Poor Vinoo Mankad. Not only is his real first name – Mulvantrai Himmatlal – never remembered, but his surname is forever attached to the most controversial and least skilful way a bowler can dismiss a batsman.
It was only twice that Mankad ran out a non-striker when backing up too far: it was not as if he made a habit of it. And it was the same batsman on both occasions, on India’s 1947-8 tour: Australia’s opening batsman Bill Brown, who admitted that on one of those occasions he was entirely at fault.
Mankad was so much more: he was the best left-arm spinner in the world in his time, and the best spinning all-rounder, and his performance in the Lord’s Test of 1952 between England and India has never been surpassed for stamina. He scored 72 in India’s first innings, bowled 73 overs and took five wickets in England’s first innings, then scored 184 in India’s second.
Mankad was such a brilliant all-rounder that he became one of the highest paid cricketers in the world in the early Fifties, when representing Haslingden in the Lancashire league, fetching a four-figure sum that, according to his biography, grew to £1,200 for one season – with bonuses on top.
He had one great advantage, and one great disadvantage. The advantage was that he was born in Jamnagar, which was the de facto capital of cricket in the Princely States of India under the Raj. Kumar Shri Ranjitsinhji was the Jam Sahib of the state of Nawanagar, where Jamnagar was the capital; Ranji’s nephew was Kumar Shri Duleepsinhji; and both played for England and Sussex. When growing up in Jamnagar in the Thirties, Mankad was coached by the Sussex pro Bert Wensley, who changed Mankad from being a left-arm wrist-spinner into an orthodox slow left-armer.
Mankad’s disadvantage was that he lost some of his best years to the Second World War. He did not make his Test debut until 1946, on India’s tour of England, when he was 29 – and he was not bad then, doing the double of a thousand runs and a hundred wickets in the first-class season, the first touring player to do it after Learie Constantine of West Indies in 1928, and never repeated since.
Before the war, when only 20, he had revealed himself as a star all-rounder, when Lord Tennyson’s team toured India in 1937-8 and played five “Tests” against India – but there were not given full Test status because so many England players declined to tour after contesting the Ashes in Australia the previous winter. Mankad was not only scoring an unbeaten century at number three in the “Tests” but India’s leading spinner.
Once Mankad started playing official Test cricket, he took to it so easily that he recorded the Test double of a thousand runs and a hundred wickets in only 23 Tests. It took a player so gifted as Ian Botham to surpass that.
The indefatigability let alone skill of Mankad as an all-rounder was outstanding. Full-time spinners have seldom opened a Test innings but Mankad did, and made the highest individual score for India of 231 in the course of the world record highest opening stand, 413 with Pankaj Roy in 1955-6 (both of their sons went on to represent India as batsmen). It was only against New Zealand, the weakest Test team, but the heat and humidity of Madras were real enough – and Mankad’s record innings was not beaten until Sunil Gavaskar scored 236.
As a batsman he was dashing enough to move straight from Haslingden’s league team to hit an England spinner for six over the sightscreen in the Lord’s Test of 1952. As a left-arm spinner, the Bangladeshi Shakib ul-Hasan has perhaps come closest in method. A lot of Test cricketers were Mankaded one way or another, not only those who backed up too far.