.

He was perhaps the outstanding success of a team that lost the three-match Test series one-nil but made friends everywhere among a cricket starved public and attracted enormous crowds.  In all first-class matches Mankad did the double, 1120 runs and 129 wickets.  No other bowler managed sixty wickets and Wisden, in its tribute to him as one of its Five Cricketers of the Year said that he might have had another forty wickets but for inept fielding.  He put in solid performances in the Test matches.  He scored 63 in the second innings of the first Test at Lord’s opening with Vijay Merchant having bowled 48 overs in England’s first innings and in the second Test at Old Trafford he took five for 101 in 46 overs.  He made 42 in the rain-ruined third Test, his pulls and driven making, according to Wisden “a refreshing change” after some cautious early batting (there was a lot of desperately dull Indian batting in the immediate post-war era, with Merchant and Hazare continuously breaking each other’s records).  Mankad went in at number eight, having opened in the first Test and batted at four in the second; adaptability was always one of his strong suits.

Of medium height, and chunkily built Mankad, a right-hander, had a solid defence, as befits one who frequently opened the batting in Test cricket.  But he had a fine array of strokes; K N Prabhu indeed referred to his “improvisatory and flamboyant genius”.  He was a particularly powerful driver, especially through the covers and hit forcefully to leg.  He was pragmatic and adaptable, happy to bat anywhere in the order.

Mankad was India’s first great Test match left-arm spin bowler, the first in a line of enormous distinction.  He bowled orthodox slow left arm off a short run up.  He took three walking strides and then three more paces never allowing the batsman to relax: a maiden would last little more then a minute.  He spun the ball appreciably and also had a very effective “arm ball”.  His achievements in 1946 were all the more extraordinary in that he had an injury which made it difficult for him to bowl this ball.  He was a master of line and length and particularly of flight.  When he dismissed eight England batsmen in an innings in Madras in 1951-52, four of them were stumped.  And throughout his career, he bowled astonishingly long spells.  As John Arlott wrote in 1946 “bowling on without complaint, even after he had rubbed his spinning-finger to bleeding point – and still spinning both the ball and his little plots to dismiss the batsman.”

Having been given a head start, as it were, by the international schedule, in 1946 Mankad was established, after three Test matches, as one of the world’s leading all-rounders.  Nothing happened in Australia, where India had their next international engagement on their first tour to that country in 1947-48, to cast doubt upon that assessment.  Australia  were awesomely strong – it was Bradman’s penultimate series; and conditions were difficult, wickets varying between classic Australian “sticky dogs” as in the first Test at Brisbane, and fast, bouncy pitches.  India lost four-nil.  Mankad, opening, was dismissed by Ray Lindwall four times in single figures in the first two Tests.  But, as Mihir Bose said, Vinoo was a good learner.  He scored centuries in each of the two Melbourne Tests (although he also made two more ducks, both to Lindwall).  Bowling was more of a struggle on the Australian pitches than it had been in England, but in the game against an Australian XI when Bradman scored his hundredth hundred Mankad took eight for 84 and the Indians won by 47 runs.  Bradman thought that as a batsman Mankad was not in the same class as Hazare and Lala Amarnath but that his performances were remarkable considering his workload as a bowler.

It was as a bowler that he shone when England played against India in 1951-52.  The MCC sent what was virtually a second eleven: nonetheless India needed to win the last Test, at Madras, to secure a one-all draw, and they did so by an innings.  This was a great achievement given that England had won the toss and batted.  Mankad bowled sixty-nine overs in the match and taking eight for 55 and four for 53.  This was a genuinely historic victory, India’s first in twenty-five Tests since entering the Test arena in 1932.  It was entirely typical that Mankad should play a leading role, becoming the first Indian bowler to take eight wickets in a Test innings and bowling superbly on a wicket that offered little assistance.

On four other occasions in the series he took four wickets in an innings.  He batted everywhere from number two to number ten in the mercurial Indian batting line-up.

India’s next home series was their first encounter with neighbouring Pakistan, and the first Test was another triumph for Mankad.  The visitors were dismissed for 150 and 152, Mankad taking eight for 52 in 47 overs in the first innings and five for 79 in the second.  He missed the second Test, which Pakistan won, but was back for the third, scoring 41 and 35 not out and taking three for 52 and five for 72: India won by ten wickets.  The last two games, in an ominous precursor of things to come, were drawn.  Mankad led India in the return series in Pakistan in 1954-55 but proved, as Bose put it, “a dismal captain”.  Distracted, according to Bose, by his entanglement with a Pakistani model, Mankad found it difficult to assert his unrivalled cricketing intelligence.  Every Test was drawn. 

There is one place outside India where Vinoo Mankad is still remembered, where his name is not simply commemorated but has been turned, in ghastly quasi-American style, into a verb.  That place is Australia.  You will find “Mankaded” listed in the Oxford Companion to Australian Cricket.  To find the ipsissima verba, as it were, as to the origin of the verb, or past participle, one must return to the measured tones of Wisden, and its account of the second Test between Australia and India at Sydney in December 1947: “Australia lost their first wicket in an unusual manner.  In a previous match [this was the game against an Australian XI when Mankad had taken eight wickets] Mankad, the bowler warned [W.A. Bill] Brown about backing up too far, and when the batsman repeated this ran him out.  This time Mankad gave no warning, and the first occasion Brown moved down the pitch too quickly the bowler whipped off the bails”. 

Hence the new word.  Of course, the Australians have always been cunning linguists: one only has to think of Barry Humphries.  But one searches the Companion in vain for a definition of “Chappelled”: perhaps it is recognized even in Australia that however degraded the standards of cricket behaviour become, no captain will ever again instruct a bowler to roll the ball down the pitch to prevent it being hit for six to win a match.  Even the learned authors of the Companion accept that Mankad was not necessarily in the wrong, quoting Brown as admitting that he was at fault.  The most robust and sensible view comes, not surprisingly, from Bradman, who played in both matches.  Commenting that some people questioned Mankad’s sportsmanship.  Bradman said that “for the life of me I cannot understand why”.  The laws of cricket, he said, made it clear that the non-strikes had to keep within his ground until the ball had been delivered.  By backing up too far or too early the non-striker was getting an unfair advantage.  Maybe Mankad was simply unlucky in his victim.  Brown was a hugely respected and admired character.  Oddly enough Brown was also run out – perhaps he was just careless? – in the fifth Test, for 99.

“An astute, natural all round cricketer” was John Artlott’s view of Mankad at the start of his momentous 1946 tour.  Arlott also identified him as the first genuine professional cricketer to have come from India.  According to Ray Robinson he had “the low brow of a practical man”.

By the time he played his last Test, against the West Indies, in February 1959, Mankad was almost forty.  Astonishingly, he did not play his last first-class match until 1964.  The ultimate team man, he represented five different Ranji Trophy teams during his career.  Three of his sons played first-class cricket.  One of them Ashok, played a modest but valuable part in India’s famous victory over England at The Oval in 1971.

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