Friday, January 12, 2018

“Imperfect” but important – Reflections on Sanjay Manjrekar’s autobiography

March 1, 1992.  Brisbane.  India versus Australia.  1992 World Cup.  Ardent Indian cricket fans from that era will never forget this game.  Due to the ill-conceived rain rule, India had three overs knocked off their chase for a reduction of only two runs from the target.  India had their back to the wall when Sanjay Manjrekar walked in at the fall of Kapil Dev’s wicket.  What followed was scarcely believable, even for his admirers, yours truly included.  Manjrekar looked like a man on a mission – he had this quiet intensity that I loved.  He toyed with the bowlers, especially big Merv Hughes, playing with a kind of controlled aggression that he displayed consistently between 1990 and 1992.  This 47 off 42 balls is arguably one of the great innings of his stop-start 74 ODI career. (He played 37 Tests.)  Neither his innings nor this match had a happy ending.  He was runout by a howitzer throw from Craig McDermott.  And India lost the game by one run. 

The context of this innings was in line with his career – he was rarely a part of a settled winning unit.  There was no doubt of his talent.  But owing to a failure to work out pragmatic, sustained solutions to his issues and an unwillingness to rise above or work around a myopic, uninspiring management, Manjrekar’s career was a case of ‘what could have been.’  But that is what makes his autobiography, quite aptly titled Imperfect, a riveting read.  It is an honest, authentic, introspective memoir of a man who was and is tough on himself.  The fringe benefit of reading this book is that it raises vital questions on the myriad types of sportsmen, and people in general, and the fears, insecurities and motivators that rarely are the same for two people.

The book is peppered with stories and anecdotes that are sometimes touching (the chapter on his father is actually quite gut-wrenching) and other times amusing – his account of Azharuddin-led team meetings will have even Azhar in splits!  But the best parts of this book are the ones shed light on his dark days as a player.  This is clearly the voice of a man that went through his share of struggles, not always emerging victorious.  I also regard this book as a cautionary tale. 

Cautionary because it is absolutely essential for everyone in any walk of life, not just cricket, to take a look in the mirror to see if they have the wherewithal to deal with their struggles, be it technical or mental, and determine if there is a need to seek external support.  I am reminded of a lovely line from the movie, Burnt – “There is strength in needing others, not weakness.”  It requires courage and a willingness to step outside one’s comfort zone to seek advice and to act upon it.  As Manjrekar himself mentions on multiple occasions, not everyone has the steely resolve, unmatchable genius or even the single-minded focus of a Sachin Tendulkar.  It is deeply saddening to read about the sorry state of affairs of Indian cricket in the early 90s - the prima donna attitude of some of the seniors, the utter lack of communicative skills of their captain or the tactless insensitivity of a coach who yelled at a spinner for having had a bad game.  All of this is to say that Manjrekar did not have the most conducive environment or those selfless mentors to help him work out his issues with technique or confidence. 

Manjrekar, with an endearing lack of self-pity, shares simple but revealing details without force-feeding them to the reader.  He is also disarmingly frank about his own mistakes, such as his arrogance following his heady days in Pakistan.  That he learned from the follies and was a more empathetic captain later is symptomatic of a man that was not inflexible.  He was just…imperfect.

Something else that leapt at me from between the lines was that Manjrekar came across as a man that did not seem to be able to relish his ‘wins’ enough.  An account of how he felt when he reached his first Test century (against West Indies in their home turf) was something that was conspicuous by its absence in the book.  Of course, the acts of omission and commission are the prerogative of the author.  But from my own life experiences, I have learned that during times of success, it is important for the mind to have enough fodder from the fruits of one’s labor for it to have the strength to deal with the tougher battles.  And from this book, I never knew if Manjrekar ever told himself enough that he had to build upon his successes, to take a quiet moment to maybe watch his own highlights to notice what he did do right.  It would not have been an exercise in vanity as much as it would have been something that fed his self-belief further and helped him exorcise any demons, be it of his tough childhood or his technique-related worries.  By the same token, he also is candid about how he could never emulate a Ravi Shastri who once decided to steadfastly cut out the cover drive to minimize his risk against Kapil Dev’s potent outswingers.  Grinding it out during tougher times should not be conflated with being so hard on yourself that you paralyze yourself and curtail your resurgence after a fall. 

Irrespective of your opinion of Manjrekar the player or commentator, this book is a compelling read.  Manjrekar appears to be in a phase of his life where he is enjoying himself in his profession (as a commentator) with a kind of relaxed, detached attachment.  This attitude has helped him tell the story of his journey where the source of happiness was a destination, a goal, not the journey itself.  By looking back at the potholes, the slips and the accidents of his journey, he has granted himself a license for a smoother ride now.  That the book makes the reader evaluate or reevaluate their own path is a testament to the power of his writing and the clarity of his thinking. 


Manjrekar walks in at the 27:18 min point:


ravishanker sunderam said...

YIPPEEEEEEEE !! Im saving this for My Pongal weekwnd read. Im already getting goose pimples. Thanks Ram !

Ram Murali said...

Comments from Whatsapp... (Thanks, Ravishanker, for passing on the link)

Just finished reading your review of Manjrekar s Imperfect. Clinically superb read ! Im an admirer myself and many times Ive wondered what happened after that watershed tour if Pakistan. If I may add the piece de resistance of that lovely 47 was a straight six over the bowler s head and that too McDermott. His runout was due to bad judgement of the run. You raise insightful questions on what he could have done differently. Such a lovely review

Zola- great machchi- I remember that innings very well. All of us were cursing when Manjrekar walked out..... though he played a great innings, I still believe that Kapil should have come and probably would have won the game for us

Response from Ram:

Thank you so much for reading. Actually Manjrekar walked in at the fall of Kapil's wicket. Though I agree that had Kapil gone on for a few more overs, we may have very well won the game. He looked in good touch before falling to a horrible shot (off the bowling of Steve Waugh)

Vimala parasuram said...

Very well written, Ram. I don’t know much about Sanjay Manjrekar. I have only seen him as a commentator although I felt I always liked Ravi shastri or Sunil gavaskar better. Nice read about his book. I like cautionary tales- there is so much for all of us to learn even if it is relating to Cricket as we can extrapolate and draw our conclusions. Well done Manjrekar for sharing your past and being so brutally honest.

ravishanker sunderam said...

Ram : I remember this match and the aftermath very vividly.

Till this match the performance of the Indian contingent was nothing to write home about but the one consolation was that after this match we beat Pakistan.

Pakistan ofourse ultimately won the World Cup but even they started very badly.

I was pursuing the CA course and enrolled as an articled clerk with a small firm in Montieth Road, Egmore. I was sent to audit a small firm nearby and during the course of the audit had to coordinate with a young accountant employed by my firm's client.

Till that day he seemed fine and was a real eager beaver when it came to providing us information or documents.

When I met him the day after the match he didnt so much as acknowledge my Good Morning. He was in one helluva daze. But I sympathized since half the country and everyone I saw and met seemed to be in the same daze - the gut wrenching disappointment of losing by one run.

Incidentally that was the same World Cup where Gavaskar predicted (after the Pakistan-New Zealand face off before the quarter final) that Pakistan would win the World Cup.

Funny thing. Gavaskar was feted in Pakistan as if HE and not Imran Khan had won the World Cup for Pakistan . ha ha ! The little master is one smart cookie :)

Vimala parasuram said...

Very well written, Ram. I don’t know much about Sanjay Manjrekar. I have only seen him as a commentator although I felt I always liked Ravi shastri or Sunil gavaskar better. Nice read about his book. I like cautionary tales- there is so much for all of us to learn even if it is relating to Cricket as we can extrapolate and draw our conclusions. Well done Manjrekar for sharing your past and being so brutally honest.

Ram Murali said...

Ravishanker - thank you for sharing those lovely, vivid memories! I did not know that Gavaskar was feted after the '92 world cup. Wonderful revelation there about the original Little Master!

Vimala - thank you for posting a comment. Yes, the "extrapolation" part is so true. Everyone can be a teacher in his/her own right for life teaches so many lessons for us to pass onto others.

Venkatesh said...

I've never watched him bat. Having said that, his style resembles a bit of both Tendulkar's and Sehwag's.

Just found another interview:

Coming to the game, no doubt, this really is a great knock, but I'm slightly inclined towards Azhar's strokeplay - the cut over extra-cover (around the 27:55 mark) must have been the shot of the day! Btw, was your idol (:P) aware that he was playing a WC game?

Also, I remember another game (not a "close-contest" though) from the 2003/04 VB series, in which Ian Harvey did a brilliant job by hitting the stumps on his follow through to dismiss Ganguly. Needless to say, it nearly marked the end of Sanjay Bangar's international career. :)

Ram Murali said...

Venkatesh - thank you for your comments. I watched the interview. It crisply captured some of these topics that he had dwelled on in the book.
Azhar was in the zone in this game. My favorite shot of his in this game was the lofted straight drive. Artistry personified.
Btw, was your idol (:P) aware that he was playing a WC game?
--> Are you referring to Krish Srikkanth? If so, all I have to say is that he had the insouciance of an amateur - he reportedly ran backwards to complete a the 1983 world cup Lords no less! So the occasion and setting never meant much to him...too sad though that he made 3 ducks in the 1992 world cup. that put the curtains on his career. Surprising his lack of form given that he played some blazing innings in the WSC that just preceded this.

Venkatesh said...

Hey, I was referring to Ravi Shastri.:-)

Ram Murali said...

Ahhh, okay. Shastri's tour of 1991-92 was such a curious mixed bag. In a WSC match against Australia he made 10 off 63 balls. In that same game, he took 5-15! In the Ind-Eng WC match, he scored 57 off 111 balls, was praised by Azhar in his Express column (see link below) and then scored even more slowly against Aus and was dumped from the team for the rest of the WC! So much for the vice-captain (Shastri) and captain being aligned!!

(Check out page 20)

Venkatesh said...

Ha ha, it's difficult to imagine that this man once held several "fastest" records in first-class cricket.