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Imperfect Sanjay Manjrekar

Book Review: ‘Imperfect’ by Sanjay Manjrekar

I have always felt that great cricketers make poor writers.

Writing requires the discipline and sage-like patience of the first session of a Test match. And I believe most great players have run out of their patience and hence choose to either steal cheeky singles or go for the almighty slog while writing their books.

I had read Allan Donald’s White Lightning – but the book tells us a lot about the man, his thinking, and his motivations – but reveals little about apartheid, and the colourful days of South Africa’s return to cricket. Shoaib Akhtar’s Controversially Yours suffered from the author ‘performing’ too much. In his effort to present a colourful story, Shoaib sacrifices narrative for histrionics.

And then, the most boring book I’ve ever read in my life – Sachin Tendulkar’s Playing It My Way – written in collaboration with Bore-ya Mazumdar. Sachin’s book – like his track record in Rajya Sabha – is devoid of any excitement. It has been stripped of any human emotion like fear, envy or resentment.

Which brings me to Sanjay Manjrekar.

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My earliest memories of Sanjay Manjrekar are of confusing him with Sachin Tendulkar. They were both openers, and around the same height. They both batted with impeccable technique, but for a few key differences – Sanjay wore a white helmet and played a lot slower than Sachin did.

He was however, a terrific fielder – and has pulled off some amazing catches in his playing days. I also recall that he retired sometime around 1997 and then went on to sing songs, before finding his voice in the commentary box.

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Now, the problem with writing a book in India is the classic India question – Tune Kya Kiya Hai, bhai?

It is a problem people like Sanjay Manjrekar and Murali Karthik face in the commentary box. Every time they make a comment on a player’s game, the first thing trolls ask on social media is ‘What right do YOU have to talk about a player like Kohli’? Unfortunately, in our pea-brained understanding of critique, you have to achieve something equal or greater than the person you are critiquing to be able to say anything about the person.

Sanjay Manjrekar – a well read and erudite cricketer – knows the importance of an impactful first chapter. And he takes a leg stump guard from the very first ball. In fact, the very first line in the book talks about how the author has never touched a bat since the day he retired. That his idea of a perfect day is to sit in the darkness of a theater and watch a movie. That if his father wasn’t Vijay Manjrekar, he probably would have been something else in life.

Sanjay Manjrekar understands the importance that cynicism plays in the life of an Indian, and rests those fears from the first over. Having forced the reader to change his line and length, Sanjay Manjrekar goes on to play the steady, assured innings that he had built a reputation for.

What Manjrekar does differently – and thank god for that! – is refusing to rabble in numbers and statistics. I find most Indian autobiographies to be detailed statistical sheets. What he does instead, is to make it an engaging personal story. The name ‘Imperfect’ makes a lot of sense as you go on to read about the man, his obsession with technique, and the constant, looming fear of a perfectionist.

Instead of cramming the book with chronological numbers and statistics, Manjrekar takes a path of his own. The first chapter is dedicated to his father – the legendary Vijay Manjrekar – and yet, he does not adopt a reverential tone. Chucking a chronological narrative, the author has divided the chapters as ‘Pakistan’, ‘West Indies’, ‘Australia’ – and my favourite – Mumbai school of batting.

Shivaji Park in Mumbai.

Shivaji Park in Mumbai.

Having read Arvind Adiga’s Selection Day, I have been fascinated with Mumbai, and the constant churning out of batting geniuses who arrive from the jagged shorelines of Mumbai. In the chapter ‘Mumbai school of batting’, Manjrekar lays bare the grind, grime and grit that makes Mumbai kids bat for days at stretch. There are wonderful snippets – like the ‘mantra’ Mumbai kids tell themselves before every ball – ‘I am not going to get out this ball’.

The book also changed my opinion on a few characters – Ravi Shastri and Gavaskar, for example. I generally find the duo overbearing and omnipresent. But reading the book, I was able to see Shastri in new light. A man who could have chilled out, joined politics, run a business – and earned millions. But the fact that he has been involved with cricket since the day he retired – is proof of his love for the game. Similarly too, with Gavaskar. There are heart-warming stories of Gavaskar being Sanjay’s senior at Nirlep (cricketers in those days worked desk jobs during off-seasons), and how Gavaskar would give him advice to tackle bouncy pitches from his cabin.

There is also my personal favourite – the much-maligned Manoj Prabhakar. Stories of his humanity, his jest, and how he was the first Indian bowler to learn the art of reverse swing from the Pakistanis. One of my pet-goals in life is to redeem Manoj Prabhakar in Indian media, and Manjrekar’s book paints a warm picture of the man who bore the brunt for match-fixing.

Instead of talking down to the reader, Sanjay peppers the book with wonderful anecdotes

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But more than anything, the book is an honest portrayal of the man himself. For someone who sounds unabashedly biased towards India in the commentary box, Sanjay Manjrekar displays tremendous maturity as a writer. He is comfortable talking about his slide, his lack of form, or the need for fame.

He has no qualms admitting that he wanted the ‘fame’ that came with Indian cricket. He admits to shouting at Mumbai bowlers while he was the state captain. He also admits that he was not the most talented and used hard-work and OCD-levels of preparation in his technique. He bares his heart out in the portions where he was dropped from the national side, and on playing in the domestic league after tasting the giddying heights of being a national player.

Sanjay Manjrekar comes across as a logical, rational, disciplined man. A man obsessed with his craft, a man who clamoured for fame, but also realised when he saw Rahul Dravid, ‘that his time was up’.

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The last cricket book I read – Sachin’s Playing it my way – reads like a Sanjay Manjrekar innings of the 90s – slow, safe, steady. Sanjay’s book reads like a Sachin Tendulkar innings in the late 2000s. He starts a little shakily, takes time to settle in, and then pulls out glorious drives, completely at ease.

Sanjay Manjrekar’s Imperfect could not have been better named. It is humane, witty, and a thoroughly satisfying read. I’d go so far as to say it’s the best cricket-based book that I’ve read.

*****

Indian Womens Cricket final PC- sportswallah.com

Stop Patronising the Women’s Cricket Team

After decades of single column articles in newspapers, Indians suddenly started watching women’s cricket.

After decades of pay disparity, subpar facilities, and step-motherly treatment, Indians suddenly woke up, had a lazy Sunday lunch and decided to do their bit for the nation by watching the finals of the Women’s Cricket World Cup. There can be two explanations for this.

  1. The recent rise in jingoism among India’s urban middle class. The habit of going online and screaming slogans and bullying everybody who criticises the country. A lazy, shitty trend where Indians think they’re protecting the nation’s image by spewing venom on social networking sites, while Mark Zuckerberg smiles in his bed every night.
  1. Mostly sexist or patronising bullshit about how ‘India’s daughters’ are no less than India’s sons, or articles and videos about how pretty the women cricketers are.
Winner of the Miss Malini Terrific Journalist of the Year award

                                       Winner of the Miss Malini Terrific Journalist of the Year award

 

Or take for example this tweet by Rishi Kapoor – a man who is 10th pass, has led a life of privilege, and spends his evenings drunk on Twitter – but has been made a social commentator by the brains in Indian media.

Aila! Barfi ka baap sexist gaandu hai

                                                  Aila! Barfi ka baap sexist gaandu hai

Stuff like this makes you question if the following Indian women’s cricket is receiving is actually for the better. If it’s worth it. So when my friend switched on the Indus Valley civilisation television in the room, I began watching the match with mixed feelings.

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By evening, my timeline was flooded with a mishmash of hashtags, pictures, and wishes for India’s daughters. Mostly patronising bullshit on the lines of ‘Hey good job, we are proud of you’ and ‘Mhari chhoriyaan chhoron se kam nahi’.

Honestly, I don’t know if these guys really watched the match, or have any understanding of the sport of cricket. Because the finals was actually a terrible match. India worked hard to wrest the match from their erstwhile colonisers, only to squander it all away with amateurish strategy in the final lap.

In case you missed the match, this is what happened.

England opted to bat first, scoring 228 – a score many would consider sub-par with India’s in-form batting line up. In response, India’s innings played out like a Sanjay Leela Bhansali movie – interesting in the beginning, but making you question your time management skills by the end.

There couldn’t have been a better example of ‘throwing away a match’. Mithali Raj had to sprint for a dangerous single, and didn’t bother even dragging her bat or putting in a dive. Smriti Mandhana looked like she had taken the earlier article seriously and sent in Disha Patani to bat for her. Harmanpreet Kaur played an almighty heave just after reaching her 50, in a final no less! Veda Krishnamurthy’s innings would have given Sehwag a few heart attacks, and Deepti Sharma gifted her wicket when the team needed it most. The rest of the team hacked mindlessly at deliveries without a care in the world, and a match that should have been won in 43 overs was left to rot and go sour.

In all honesty, India threw away a match that was right in their pocket.

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If anything, I feel bad for Mithali Raj, who deserved to win the tournament. Mithali Raj owns a string of cricketing records, including the most runs scored by a woman ever. She’s been playing for India since 1999 but has admittedly been let down by a team that never was good enough. Mithali Raj deserved to go out with a bang!

They said that this match could change the face of women’s cricket in the country. Probably. But I wish we Indians weren’t so patronising to the women’s cricket team. If anything, they need sponsors, better facilities, and following. Lots and lots of following. If you truly want to support the team, watch their matches. And take your patronising statements and shove them up your ass.

The Indian men’s cricket team is not followed due to an inherent sexism, even though we ARE a very sexist society. From the shaky 90s to the semi-confident 2000s, to the terrific 2010s, the craze for cricket has coincided with improved performances from the men’s team over the decades.

If people follow you and you do not perform, the following will wane. Look at our hockey team, now watched by lesser people than Bajrang Dal activists on Valentine’s Day. Or Altaf Raja – once the heartthrob of millions, now relegated to gutkha wrappers and pencil boxes.

On the other hand, look at sports like badminton, where women enjoy far greater following because they’ve outperformed men. The most famous male badminton player in India unfortunately, is still Jeetendra in Dhal Gaya Din, Ho Gayi Shaam.

Winner of Chennai Badminton Open

                       Winner of Chennai Badminton Open wearing Abbas Mastaan Spring Fall Collection

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After the match, I sat down to write a blog on the match. And it read like the rough draft of Dangal, on our daughters bringing pride to Mother India. But it felt wrong to post it. Because if the men’s team had lost to England in a World Cup final, I’d be furiously attacking my computer. Typing out hateful, trolly post. I’d make fun of Shikhar Dhawan’s tattoo and accuse X player of sucking K player’s cock. So why was I being Sant Tukaram now?

Trolling Sanjay Manjrekar doesn’t change the fact that Indian cricketers messed up the match big time. It doesn’t change the fact that India should have steamrolled England in the finals.

I wish the women cricket team achieves great heights and wins many tournaments in the future. But let’s face it, India’s daughters made a complete mess of this match.

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