Vinoo beyond the Mankad
It seemed appropriate to briefly wait for the furore regarding Sachithra Senanayake's run-out of Jos Buttler to die down, but there is an important issue that needs addressing. It is not a change to the laws, be they legal or the spirit of, but instead an examination of the word "Mankad".
The topic for this article is the person, not the action. Some players are forever remembered for a single feat which was not purely performance-based: Trevor Chappell's* career would probably be a mere asterisk appended to those of his two older siblings if not for the underarm incident. Similarly, Vinoo Mankad sadly now seems to only be recalled negatively for the running out of Australian batsman Bill Brown - an action that has seen his name unfortunately appropriated to describe an entirely legitimate but for some undetermined reason viewed as underhand method of dismissal.
The fact that outside India Mankad is largely only remembered for this one action is very unfair as he was an excellent cricketer with genuine claims to being considered India's greatest allrounder. With India currently in England to contest a five-Test series, it seems only proper to remember one of the key figures in the team's inaugural Test win over England, and to try to redress the perceived dishonour that has been unfairly attached to his name.
Mulvantrai Himmatlal Mankad, better known as Vinoo, was born on April 12, 1917 in Jamnagar in India. The timing and location of his birth are somewhat auspicious. Legendary batsman Ranji had assumed the role of Jam Sahib of Nawanagar (Jamnagar) in 1907. Vinoo, as with many great cricketers, was identified early and made his first-class debut for Western India against a touring Australian side in November 1935 at 18. His career did not get off to a spectacular start: he fell to medium-pacer Ron Oxenham in both innings for just 8 and 4 and was not required to bowl. At this point Vinoo was predominantly seen as a right-hand top-order batsman who bowled some occasional left-arm spin. It was reported that he bowled legspin in his teenage years, before Bert Wensley, an English fast-bowling allrounder who played and coached Nawanagar after moving there from Sussex, convinced him that a move to left-arm orthodox would be advisable.
His batting skills were clear to see in the final of the 1936-37 Ranji Trophy, where he made 185 and Nawanagar won the tournament. Vinoo did not have the chance to play an official Test until after the Second World War, but he was selected for a number of matches against a touring English outfit led by Lord Tennyson in the 1937-38 season and played some fine all-round performances, including a match double of 62 and 67 not out with the bat and 4 for 53 and 2 for 56 with the ball, and in another game top-scoring with 113 before taking 3 for 18 and 3 for 55.
The chance to make his Test debut did not arise until India toured England in 1946. A reliable opening batsman, Vinoo was described as having a quick bowling action, only taking a few steps before delivering slightly round-arm orthodox spin. He had developed considerable control over flight and a deceptive change in speed.
The first Test of the 1946 tour went largely according to script, with England romping home at Lord's by ten wickets. Vinoo opened he batting either side of 2 for 107 off a mammoth 48 overs, scoring 14 and 63. His extended spells of bowling would be an ongoing issue throughout his career when considering his other vital role of opening the batting. The Indian management tried to meet the demands of this dual workload in the second Test, at Old Trafford, by dropping him down the order after he bowled 46 overs and took 5 for 101. He was dismissed for 0 and 5, but India ultimately managed a draw. Vinoo's performances led to him being recognised as one of Wisden's Cricketers of the Year for 1947.
It was during India's first Test tour of Australia, in 1947-48, that Vinoo's name became explicitly linked to the action of running out the backing-up batsman before delivering the ball. It's often forgotten now that the first instance of Bill Brown being run out at the bowler's end by Vinoo actually occurred in an Australian XI match before the Tests. Brown was warned by Vinoo a number of times for his habit of backing up too far, and eventually ran him out in the second innings. The Australian XI, who were 0 for 60 at that point, were bowled out for 203, thus giving the Indian team a morale-boosting win by 47 runs just a few weeks before the first Test.
Vinoo had resumed his place at the top of the order, but India were comprehensively thrashed by an innings and 226 runs in the first Test. The second Test was drawn, with rain again ruining the contest. However, this match is now best remembered for Vinoo running out Brown at the bowler's end for a second time in a month. It is fascinating to read the media's condemnation of Vinoo's actions, and to contrast them with the reactions of Australian cricketers, who were generally supportive of Vinoo. Australian captain Don Bradman in particular was very forthright in his views that Vinoo had done nothing wrong, and that in fact batsmen needed to be more careful about not inadvertently leaving their crease early.
The outcry clearly did not affect Vinoo, as he rebounded to score his first Test century in the third Test. His 116 was the backbone of India's 291, but unfortunately it was not enough as Australia's batsmen made merry and the home team won by 233 runs.
Vinoo was by now one of the first players on India's team sheet. He played in their next ten Test matches, all at home, against West Indies and then England. The highlight of these was the fifth Test against England in Madras in February 1952, when India beat the MCC for the first time, by an innings and eight runs. Vinoo was the star performer taking 12 wickets for the match and 8 for 55 in England's first innings.
However he fell out of favour with the BCCI when he chose to take up a contract with English club side Haslingden and play for them professionally later in 1952. He was informed that not only was he not required for the tour of England that season, but that a selector had noted that there were dozens of other players of equal skill in India anyway.
Unfortunately for the touring Indian team, they suffered a number of injuries before the first Test, and the captain. Vijay Hazare, and team manager Pankaj Gupta sent an urgent cable to the BCCI requesting permission to include Vinoo, who was in excellent form for Haslingden, in the side for the first Test. Haslingden refused to release Vinoo for the first Test, which India lost comprehensively. However, the club was subjected to considerable pressure to reconsider their position, and Vinoo was subsequently selected to play in the second Test.
England won by eight wickets. However, Vinoo top-scored in India's first innings with 72 - an innings described by opponent Alec Bedser as a "spirited onslaught". He then bowled an astonishing 73 overs in taking 5 for 196, and opened the batting once again and scored a stupendous 184 that led to congratulations from the Queen, who was in attendance. Set just 77 to win, England were forced to struggle for every run. Vinoo opened the bowling and sent down another 24 oversas the home team moved at a glacial pace to reach their target in the 50th over.
Vinoo broke the record of Australia's Monty Noble in becoming the quickest allrounder to reach the double of 1000 runs and 100 wickets in just 23 Tests. He continued to be the one of the key figures in the Indian team, and during four Tests against New Zealand in 1955-56 he scored 526 runs at 105.20, with two double-centuries (sharing in a record 413-run opening stand with Pankaj Roy in Madras), and took 12 wickets at 27.41.
Neil Harvey described him as "one of the best allrounders… in the post-war period"; Alec Bedser noted that Vinoo saved his best performances against the strongest opposition; Jim Laker described him as the finest slow left-arm bowler in the world; and Australian allrounder Ken Mackay commented that Vinoo "deserved a more noble memory" than that of being immortalised through the term "Mankading".
*I have very fond memories of Trevor Chappell making a quite magnificent 130-odd in partnership with Dirk Wellham for New South Wales against Queensland in the 1982-83 season. I was convinced that he could have become a successful Test batsman in his own right, but it just never quite worked out for him.
Stuart Wark works at the University of New England as a research fellow