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Prabhakar was a street fighter but lost the test of integrity in friendship

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In this excerpt from his book ‘Imperfect’, Sanjay Manjrekar talks about his friendship with Manoj Prabhakar and how the all-rounder failed a test of integrity.

At the 1992 World Cup, there was this legendary photo of all the players on a ship. Since I was an Imran fan, I went up to chat and get a photograph taken. We caught up; he wanted to be updated in our recent cricket; he kept track of my performance. During that chat, Imran was full of praise for Prabhakar; he said Prabhakar put in a better all-round performance than Kapil on that Australian tour. Prabhakar was an Imran kinda player. He was a bit different from most Indian cricketers at the time. There were just handfuls like him during my time, especially my early days in the India team.

He was selfless, opened the batting as well as the bowling in Test cricket. I don’t know how many people would do that, even in modern-day cricket. It’s a rare feat not just in Indian cricket but also at the international level.

He was a street fighter to the core. The Pakistan team under Imran was filled with such players; it was Pakistan’s best ever team.

Prabhakar played like a rebel in our team, and this was the source of his performance and output. He overachieved, if you ask me. He wasn’t that gifted.

My theory is that he never forgave Kapil for what happened on the 1986 tour of England. He was a part of the original squad; Chetan Sharma got injured, but Kapil called up Madan Lal from the leagues to replace him for the Headingley Test, leaving Prabhakar out and forever angry.

Not many know this, but Prabhakar was the first in the India team to learn and develop the art of reverse swing. He, in fact, educated Kapil about it. Kapil was quite a purist that way with his bowling.

Despite all his suspicions and criticism of the system, Prabhakar was happy to share whatever he learnt with anyone.

I once shared a room with Prabhakar in Sharjah. You get to know a person really well when you share a room with him over a couple of weeks, and he turned out to be a decent person.

We both had a good tournament as roomies and he wanted to continue that arrangemnent in 1992 in Australia. I had, however, already committed to sharing rooms with my friend and the sweetest person you will ever meet, Venkatapathy Raju.

I am not a superstitious person, but I remember thinking, would the Australian tour have turned out differently had I shared my room with Prabhakar?

I remember he once took me aside in Delhi during a match. By that time, my relationship with him was strained. I was angry with him when he pretended to be injured in one county game in England in which I was supposed to rest. Because he opted out, I had to play. And I held that against him.

It was to set that right he had taken me aside to have a chat. He said, ‘C’mon Sanjay, we are going to be playing together for a while now; both of us are important players in this side. People take advantage of such things and make sure we become even more distant from each other. So let’s bury the hatchet and get on with it.’

My answer was an instant yes. His approach to resolving our relationship was extremely rare in Indian cricket. Not many were known to have such upfront chats and take action. Generally, no one wants to be confrontational; they’d rather do everything on the sly.

But Prabhakar was a man full of surprises. After all, I was one of his victims in those secret recordings for Tehelka.

I’m still amazed at how it all unfolded. I was invited by Chandrakant Pandit, former India keeper and batsman and a dear friend, to speak to his students to inaugurate his cricket academy at Andheri in Mumbai. When I reached the venue, Pandit told me that Prabhakar was also coming. I found it strange, but Pandit said he was in town, so he invited him too, and Prabhakar had immediately agreed. The moment our work was done at the academy, Prabhakar hopped into my car, saying he wanted a lift till Juhu. I was driving and he sat in the front, next to me. I told him to leave his handbag – it seemed like a gym bag – in the back seat but he insisted on carrying it on his lap. Somewhere along the way, he steered our conversation towards match-fixing, especially about matches in Sharjah. One match in particular – the one we’d lost in fading light.

Now, I was not naïve. I had a lot of respect for Prabhakar as a cricketer and admired some of his qualities as a person, but he was never in my inner circle of friends because of some reason I could not fully trust him. So I gave him nothing. He persisted with his probing questions, but I remained guarded. Maybe with Kiran More and Sachin I’d have been more forthcoming but with him I wasn’t.

Also, with respect to the Sharjah game we were talking about, I still believe if Sachin and I had hung around longer we would have won the match.

Despite all my admiration for him, it was due to that conversation in the car that day, and how it was recorded under the garb of a sting operation, and that Prabhakar failed the most important test for me: the test of integrity. We became distant again. I met him after many years, in 2016 during the World T20 when he was coaching Afghanistan. I could not help but greet him warmly.

Time heals old wounds, I guess.

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  1. Indians were terrible at chasing targets in 90s. They eventually learnt. There was no conspiracy unless it was in your heads. They sucked at chasing, they lost. Sri Lanka were better. Accept it. Move on

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