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February 4, 2001
Their names do not roll off the tongue together in the same manner as Hobbs and Sutcliffe, Hutton and Washbrook, Lawry and Simpson and Greenidge and Haynes. But Vinoo Mankad and Pankaj Roy achieved something that eluded even these legendary opening pairs. Last month - January 7 to be precise - was the 45th anniversary of their partnership of 413 runs for the first wicket, still the Test record. It remains Indian cricket's proudest statistical achievement. Now, with the death of Pankaj Roy, the two record makers are no longer with us - Mankad passed away in August 1978 - and this could be an apt time to recall, by way of tribute, the background to that feat and how it came about.
Roy of course was a natural opening batsman and had served Indian cricket in that capacity from his opening Test against England at New Delhi in November 1951. Mankad on the other hand had alternated between opening the innings and going in the middle order. The two opened for the first time against England during the same series in the third Test at Calcutta. With opening stands of 72 and 103 (unbroken) their impact was immediate and they seemed to have solved India's quest for a successful opening pair.
Mankad and Roy opened in the next Test and were less successful with partnerships of 39 and 7. The next time they opened together was against England in 1952. But after a partnership of 106 at Lord's, they fell away with successive stands of 7, 4, 7 and 0. They opened again in the first Test against Pakistan at New Delhi in 1952-53 but the partnership was restricted to 19.
Madhav Apte briefly replaced Mankad as Roy's opening partner in the West Indies in 1953. And in Pakistan in 1955, it was the turn of PH Punjabi to partner Roy in the five Tests. It did seem that the Mankad- Roy pairing which promised so much initially was to be seen no more. But the premature discarding of Apte and the failure of Punjabi brought the two together again in the first Test against New Zealand at Hyderabad. With Roy departing for zero, the stand was restricted to just one run.
Three other opening pairs (Mankad and Vijay Mehra, Nari Contractor and Mehra, Mankad and Contractor) were tried out in the next three Tests. For the final Test at the Corporation (later Nehru) stadium in Madras, Mankad and Roy were back again. And on a pleasant morning on January 6, with the pitch ideal for batting, the two walked out to open the innings after Polly Umrigar had won the toss.
The New Zealand bowling had held no terrors for the Indians who had in successive Tests, knocked up scores of 498 for four declared, 421 for eight declared, 531 for seven declared and 438 for seven declared. John Hayes and Tony MacGibbon opened the bowling but Mankad and Roy, sizing up the bowling and the pitch, made runs comfortably. In support, New Zealand had the medium pacers of skipper Harry Cave, the off spin of John Reid and Matt Poore and the leg spin of AM Moir.
With conditions heavily loaded in their favour, Mankad and Roy brought up their 100 and then the 200. But as SK Gurunathan reported in Indian Cricket almanac, "it was by no means the best knock played either by Mankad or by Roy. Both were hesitant in making their strokes but there was no lack of concentration and determination to stay at the wicket as long as possible. Mankad now and again played his rousing pull shot and the drive to the off but he rarely brought off his dazzling cuts."
Roy won the race to the hundred. He had batted 262 minutes and had hit only six fours. Shortly afterwards the Indian record for the first wicket - the famous 203 run stand between Vijay Merchant and Mushtaq Ali at Manchester in 1936 - was passed. Shortly before close, Mankad reached his hundred in 287 minutes with nine fours. At close, India were 234 for no loss with Roy on 114 and Mankad on 109. The two were the third pair of batsmen - and the first for India - to bat throughout a complete day's play in a Test match.
The next day, the two continued from where they had left off. Mankad overtook Roy and stayed ahead. They were still together at lunch with the score now past 300 and now the sights were on 359 - the record for all Test cricket by Hutton and Washbrook against South Africa at Johannesburg in 1948-49. This too was passed and then came up the 400 which was followed by Mankad's double hundred - his second of the series.
Hereabouts, so the story goes, Mankad and Roy received instructions from the pavilion to get on with it. Taking this as a hint that Umrigar wanted to make an early declaration, Roy tried to force the pace and was bowled by Poore for 173. The partnership which had realised 413 runs in 472 minutes was finally over. For the record, Mankad went on to get an Indian Test record score of 231, India went on to make a record total of 537 for three declared on their way to victory by an innings and 109 runs.
Since then two pairs of opening batsmen have come very close to surpassing the figure of 413. At Bridgetown in 1965, Simpson and Lawry put on 382 runs for Australia against West Indies. Six years later at Georgetown, New Zealanders Glenn Turner and Terry Jarvis put together a partnership of 387 runs against West Indies. But after 45 years, 413 still remains the mark to beat for opening pairs in Test cricket.
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