The world record was notched up 44 years today. And it remains Indian cricket's proudest statistical achievement. Yes, Sunil Gavaskar's 34 Test centuries is still a world record and so is Kapil Dev's Test tally of 434 wickets. And both are no mean feats. But on sheer longevity - over 1000 Test matches have been played since then - as also the fact that it has been beyond the reach of the some of the most famous opening partners in the game's history - the 413-run first wicket stand between Vinoo Mankad and Pankaj Roy, put together at the Corporation (Nehru stadium) in Madras against New Zealand on January 6 and 7, 1956 still remains the record to beat.
It was the final Test of the five match series and India had already a 1-0 lead by their innings victory in the second Test at Bombay. A notable feature of the four matches had been the mastery of the Indian batting over the New Zealand bowling. Scores of 498 for 4 declared, 421 for 8 declared, 531 for 7 declared and 438 for 7 declared clearly showed that the visitors' bowling held no terrors for the Indian batsmen. Polly Umrigar and Vinoo Mankad had scored double hundreds while Vijay Manjrekar (118 and 177 not out), AG Kripal Singh (100 not out on debut), GS Ramchand (106 not out) and Pankaj Roy (100) all crossed the three digit mark. So when Polly Umrigar won the toss on a featherbed of a wicket (it was the first Test to be played at the Nehru stadium) it was taken for granted that India would run up another big total and there would possibly be a couple of hundreds more.
None however could have bargained for what actually happened. For a start, Mankad and Roy batted throughout the opening day, becoming the first Indian pair - and only the third in 420 matches since 1877 - to bat throughout a day's play in a Test. It was a tremendous feat given the fact that while being established players, the two were not exactly the regular Indian opening pair. Roy and Mankad had first opened for India against England at Calcutta in 1951-52 and were an instant success with partnerships of 72 and 103*. In the next Test at Kanpur they shared partnerships of 39 and 7. They next opened in England in 1952 and had wretched luck. They started with an opening stand of 106 at Lord's, but in the remaining Tests their association was limited to 7, 4, 7 and 0. Back home they opened in the first Test against Pakistan at New Delhi and had a partnership of 19. Then with the selectors trying out new opening batsmen in Madhav Apte, DK Gaekwad and PH Punjabi, Mankad and Roy never got another chance at opening the innings till the first Test of the series against New Zealand. The partnership was restricted to one run and further new opening batsmen were tried in Vijay Mehra and Nari Contractor. For the final Test, Contractor was dropped down the order and the Mankad-Roy pairing was back. But as can be seen, their association so far had neither been a failure nor a success.
Given this background, coming through unbeaten through a day's play was a commendable feat, even after accounting for the amiable nature of the bowling and the benign wicket. By close, India were 234 without loss, with Roy on 114 and Mankad on 109. Roy was the first to get to his 100 in 262 minutes with six fours. Shortly before close, Mankad got to his century in 287 minutes with nine fours. They had already surpassed the famous 203-run opening stand set up by Vijay Merchant and Mushtaq Ali against England at Manchester in 1936.
On the next day, the two batsmen continued in much the same vein making runs comfortably against the six man attack of Hayes, MacGibbon, Cave, Reid, Moir and Poore. Soon the runs were being ticked off with almost monotonous regularity. And one by one the landmarks were passed. First, Mankad's 150, then the 300 of the partnership, then Roy's 150 until finally shortly after lunch, the `big one' was passed - 359 by Len Hutton and Cyril Washbrook for England against South Africa at Johannesburg in 1948-49, the highest first wicket partnership in Test cricket.
Now it was only a question of how long the run feast would continue. Mankad crossed his 200 for the second time in the series, joining the ranks of Don Bradman and Wally Hammond as the others who had scored two double hundreds in the same series. Midway through the afternoon, the 400 came up. By now the runs were being scored with greater urgency and one sensed that Umrigar wanted an early declaration. At 413, Roy, while trying to boost the scoring rate, was bowled by Poore for 173 and it seemed like something contrary to nature had happened. Indeed, there seemed no reason to believe that the two could not carry on batting throughout a second successive day. The partnership lasted 472 minutes and remained the highest first wicket partnership in Indian first class cricket till 1977-78 when Roger Binny and Sanjay Desai put on 451 runs in the South Zone Ranji Trophy match against Kerala at Chikmagalur.
Mankad went on to get 231, the highest score by an Indian in Tests, a record that stayed till Sunil Gavaskar made 236 not out against West Indies in 1983-84, also at Madras but at Chepauk. The Indians finished with 537 for three, their highest ever total in Test cricket and went on to win the match by an innings and 109 runs. But everything was overshadowed by the marathon opening partnership. The stand's greatness is best exemplified by the fact that though two opening pairs in 1965 and 1972 have threatened to surpass it, it has stood the test of time. In the first instance, Bobby Simpson and Bill Lawry put on 382 runs for Australia against West Indies at Bridgetown and seven years later, Glenn Turner and Terry Jarvis were associated in a stand of 387 for New Zealand against West Indies at Georgetown. But the record still stands in the name of Mankad, who passed away in 1978 and Roy, now 71. As the survivor, the former Indian captain will no doubt remember this day in his Calcutta home with pride and a glint in his eye.