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.