There has been a long list of Indian batsman down the years, who have been adjudged by their country as being the next Sunil Gavaskar or Sachin Tendulker, depending on the era the player in question first rose to prominence. But all too often, this potential and early promise is unrealised. Talented, former Indian Test match and one-day international batsman Sanjay Manjrekar falls into this category.
This is the story of an idyllic player, who pursued technical perfection, but could only deliver glimpses of the talent which he undoubtedly inherited. Stuart Appleby caught up with the right-handed stroke-maker whilst he was on commentary duty for Sky Sports during India’s 2011 tour of England.
Brought up in Mangalore, Mysore, situated between the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghat mountain ranges, Manjrekar was born into good cricketing company. His father Vijay Manjrekar (55 matches, 3,208 runs at 39.12) and great-uncle Dattaram Hindlekar (7 matches, 71 runs at 14.20) both donned the whites for India in Test cricket and Manjrekar Jr admitted this upbringing influenced his future career.
“I came from a family with a cricketing culture and history of Indian Test cricketers. There was always lots of cricket stars who would visit my family and as a young boy growing up I saw all the stars of Indian cricket come into my place,” the 46-year-old said.
“There was a great fanfare around them so it was easy to get influenced as a youngster. I knew what I wanted to be and I wanted to be like them wearing those whites, spiked shoes and all the gear that comes with it. Very quickly in my life I decided that I wanted to be a Test match cricketer.”
Having began his first-class career with Mumbai in 1984, when recalling his early cricketing memories, Manjrekar points to his boyhood hero as being the inspiration.
“Sunil Gavaskar influenced my career more than anything,” Manjrekar declared. The legendary Indian batsman, compiled over 10,000 Test runs at an average of 51.12 from 125 matches.
“Role models are really important. In cricket now, we talk a lot about the structure, system and format of how the young talent come through the ranks. I think what works wonders for a younger player is when they have a role model they can look up to as they are trying to represent their nation. I’ve always idolised Gavaskar and I wanted to be half as good as him.”
Manjrekar’s fledgling career as a batsman in domestic cricket soon led to international recognition. He was selected to play for India against the West Indies in November 1987 at Delhi, but struggled on his debut making minimal contributions in both innings.
“It was a brilliant moment to make my debut,” Manjrekar said.
“I grew up in an era where Test match cricket meant everything and the status of the game meant a lot to us. When we used to play first-class cricket, we used to look at Test cricketers and think they were different from us.
“They were this very special class of people and an Indian Test cap meant a lot at that time. I remember getting that cap and wearing it for the first time. I typically looked in the mirror and said to myself finally I have it. Even if I’d only played one Test, it wouldn’t had mattered, as henceforth I would always be called a Test cricketer. I will never forget that moment.”
Having been positioned in the coveted number three batting slot, like any young batsman, it took Manjrekar time to adjust to the intensity of Test cricket. In April 1989, he managed to score his first century (108) for India at the Kensington Oval against the West Indies, which is widely regarded as his finest knock.
Facing a fearsome quartet of fast bowlers, Manjrekar played a masterful innings combining both technical competence with the ability to pierce the infield with precision, attributes his father, Vijay, was also blessed with. Though, unfortunately, Manjrekar Jr never had the opportunity to watch his father bat.
“That knock was my best. We played on a pitch in the West Indies that was quick but not quite as fast as it used to be. The pitches in Barbados (Kensington Oval) and Jamaica would zip through and it was a relentless assault on you from the West Indian bowlers. They had four quality paceman: Curtley Ambrose, Malcolm Marshall, Courtney Walsh and Ian Bishop. Constant concentration was required against them.
“They had a very similar attack to England’s against India in the Test series in 2011. It was relentless bowling of the highest order and this was very challenging. Normally an attack has one weak link and you can relax as a batsman but in that West Indies attack there wasn’t a weak link. It really tests you as a batsman,” Manjrekar admitted.
Of all Manjrekar’s 37 Test matches for India, India fans arguably remember him most for his success against eternal rivals Pakistan in 1989. He hit a mercurial 113 not out during the second innings in Karachi, scored two important half-centuries in the next Test at Faisalabad and notched a magnificent Test-best 218 at the Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore.
“The public loves it when you play well against Pakistan and the Indian fans always remember good performances against them. Those innings came on flat Pakistan pitches, and for that reason, my hundred against the West Indies gave me more satisfaction. It was nice to get a century against a very good opponent.”
At the time, few would have predicted it, but despite the hype surrounding Manjrekar’s capabilities he was to only score one more three-figure score for India – against Zimbabwe in 1992. Like so many Indian batsman who had been billed as the next great of the game, things did not go as the script writer had planned.
In an attempt to rediscover his form, and after poor series in Australia and South Africa, Manjrekar reinvented himself as an opening batsman but with little success. The Indian selectors patience soon wore thin and Manjrekar was cast aside to make way for the new generation of Indian talent.
Having scored four Test centuries in total, made 74 one-day international appearances for his country and notched up 31 first-class centuries at an average of 55.11, Manjrekar is rightly proud of his accomplishments, even if many suggest they were unfulfilled.
“I’m very proud of what I have achieved in my career and I’m very fortunate. As a batsman I was very classical, I was more defensive than attacking, methodical and I had lots of patience. I would try to play long innings and take a lot of time over them,” characteristics which many argued were similar to his father.”
Now, having moved into television as a cricket commentator and broadcaster, Manjrekar paid homage to Indian cricket fans and the support they have and will always give to the Indian cricket team.
“It’s fanatical. In India, there are no other sports that can compete so people just flock to the cricket. Unfortunately, no other sport catches the fantasy of Indian fans like cricket, so the sport is very privileged.
“Even when India are not playing well, the fans get very excited when they watch India play. They won’t get affected by a few lulls in the performance of the team in England as they love cricket unconditionally and won’t let it affect their following for the game.”
With thanks to Sanjay and Paul King, Executive Producer of Cricket for Sky Sports for letting Stuart spend the day with the commentary team.