Vijaysingh Madhavji Merchant
October 12, 1911, Bombay (now Mumbai), Maharashtra
October 27, 1987, Bombay (now Mumbai), Maharashtra, (aged 76y 15d)
Also Known As
real name Vijay Madhavji Thakersey
Right hand bat
Right arm medium
The supreme yardstick for batsmanship is the Bradman scale. West Indies' George Headley was `the black Bradman'. Every Australian prodigy since 1948 has been heralded as `the new Bradman'. Gavaskar has rewritten the Test record books, and yet is not considered in the same class. But if figures count, Vijay Merchant, with a first-class average of 71, is next in line to The Don, even though his Test average was only 47.72. On his home pitches he amassed thousands of runs, and on his two tours of England, 10 years apart, he showed batsmanship of rich class, making over 4000 runs on the two tours combined.
Merchant died after a heart attack in Bombay, his native city, on Oct 27, 1987. He was 76. Born into a wealthy family on Oct 12, 1911, Vijay Madhavji Merchant became an outstanding college cricketer, and scored twin centuries in a match when only 15. Reaching a height of only 5 ft 7 ins, he developed fine footwork, and built a stroke repertoire featuring a lovely cut, grasscutting drives, a delicate glance and late-cut, and, until later in his career, a brilliant hook stroke. He represented Hindus in the Bombay tournaments between 1929 and 1946, and Bombay in the Ranji Trophy from 1933 until his retirement in 1952. Among his 44 first-class centuries were 11 in excess of 200 (the nine in India all at Brabourne Stadium), one of which was built to 359 not out, a 10¾-hour innings against Maharashtra at Bombay in 1943-44. Here he added 371 with Modi for the sixth wicket and 210 for the eighth with R. S. Cooper. A year later he and Modi added 373 for the third wicket against Western India. In seven consecutive Ranji innings between 1938-39 and 1941-42 Merchant made six centuries, ushering in, it was said, an era of safety-first batting in India.
He had many of his innings filmed, and would study the results closely. Though uncoached in his early days, he was influenced by the stylish batting of L. P. Jai. Merchant might have made the 1932 tour of England had not Bombay prohibited his selection on political grounds. But he won a Test cap in the first home Test series in 1933-34, 54 at Calcutta being the highest of his six innings. In the earlier Bombay Presidency match against MCC he had had his chin split open by a lifter from Nichols, and had to retire for a time. It was felt that he played fast bowling better thereafter.
In 1936 he toured England and topped the batting with 1745 runs at 51.32. In the Manchester Test he (114) and Mushtaq Ali (112) put on 203 for the first wicket when India went in again 368 runs in arrears. On that second day, a record 588 runs were scored, 398 by England and 190 (without loss) by India. In the Lancashire match Merchant had made himself at home at Old Trafford by carrying his bat through both innings, for 135 and 77. Twice more he carried his bat, once against Warwickshire on the 1946 tour. His 1936 success had earned him selection as a Wisden Cricketer of the Year - and prompted C. B. Fry to exclaim: `Let us paint him white and take him with us to Australia as an opener.'
His reputation now quite awesome, he was the Nawab of Pataudi snr's vice-captain for the 1946 England tour, and during that wet summer, when he lost a stone in weight, he made 2385 runs, average 74, with seven centuries, those against Lancashire and Sussex being doubles. In the three Tests he scored 245 runs in five innings, the last, at The Oval, reaching 128 before Compton ran him out with a soccer kick.
Having missed the tours of Australia and by West Indies through poor health, Merchant played one more Test, the first against England in 1951-52, and recorded his third century and highest Test score, 154, at Delhi, putting on 211 for the third wicket with his arch-rival and captain Hazare. An injury to his shoulder, sustained in diving in the field, caused his retirement. He had, just turned 40.
In his 10 Tests, all against England, spread over 18 years, he made 859 runs, and in 47 Ranji Trophy innings he reached 100 on 16 occasions, totalling 3639 runs at the astounding average of 98.75. In all first-class cricket he made over 13,000 runs at 71, and took 65 wickets (31.87) with medium-pace offspin. Later, he became an administrator and writer and broadcaster, and as a Test selector he was responsible for replacing Pataudi jnr with Wadekar as captain of India. A charming, modest man, Vijay Merchant was revered to the end, not least by those who were aware of his social work among the handicapped.
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