Always on a sticky wicket

Sanjay Manjrekar captures his ‘imperfect’ career and life in a perfectly crafted candid memoir

In the fields of creativity, careers that fail to reach the heights promised have a fascinating narrative of their own. The story of Sanjay Manjrekar is a great example. Cricket fans of a certain vintage would remember this Mumbai batsman who burst into the scene before Sachin Tendulkar. Imperfect, Manjrekar’s memoir, perfectly captures a career that started with a bang but didn’t quite live up to its early promise. Manjrekar captures that gnawing sense of disappointment, and how he came to terms with it, quite beautifully in this slim book.

Sanjay’s father was the illustrious cricketer Vijay Manjrekar who Tiger Pataudi and Erapalli Prasanna, among others, considered the best batsmen they had seen. Vijay was a constant fixture in the Indian test team of the late 1950s and 1960s, scoring close to 4,000 runs at an average of around 40 in over 50 tests.

But he also was a difficult man who couldn’t quite come to grips with his humdrum life after retirement. But Sanjay’s difficult relationship with his father, thanks to the senior Manjrekar’s fiery temper and volatile personality, were not without its tender moments. His father’s volatile personality left a scar on Sanjay and his sisters and which makes him wonder whether that reflected in his over cautious batting style. But the senior Manjrekar also gave his son some sage advice: “Treat cricket as a game, not as your life”.

Sanjay talks about his deep respect and affection for his mother, especially her sense of duty towards her family especially during the time when she resumed her career as a typist (a job very kindly offered by criketer Vijay Merchant) to make ends meet after Vijay Manjrekar retired.

A brief flicker

The book is peppered with interesting anecdotes — about how Sanjay used to look forward to his father’s matches at the famous Shivaji Park, not to watch him play but to get treated by the other cricketers for snacks and cold drinks. Sanjay also talks about how Sunil Gavaskar got him a Gray-Nicolls bat from England and the awe that evoked among his friends.

There is, of course, that customary paean to the controversial Mumbai school of batting — the khadoos style (dour, dogged) — where batting long hours and accumulating runs are seen as the pinnacle of batting prowess. But the much derided khadoos style was also quite egalitarian in its spirit. After a successful stint at the junior and Ranji levels, Sanjay’s debut for India against the then mighty West Indies during 1987-88 series was a forgettable one. But it wasn’t an easy time for a youngster to be making his debut for India as the Indian dressing room then was riven with insecurities and petty jealousies among senior players and was also divided into north vs west camps.

Sanjay really came into his own when he scored that brilliant hundred against the West Indies at Barbados during the tour of 1989. Though India lost miserably in that series Sanjay’s batting was one of the highlights and he was seen as genuine long-term prospect for India — ‘Das saal ka ghoda’ as Ravi Shastri called him.

His career soared during the tour to Pakistan in 1989, a tour that took place under the shadow of pay dispute between the players and the BCCI. This was also a tour which India was expected to lose but much to everyone’s surprise came out with a creditable draw. Sanjay scored an incredible 569 runs in a four-test series at an average of 95 with a double century and a century thrown.

Sanjay’s talks about his deep and abiding respect for Imran Khan, as a player and a captain, and wonders whether his career would have panned out differently if he had a captain like Imran.

Sadly Sanjay’s career never would never touch that peak like it did during that Pakistan tour. It was in the 1991-92 tour to Australia, which was followed by the World Cup, being held for the first time in Australia-New Zealand, that things began to unravel. Sanjay, a good player of pace and bounce, was to have been one of the batting stars in this series but ended having a dismal one despite spending considerable time at the crease. Incredibly, he scored more than 25 five times in that series without once touching 50.

He also rues the number of times he got run-out in that series and curses himself for not taking his fitness seriously. It was after that series that the demons started playing in Sanjay’s mind. The section on the 1996 World Cup has some interesting anecdotes especially after that thrilling win against Pakistan in the quarter finals and that disastrous night at Eden Gardens when India lost to Sri Lanka in the semi-finals.

Odd ball

The chapter titled ‘Struggles’ is the most interesting and also the most poignant one of the book. Sanjay talks about his obsession with technique and how looking good at the crease became his undoing. The obsessive analyst in him wreaked havoc on his cricket — he would seal one leak in the boat only for another one to crop up. Tragically, the short ball, which he was so adept at playing early in his career, had now become his nemesis. Would a more professional, modern-day coach put Sanjay’s career back on the track?

The last five years of Sanjay’s career became a torture, to the extent that he felt relieved when he retired. About his post-retirement career as a successful TV commentator and analyst, Sanjay says he treats it just like a day-job he happens to enjoy adding ironically that had he obsessed about it the way he did with his cricket he would have self-destructed a long time ago.

The book has some interesting vignettes on Azhar, Sidhu, Imran Khan, Sachin Tendulkar, Ajay Jadeja, Manoj Prabhakar and others but the cricket fan in you leaves you thirsting for more. Sanjay gives a glimpse of the dressing room squabbles, especially in the chapter on the 1996 World Cup, but sadly not enough to whet your appetite. But despite this quibble what stands out in the book is Sanjay’s honesty and candour in dissecting his struggle and turmoil. Now that’s a rare quality in a celebrity.

Published on March 04, 2018

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