Sanjay Manjrekar represented India in 37 Tests and 74 One Day Internationals (ODIs). He played in two World Cups (1992 and 1996), and has been an accomplished broadcaster since hanging his boots. Here, the former middle-order batsman gives an honest account of team's performances in the World Cups he was part of, playing against Pakistan, losing from winning positions, the Calcutta debacle, and his favourite World Cup memory. Manjrekar is also part of the commentary panel for Cricket World Cup 2019. He spoke to Shantanu Srivastava.
1983. That's what comes to my mind when I hear the term 'World Cup'. It was the first time that we became aware of the World Cup. In 1975 and 1979, we would all get to see parts of some shows or some clips where we would watch Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards in action. 1983 was my first real World Cup Memory and it was the only time me and my father (Vijay Manjrekar) sat and watched the game together on TV. Generally, he was in his own world and I was petrified of the man, but the 1983 World Cup final was one match that we watched it together. I remember watching the first half of the match with my friend in Mahim, and the second half at home with my father. We didn't celebrate much, but both of us were really excited and really happy. I remember watching the semi-final against England with my friend and having a great time, but the final was more at home and having fun in our own way.
My love for the game was, typically, of someone who wanted to be a cricketer himself. People who aspire to be cricketers don't really read too much about the game or listen to the commentary. They want to play. That win inspired me to put in more effort in my pursuit of playing for India. I was set in my ways to become an India player, and at that time it was all about playing Test cricket for India. Even if India had lost the final, I would still have continued with my journey, but that 1983 win gave India a lot of self-belief that they could beat the world away from home.
India have had some good wins at home but World Cup win came on the global stage where you had foreigners watching and commentating, so that self-belief was immense. Immediately after the World Cup win, there was a benefit match for my father arranged in the Middle East, and the entire World Cup winning team was invited to play this exhibition match. I was invited as my father's son to play for India XI versus England XI. So, I was with all these World Cup heroes in Muscat, actually experiencing the adulation those players got as people didn't realise whether I was an India cricketer or not. That was a life-changing experience for me. I felt the huge thrust and wave of fanfare and love, and that changed my life.
Four years later, when India co-hosted the World Cup, I just missed out on the selection. When you are on the fringe or out of the team, you naturally want the person who has been selected over you not to do well. Navjot Singh Siddhu had been selected over me, which I agree was a good decision because he ended up making a good impact in that World Cup. However, during the 1987 World Cup, I was silently swallowing it and doing my own thing. I remember going to the Wankhede Stadium to watch the India-England game and I remember Graham Gooch actually destroying India by sweeping the left-arm spinners, and then Sunil Gavaskar getting bowled by Phillip DeFreitas. Other than that, I was too occupied with my career.
The 1992 edition was the first to be played in coloured clothing and white balls, but we had a long tour of Australia just before that World Cup where all these innovations were in place. We played a triangular ODI series in Australia that also involved the West Indies, and the World Cup was like a footnote in that long tour. It was the worst kind of preparation for us in the sense that since we were not winning, our morale was very down.
By the time the World Cup started, we are right at the end of a series that had taken a lot out of us. For me, it was a refreshing change, and I remember becoming a bit grumpy with the team management because they left me out of the team for the first game because I had failed against Australia in the Test matches. I argued that it was a perfect opportunity for me to find form against a different opposition, but obviously, I was dropped. But as luck would have it, I played my first World Cup match against Australia... I had a good start to that World Cup and made 40-odd which was one of my better innings in ODIs; it almost won us that match. That is how our World Cup went. We were poor things trying to give our best at the end of a long tour.
That was the time when Indian cricket teams were full of self-doubts when they went overseas. We were definitely low on morale, and to an extent, low on confidence too, but India's biggest problem then was temperament, which is India's greatest strength now. There was a lot of anxiety factor that affected many members of the Indian team then. There was panic in tight situations, we made silly mistakes and let go of the game that was within our grasp.
We played Pakistan in one of the matches, and it was great fun. They were a stronger side in terms of ability and temperament and had more players with the X factor, but we had a great game that day. I clearly remember having a great time in Sydney and the crowd's reaction after the game was outstanding; it wasn't as if we were playing in one corner of the world, it was like an India-Pakistan game being played in the sub-continent. We were all fired up. If you look at the footage of our celebrations, that was not quite like the 1990s. All of us were really excited, and fortunately, the match was always in our control.
Kiran More was an excellent cricketer. A real fighter and an extremely courageous cricketer with limited abilities if I may add. That guy was just 5 feet 4 inches, didn't have much power, didn't have exceptional skills, but was always on the frontline when pressure was on. He had this thing with (Javed) Miandad going for a while, but he couldn't help himself but tease the batsman. I used to field at forward short leg, and couldn't stop laughing. He had a bad sense of humour. Whenever a batsman used to come to the crease – like Miandad would come humming a song to ease his tension – More would start his banter. There was nothing malicious, never a swear word; it was just fun. He used to crack jokes at the batsman and look at me...so he used to use batsmen to test his jokes on me.
He would crack a joke and look at me with a smile that said, kaisa laga? (How was it?). It was just light-hearted great fun, and he was not deterred by who the batsman was. He did it with Viv (Richards), and also with Miandad. In that match, he was naturally excited and was appealing for everything. That jumping incident happened because of his appeals, and he would jump while appealing. That is why Miandad tried to mock him. The funny thing was, that Miandad incident was shown on the giant screen, and Miandad actually looked at it and started looking at us... Javed was incredible; he wanted to share that moment with us! That was quite a fun moment.
Four years later, India again co-hosted the World Cup, and we were expected to be in the final, considering we were playing at home and 90s was the time when we dominated at home. My memory of that World Cup is that quarter-final where we beat Pakistan. It was one of the greatest cricket matches we played because it was a hard-earned win. By the time we came for the semis against Sri Lanka, we were still hungover from Pakistan game. That quarter-final took a lot out of us emotionally, and we made some mistakes against Sri Lanka. The end was quite disappointing, and I'd say it was a very forgettable World Cup for us. Had we lost to a good Australian side in the final, it would have been okay, but we lost tamely to Sri Lanka. Fans across the country were disappointed, and they were right, because we really played poorly. We could have been in the final.
The pitch at Eden Gardens was turning, but it didn't play that bad when me and Sachin Tendulkar were batting. As our innings progressed, the pitch became really difficult, especially for the new batsmen, and it was very tough to get on top of the bowling. You had to be really set, plus the anxiety factor. The current team would have somehow managed to come closer. MS Dhoni would bat through and get close to the total, but we were extremely fragile, temperamentally. It was a mistake to chase, but Sri Lanka were good at chasing and we wanted to deny them that advantage.
From being a player to commentator and broadcaster, this has been some journey for me. I am proud of the fact that I played two World Cups for India, but not proud of the teams I belonged to or the ones that played those two World Cups. This is the kind of Indian team that I wish I was part of. They are way superior to what we were temperamentally, and they know how to chase totals.
I keep telling Tendulkar that because of his long career, he has experienced two phases of Indian cricket; one where we were always losing and were not quite the team, and post 2000 when we had a stronger unit that started giving good performances overseas. My cricketing phase has mostly been pretty average. I am proud to have played for India and the experience has been great, but nothing to look back at fondly and go wow. I am pretty upbeat about India's chances, because temperamentally, they are a strong side, and in World Cups, that counts a lot.
My most memorable World Cup moment came as a broadcaster in the final of the 2011 World Cup. India had just won the trophy, and everybody was emotional. I was doing interviews of all Indian players, and Sachin typically was standing in one corner, not very keen to talk. I remember Prof. (Ratnakar) Shetty standing next to him, and I pointed to Prof. Shetty, asking him to draw Tendulkar's attention towards me. And then when Sachin looked at me, I called him with my finger, as if saying in a strict tone, "Come here, I want to talk." And Tendulkar, like a good, obedient boy, came up and we did the interview and he spoke his heart out. That is one moment I relish from 2011. He is not someone who likes to speak at the spur of the moment, but I asked him to talk because winning the World Cup meant so much to him. I pulled a broadcasting coup there. So yeah, I am a very proud broadcaster of Indian cricket, but not so proud former player!
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