January 12, 2006

The Mankad-Roy jugalbandi – standing the test of time

By H Natarajan

A defining moment in Indian cricket history completed 50 years a few days back. It’s a pity that the humungous feat which has stood the test of time went unremembered and unsung. It was on January 7, 1956 that Vinoo Mankad and Pankaj Roy threaded a 413-run stand for the first wicket against New Zealand at Madras (as Chennai was then known) – a record for the first wicket that stand gloriously unchallenged.

To put the monumental partnership in perspective: the Mankad-Roy jugalbandi is the eighth highest in all Test cricket for any wicket, with only the 451-run second wicket partnership between Sir Don Bradman and Bill Ponsford - at The Oval in 1934 - standing unbroken for a longer period than the Mankad-Roy feat.

Opening the innings requires a special kind of mindset. Unlike the rest of the team, an opener has to come out and bat immediately. Not easy when the body longs for rest after two days on the field. It’s the openers who have to face the head-hunters with the new ball. It’s they who have to bat long enough to ensure that the shine of the ball is off, the helpful early morning conditions are through and the fast bowlers have expended much of their fire and energy so that the batsmen to follow have it relatively easy.

Yet, in 129 years and 1780 Tests, no other opening pair from any country has got to the 400-run mark. And Test cricket has seen some truly great opening partners like Sir Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe, Bill Lawry and Bob Simpson, Sunil Gavaskar and Chetan Chauhan, Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes and the Australian duo of Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer. And Mankad was not even an opener; he was converted into one by Duleepsinhji.

The Indian team came on a high note for the final Test of a run-fest series; in the four earlier Tests, Mankad and Polly Umrigar got double centuries, Manjrekar scored two separated hundreds while Kripal Singh, Nari Contractor, Roy and Gulabrai Ramchand all got a ton each. But New Zealand had lost just one Test and were in with a chance of squaring the series at the Corporation Stadium.

The Mankad-Roy pair was not a settled combination for India. In fact, even in the fourth Test of the series it was Contractor who opened with Mankad. But the openers did well to ensure that India capitalised on winning a good toss. The pair took India to 234 at the end of the first day’s play - Mankad batting on 109 and Roy undefeated on 114. The pair continued to frustrate the visitors on Day Two and when they took the score past 359, they antiquated the then existing Test opening mark set by Sir Len Hutton and Cyril Washbrook against South Africa at Johannesburg in 1948-49.

The Test, however, had bitter-sweet memories for Roy, who felt he was denied the chance to get to his first-ever Test double hundred. “Vinoo got his 200 and told me to go for my 200. But then I got a chit from the captain (Umrigar). He said hit every ball. I thought he was going to declare. I got out trying to hit. But even after I got out, Umrigar batted on for 80 minutes. When Vinoo came back, he was furious,” Roy is quoted as saying in Mihir Bose’s book, A History of Indian Cricket.

Umrigar came one drop and was unbeaten on 79 when he declared at 537 for three.

Earlier, Mankad emulated Bradman and Wally Hammond’s feat of getting two double hundreds in a series. Mankad’s 231 was the highest by an Indian batsman in Tests till Sunil Gavaskar surpassed it in the 1983-84 series against the West Indies at Chepauk.

Mankad’s effort in the 1952 Lord’s Test (72 & 184 with the bat and analysis of 73-24-196-5 and 24-12-35-0) have been well chronicled, but though conditions and circumstances were far different in Madras, not many are aware that at Madras, too, Mankad made a great all-round impact: He followed up his second double hundred of the series (he had also scored a hundred in the tourists’ opening match against West Zone) with figures of 40-14- 65- 4, that saw New Zealand slump to an innings and 109-run defeat. The combined strength of New Zealand could not match Mankad’s score in either innings.

I had the opportunity of meeting, interacting and interviewing many of the golden oldies like Vijay Merchant, Vijay Hazare, Mushtaq Ali, Rusi Modi, Polly Umrigar and Subhash Gupte, but it remains my regret that I could never meet the great Vinoo Mankad. It was thus an enlightening experience for me learning about the man’s genius from many of his contemporaries, especially at The Legends Club - a club formed to honour Vijay Merchant, Vijay Hazare and Vinoo Mankad, the membership to which is strictly by invitation. But even more interesting are the rare insight into the man that I got from his sons, Ashok and my good friend Rahul, who is now based in Australia.

The one time I interacted with Roy at length was when I invited him Chandu Borde, Chandu Sarwate, Bishan Bedi and Hanumant Singh to form a selection panel to pick the Indian team for a contest The Indian Express was running prior to the for the 1999 World Cup. I thought it would be nice to get four of the selectors to pick their team for the cricket contest as they had picked the Indian team that won the World Cup in 1983. The then chairman of the committee Ghulam Ahmed was no more and his place was taken up in the Express selection panel by Hanumant Singh, who made into the National committee for the term following the World Cup. Going down memory lane to the time before I was born and hear about the halcyon days from these greats was a memorable experience.

While seven of the 11 New Zealanders live to tell a tale of the January 1956 leather hunt, only two Indian players from that team are alive presently – Umrigar and Nari Contractor, who will complete 80 and 72 years respectively in two months time. It would be nice if the BCCI get these two men to chronicle in their words this memorable Test along with other players who have been involved in great moments in Indian cricket history.

January 10, 2006

The agony and the ecstasy of a football-crazy nation

It gives me great pleasure to invite Raam Shanker as a guest writer. Raam is the first of the many guest writers I hope to showcase on Sportizen. A walking football encyclopedia, Raam is pursuing MSc Research in Automobile Engineering in the UK to make his mark in the world of F-1. And yes, he is a hardcore Red – no, not a Commie, but a Ferrari and Man U follower. - H Natarajan.

By Raam Shanker

The story goes back 60 years in time, to 1946 when Brazil had a constitutional government for the first time post a decade of dictatorship. This was cemented by the fact that they had secured the right to host the next FIFA World Cup, which would be held fours years hence in 1950. A major reason why the World Cup was moved to South America was the fact that most of Europe was still in all sorts of problems even though the war was long over. However, it was celebration time all over Brazil.

Come 1950 and Brazil got its shot at glory as the hosts of the greatest show on earth, next to the Olympic Games. This was also a landmark World Cup in more ways than one, for the following reasons:

1. England's maiden World Cup appearance.

2. USA defeating England 1-0 and the British tabloids, foolishly confident, reported that England has won 10-0 against the US!

3. An Asian country, which until recently was under foreign oppression had gained Independence and managed to qualify for the championship. However, they were not allowed to participate as their players wanted to play bare foot. That country was none other than India! The only World Cup India managed to qualify for.

Coming back to Brazil, a rejuvenated Brazil went about the task of building the world’s biggest stadium of the time - The Maracana Stadium with an estimate capacity of around 1,83,000.

When the big tournament arrived, the groups looked a little awkward. Two groups of four teams each, one of three teams and the last group of only two teams. One of the two teams was former world champion Uruguay, who took full advantage of its position to make it to the final group stage. Incidentally, this was the only World Cup not to have a final.

The first championship of the new era could not have had a more fitting decider match than to have Brazil and Uruguay pitted against each other in the still-under-construction Maracana Stadium. In fact, the capacity that day exceeded 2,00,000.

Brazil needed only a draw to lift the cup while Uruguay had to get an outright win to regain the title. The first half ended goalless. However, a minute into the second half, Brazil scored through Friaca to send the stadium into ecstasy. Brazil were poised to turn their dream into reality. But in the 66th minute Uruguay equalized. Though Brazil continued to attack, Ghiggia struck for Uruguay with just 11 minutes for the final whistle to instantaneously stun 2,00,000 spectators into silence. Ten minutes later, Uruguay earned the ascended the throne. The World Cup was handed over to captain Obdulio Varela by FIFA chairman Jules Rimet - the man in whose honour the trophy has since been rechristened.

For Brazil, it was the end of a dream. It was a loss that caused many Brazilians in losing their mental equilibrium. Many were crying inconsolably while a few took their lives, unable to cope with the defeat.

The match lasted only 90 minutes, but the wounds inflicted by the game scarred the nation and greatly influenced the way it plays its football.

A particular incident, amongst other things is worth mentioning at this point. Amid all the chaos and mourning, there was a man in Sao Paolo who was crying uncontrollably. The conversation between him and his little son is said to have taken place on similar lines:

Little boy: "Papa, why are you crying?"
Father: "Sonny, Brazil have lost the World Cup."
Little boy: "Don't cry, papa. I will win the World Cup for you.”

The boy grew up and kept the promise he made to his dad as a child. His name? Edson Arantes do Nascimento - Pele to the rest of the world.

As mentioned earlier, this defeat to Uruguay inflicted deep wounds into the minds of the Brazilian people. Its influence must be so strong that, young footballers are bred with this hard hitting truth which has perhaps led to Brazil producing players of great quality, who understand the value of playing for their country. When you see a Brazilian team on the pitch, you can feel it; they don't play for money or fame, but only for national honour and pride.

There is a message to the rest of the world, a message that says: "You need to be special to play football for Brazil." Their games are an attempt to erase the scars of 1950, but I wish those scars never go, for if the scars disappeared I am left wondering, whether we will get to see the beautiful game ever!