July 31, 2014

Remembering Ashok Mankad, a domestic giant

The late "Kaka" was a terrific batsman, a shrewd captain, and a wonderful raconteur. But most of all he was a genuine friend

Ashok Mankad played a major role in Bombay's many successive triumphs in the Ranji Trophy © Shailesh Mule

Ashok Mankad died in his sleep six years ago. He was barely 60. Among the greatest batsmen in the Ranji Trophy, with an average of 75 or thereabouts, he was - with Parthasarathy Sharma and Brijesh Patel, both of whom he led as captain of Mafatlal Sports Club - one of a triumvirate of batsmen who dominated domestic cricket but did not quite make the same impact internationally.

He was in my view one of the better captains Indian domestic cricket has seen, not far behind the likes of ML Jaisimha or Hanumant Singh. Unlike the shrewd, cerebral and charismatic Jai, and the contemplative, precision-obsessed Hanumant, Mankad led more by example and skilful man-management, an inspiration to his boys - though tending towards the safety-first strategies so common in Bombay cricket of his time.

Kaka's batting exploits in the Ranji Trophy were legion. He played a major role in Bombay's many successive triumphs in the national championship. He also marshalled his team's resources expertly to lead them to the title in the absence of their Test stars, after his own Test career had come to an end. On one of those occasions, with Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar and Karsan Ghavri away, he led a young Bombay side to victory.

That was a match we lost after gaining a first-innings lead of 59 runs, and Kaka was the star of the counter-offensive that engineered Hyderabad's eventual capitulation. I bowled well in the first innings and to my pleasant surprise Kaka walked into our dressing room and congratulated me. It was the beginning of a life-long friendship, though we had few opportunities to meet socially.

Kaka, who scored 69 in the first innings, decided to hit me out of the attack in the second, and my own brilliant captain Jaisimha, for once out-thought on a cricket field, obliged by taking me and the other spinner, Mumtaz Hussain, off. Medium pace and defensive fields could not check Kaka, who went on a veritable rampage that afternoon. His unbeaten 136 and clever handling of the spinners Padmakar Shivalkar and Rakesh Tandon on a fourth-day wicket ensured a thrilling victory for Bombay.

Kaka was great company in the dressing room as I discovered during a conditioning camp that ran for nearly three weeks. He had a fund of stories, real and made up, about cricketers, umpires and others connected with the game. He opened most of his stories with a lengthy preamble and built up the suspense gradually before reaching an invariably uproarious climax. I hugely enjoyed his stories and truly believed that he had no equal as a raconteur in Indian cricket.

A Mankad tale that brought the roof down involved Padmanabh "Nana" Joshi, the former India wicketkeeper. Nana Joshi was, according to Kaka, in the habit of introducing himself with a flourish, as "I'm Nana of Poona." Kaka told us the story of a friendly match he played in Poona against the redoubtable leadership of Joshi.

Mankad opened most of his stories with a lengthy preamble and built up the suspense gradually before reaching an invariably uproarious climax

Mankad opened the innings after a lunch that had included a large number of shandies - a cocktail of beer and lemonade. Nana, leading the side from behind the stumps, was full of enthusiasm in the hot sun, but Mankad was so far gone that he was seeing not just two cricket balls but two bowlers altogether. He turned round and saw four slips and a gully eagerly eyeing the outer edge of his bat. Hurriedly looking the other way, he spotted forward short leg breathing down his neck. The bowler, with a reputation for genuine pace and a short temper, was a distant speck halfway to the straight boundary.

Alarmed at this prospect of physical danger, Kaka turned to the wicketkeeper-captain and said to him in his most pleading voice: "Yeh kya ho raha hai, bhai? [What is happening here, brother?] This is only a friendly match, and after all those beers, you don't want to kill me on the field, do you?"

Joshi was unmoved. He summoned his best professional manner and said sternly: "Ashok, you do the batting, and I'll do the captaincy. After all, you are a Test batsman. Don't tell me you are scared."

Ashok had no choice but to steel his nerves and try to get out at the earliest to escape injury. He closed his eyes and flashed at the first delivery. It went screaming past gully for four. Nana, who had an impressive talent for whistling, whistled at the gully fielder and, waving his arms furiously, regally dispatched him to deep third man.

Kaka said to himself: That was lucky; now let me try harder to get out this time. Another express delivery, and Kaka followed the same routine. Close eyes. Say a prayer. Slash hard. This time the ball went like a bullet to the point boundary. Nana whistled again, and, waving his arms in a slightly different direction, banished fourth slip to the point boundary.

The next ball was a vicious bouncer and Mankad's flailing bat sent the ball over fine leg off a top edge for six. Predictably, Nana's whistle-wave-arms routine followed as surely as a later-generation Hawk-Eye follows the ball.

By now the paceman was livid with rage. He sent down a vicious toe-crusher, and by the sheer power of self-preservative instincts, Mankad dug it out to send it past midwicket for four.

This time around, there was a slight change in the sequence of events. In trying to deport second slip to midwicket, Nana Joshi got the whistling perfectly right but the arm-waving, for the fourth successive time, obviously proved a bit of a challenge. "Cramp! Cramp!" he shouted, and turning towards the pavilion, screamed, "Paani, paani! Jaldi paani aur Electral lao." ["Water, water! Bring me water and an electrolyte supplement quickly"]

Ashok Mankad was more than an entertainer. He was a genuine friend. In my brief career, I found in him and Anshuman Gaekwad two Test players who took the trouble to be kind to those who did not quite make it to that level.

V Ramnarayan is an author, translator and teacher. He bowled offspin for Hyderabad and South Zone in the 1970s

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Prasanth on August 2, 2014, 16:09 GMT

    I still remember his 40-plus against Australia in the 1977-78 series. I used to get up early in the morning to listen to radio commentary. He played Jeff Thomson very cautiously in that innings and played some lovely shots as well. Unfortunately he never played for India after that series.

  • Waseem on August 2, 2014, 8:21 GMT

    Ashok Mankad is exactly the type of cricketer Mumbai misses now. Someone who can guide and mentor the youngsters. A typical tough Mumbai cricketer.

  • Dummy4 on August 1, 2014, 16:27 GMT

    good nostalgic read. RIP Ashok and may we be blessed with many more cricketers of your caliber and heart. Mumbai misses you

  • Dummy4 on August 1, 2014, 13:41 GMT

    Quite nostalgic to read about AV M. Ram, would also appreciate if you could provide some articles on other non Indian players like V Sivaramakrishan, Abdul Jabbar, Sudhakhar Rao, Michael Dalvi, Rajinder Goel, Rajinder Hans, Venkat Sundaram, Gopal Bose, Pandurang Salgaocar to name a few

  • Bis on August 1, 2014, 12:52 GMT

    My favourite Indian cricketer of the seventies. He never got a fair chance - he would be picked for a test or two and then dropped, irrespective of whether he failed or succeeded! For example, he made 42 in the last test at the Oval in 1974 - then he was dropped for the following series against Windies in 1974-5, picked for one test, he failed and was promptly dropped. Or when he made 50 against NZ in 1976, then made runs in a warmup game against England, was dropped for the series until the fourth test where he failed (along with everyone else) and then dropped again for the fifth test at his home ground in Bombay! Or when he went to Australia in 1977, made some runs (38 and 42) in one test, made the most number of first class runs on the tour and was never picked again! I never saw him play, I only heard radio commentary and read about him, but he always struck me as a classical player. The late CMJ had some nice things to say about him in his book on the 1976 MCC tour of India.

  • Rajan on July 31, 2014, 22:01 GMT

    Ashok Mankad was a popular and successful cricketer, and a great captain. He was one who overcame the usually insurmountable handicap of being a great father's son by proving himself in the same field in which his father had excelled, a sure tribute not only to his talent, but his courage and persistence. RIP, Ashok Mankad.

  • Steve on July 31, 2014, 20:43 GMT

    Ashok Mankad played most of his test matches outside Ind against fast (Aus) and swing (Eng). Except for Gavaskar and Visvanath, not many top order Indian bats had a great record around that time. He certainly would have a better record had he played more at home. But then, there was too much competition for spots for ' home tests'. Brijesh Patel, P Sharma (mentioned in this article) along with few others made it tough for Mankad to get in.

  • Nitin on July 31, 2014, 18:07 GMT

    A nice narration about Late Ashok Mankad who is role model for the new generation of bashing and dashing cricketers !!. may your soul RIP, Mr. Mankad.

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