Although the years between the late 1980s and mid-1990s marked the arrival of two great cricket stars — Sachin Tendulkar and Anil Kumble — who would lay the foundation of Indian cricket’s glory days, it was also perhaps one of its worst phases. This was an era where the babu attitude of administrators or the lackadaisical approach of coaches, who, at times, also doubled up as managers on tours, made playing for India a harrowing experience for many young players. Some of them were prodigiously gifted and could have transformed into modern greats. Some possessed enough talent to take professional cricket in the country to heights that it was poised for. One such player was Sanjay Manjrekar, who not only was the victim of bad management but in more ways than one also epitomises how this particular era almost killed Indian cricket.
The title of Manjrekar’s autobiography 'Imperfect' is in stark contrast to the manner in which the player appeared or operated and yet, ironically enough, it is the perfect encapsulation of how things played out for the Bombay batsman. The book is a rare Indian cricket autobiography that doesn’t aim to please or exonerate anyone, the author least of all. Manjrekar was full of promise. Millennials, imagine a Rahul Dravid before Rahul Dravid. He could have been the bridge between two generations of Indian cricket, two different schools, and also, two varied approaches to batting. But in the end, he failed. Most of it may not have been his fault, even though the way he addressed issues make it look like they were. But this is an account that is not limited to one particular player or individual; rather, it transcends an entire generation, and this is precisely the reason why Imperfect is an important book.
The first time most of us saw Manjrekar was when he faced the mighty West Indies at the Feroz Shah Kotla stadium in New Delhi. Although this particular Windes pace battery didn’t have Michael “Whispering Death” Holding, Andy Roberts or Joel “Big Bird” Garner, it was still fearsome. Manjrekar got a taste of it when a lethal Patrick Patterson, then the fastest bowler in the world, knocked him out retired hurt in the second innings for 10 runs. Manjrekar went on to make a ‘comeback’ of sorts and scored a century when India visited the West Indies in 1989, and the manner in which he exercised his judgment and the way he countered fast balls suggested that India had found its next star batsman. Manjrekar’s pedigree (he is the son of the iconic Vijay Manjrekar) and his grooming in the famous Bombay school of cricket which gave the country the legendary Sunil Gavaskar, the stylish Sandeep Patil, the technically robust Dilip “Colonel” Vengsarkar, and later even Tendulkar, laid the perfect foundation. But Manjrekar was never truly in love with the idea of being a cricketer.
“I had no relationship with my father to speak of. The overpowering emotion that I felt towards him was fear," writes Manjrekar. While he nurtured the dream of playing for India, this ambition could be attributed to his father, who constantly reminded him of it, all through his growing years. It’s easy to believe that Manjrekar’s famous surname might have opened some door for him, but everything that the cricketer did was largely of his own doing. He knew the burden of his last name, the expectations of being a Bombay player and the impact that the two had on his subconscious. After reading Manjrekar’s story, there is no denying that this was a batsman cut out for much more than what he had when his batting career ended; he has four centuries in a career spanning just 37 tests, all four of them on foreign soil. People rarely ever spoke about (at least when he was playing or even after he retired in 1996) the trials or the demons that his generation battled with.
Manjrekar played at a time when the team was besieged with so many seniors that everyone was a potential captain, and no real investment was made in the younger generation. There was a period in the early 1990s when there were six former captains in the team, and this resulted in the senior players shifting the batting order, or choosing to field even after winning the toss because apparently no senior wanted to face the new ball on fast pitches. Manjerkar also confirms what many fans were suspected — the infamous cold war between the players from Bombay and the north zone — as well as the mental state of players who were forced to form camps up until the arrival of the Bangalore players (Anil Kumble, Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad), and later, both Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid. Manjrekar shares anecdotes about the night when Indian cricket underwent a sea change when it played Sri Lanka in the semi-final of the 1996 World Cup at Eden Gardens. The bits about Mohammad Azharuddin leaving things to unseen powers through the course of his career, and the part about Manoj Prabhakar, for whom no challenge was small (he could open the bowling and become a forced batting opener on account of the "seniors’" decision to not face the shiny red ball) shed invaluable light on the period.
Imperfect may be as close as one could possibly come to a truly insightful book on cricket in India. No player is ever going to risk writing a bare-all book if he or she aspires to do anything remotely connected with cricket after hanging-up their boots, thanks to the BCCI’s near-chokehold on the game in India. You lose the chance to be a commentator, a coach, or even have your own training academy, as your children will be pariahs during selection time; any person with half a working brain wouldn’t dare to swim against the current. What is worse is that in this day and age, even the media may not be interested beyond a point, as even news organisations could probably incur the BCCI’s wrath if it came down to this. How no one has approached the Competition Commission yet to question the body’s near-monopolistic hold on the sport remains a mystery! The apathy of office bearers towards the game and talent may have reduced to some extent, but some trials remain the same, and Imperfect brings many of them to the fore. Take a bow Sanjay Manjrekar, for this poignant book. If only you had batted the way you wrote!
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Updated Date: Jan 16, 2018 17:37:16 IST