Indian cricketer Sanjay Manjrekar bares his struggles, frailties, and personal issues with his illustrious father, Vijay Manjrekar, in this excerpt from latest book titled ‘Imperfect’.
I had no relationship with my father to speak of. The overpowering emotion that I felt towards him was fear. It is easy for me to say it now as a 50-year-old father of two, but as a child, an adolescent and a young adult, I was terrified of my father. I have made peace with it for a long time now. Vijay Laxman Manjrekar, who played 53 tests for India and notched 3,208 runs at an average of 39.12, was a troubled soul post-retirement. A disturbed, frustrated and angry man is what his three children had as a father.
Yet, he would often be a profoundly wise man. In the few conversations we had, he would tell me, ‘Treat cricket as a game, not as your life.’ He obviously said this from his own life experiences. We, his family, could that he had made cricket his life. He was not quite prepared for life outside cricket. It’s sad that in this sport you can, at best, have a career at the top for ten to fifteen years, and even that career comes to an end in the prime of your normal life, in your mid-thirties. My father had no other skills; he struggled to find his place in the world after his playing days, and that included the cricketing world too.
He was highly respected and famous cricketer. Life after cricket must have been tough for him. He now had to work nine-to-five in a public-sector company, but at heart he was artist. It was like asking a lead guitarist to sit behind a desk and do a clerk’s job. He tried, but he wasn’t cut out for it.
At one stage, he tried his hand at cricket coaching, but he didn’t possess the tact required to handle cricketers. A story goes that once former India opener Chetan Chauhan came to him for some advice. ‘Sir, what’s wrong with my batting?’ Chauhan asked. My father told him, ‘There is nothing wrong with you, but something is wrong with the selectors: they picked you.’
The coaching stint came to an abrupt halt: On a tour to England as coach and manager of the India Under-19 team he slapped a player. He never got the job again. The player in question was well known to my dad. And he didn’t mind it at all. But the media was not going to let this pass. Moreover, it infuriated him that he was not famous anymore and had no skills outside cricket to earn him the respect he once commanded as a cricketer.
Of course, all this I came to realize only much later. As a child, I – along with my mother and two sisters – only remember having to bear the brunt of his mood swings and temper. We lived in the fear of showdowns – often it made us dash towards the windows to close them lest the neighbours heard us. Some of these showdowns even got violent.
There was road rage too. My father would frequently get into fights with other motorists. And when I say fights, I meant it literally – ones that involved an exchange of blows. He prided himself in having earned his driving license in England, and could not tolerate undisciplined drivers on Indian roads. Another thing that would really rile him while driving was the high beam of headlights form the car(s) behind his – its reflection in the rear-view mirror would go straight into his eyes. Whenever this happened, we would all tense up. We knew where this was all going to lead. He would then start waving his hand vigorously out of the window, asking the driver behind him to lower his beam. We would start praying, ‘Please do it, please do it.’ As with most prayers, this would never work. At some point, my father would allow that driver to overtake him. Then he would speed up to be within shouting distance. Then, in the choicest Marathi, my father would tell him what he thought of him. Some of the motorists would speed away out of fear, but there were always enough people to give it back to him. And then all hell would break loose.
My father would stop the car, step out, and from the boot of the car take out something called as a crock lock. It was a device he had bought from England. It was made of solid, heavy iron. It was about four feet long with umbrella-like hooded handles on both sides. One end of it was meant to be stuck in the steering wheel, and the other around one of the pedals of the car – the clutch, the brake or the accelerator. It was a security gadget against car theft, but it hardly protected my father’s car. Instead it lay silently in the boot of the car until it was called upon to inflict injury on another human being.
Fortunately, my father never managed to land a serious blow with that Crook Lock as invariably a crowd would gather around such a scene. That ensured the fight ended with only some grappling and some missed punches. My sisters or my mother would sometimes get out of the car to calm him down and pull him back inside the car, but an angry man is a strong man, and these attempts were largely unsuccessful.
When I captained Mumbai against Maharashtra in Solapur in early 1995, I was an angry, frustrated ‘India discard’. My pet peeve in domestic cricket has always been umpiring. Coming back from having seen the umpiring standards in international matches, I got even more frustrated. In that match, umpire Vinayak Kulkarni warned Abey Kuruvilla for running onto the danger area in his follow-through. I began to have a go at the umpire. I challenged his interpretation of the danger area.
Kulkarni held his ground. What infuriated me was the line of reasoning. While I quoted the law, he told me, ‘I am the umpire, and this is my decision.’ The umpires in domestic cricket looked like statues of authority to me, refusing to engage with the players. I was by now used to having a word with international umpires and reasoning things out.
Out of frustration I crossed the line. I began to mutter under my breath – but within Kulkarni’s earshot – that he had no idea what he was doing out there. All my pent-up frustration – against all those umpires, all my wasted starts, all my run-outs, all those short balls – was now being directed at poor Kulkarni. He finally warned me that if I continued behaving like that; he would have to send me off the field.
I walked away, play resumed, but I was still fuming. I didn’t think it would make a difference. ‘Who cares about this silly Ranji game anyway?’ I thought. So I told our wicketkeeper Sameer Dighe that I was going to have another go. Dighe panicked, and warned me, ‘Don’t do it, Sanjay, he will definitely send you off the field and report you.’
I stretched until it snapped. I went up to Kulkarni and needled him again; he didn’t waste a second and sent me off. Being sent off by the umpire should be the worst humiliation for a cricketer, a captain no less, but somehow I felt peaceful in the pavilion.
This episode made headlines. I was officially reported to the BCCI. Jagmohan Dalmiya, always a player’s man, let me off with a warning. The next time I met Kulkarni, I was back in the Test side, playing against New Zealand in his home town, Bangalore. He saw me and didn’t know how to react. I went up to him, greeted him warmly, shook his hand, and had a chat. I ended up respecting him for doing the right thing. I deserved to be sent off the field. It was not right of me to behave like that just because I had played for India.
My frustration wasn’t limited to umpires alone. As Mumbai captain, my team-mates too had to sometimes face the wrath of my misdirected anger. Once, on the field, I swore very badly at Sairaj Bahutule, one of the loveliest persons you could come across. I felt so bad later that I sought him out in his room. He was sitting with a few other junior players in the team, looking downcast. I apologized to him, unconditionally, in front of the juniors. I said I had no right to abuse him. Reprimand yes, but abusing is unforgivable.
Thankfully, this frustration never manifested itself in front of my family or friends, but it was clear that being denied a place in the Indian team was making me desperate. And my game was, as Bharatan wrote, going from one weakness to another. In the desperation to extend my career, now that the likes of Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly were securing middle-order spots, I began opening the innings.
So I made one final comeback – as an opener against Allan Donald, Fanie de Villiers and Brian McMillan in 1996, despite the fact that by then their bowlers probably knew I could get slightly rattled by the short ball. Nevertheless, I still went ahead and opened against Donald, bowling at the peak of his career.
I got 34 in the first innings, and then got out just before lunch to Paul Adams, of all people. That infuriated me because despite my low confidence I had backed myself to open in a Test and had played the new ball and their best bowlers for two hours. I felt really confident this time facing a quick spell from Allan Donald. I kept telling myself to get on to the front foot, not worry about the short ball, because that way I did exactly so in that innings. I had confronted the short ball head on, opening the innings against the fastest, perhaps the most aggressive bowler in the world. It was like marching into a house on fire but I did it.
I survived Donald and the South African pace attack, but got out to a rookie spinner. On 34, at the stroke of lunch.
That dismissal made me even more cynical – I began to tell myself that perhaps it was not meant to be. In the second innings, I got out to the short ball again. It proved to be my last Test innings. Caught fending.
That day, standing at the urinal next to me, Azhar made a telling statement – he had this nonchalantly saying something quite deep – ‘Happens. When you start to age, it happens.’ Azhar was thirty-three. He must have known. I was thirty-one. Azhar fought on. I couldn’t. At thirty-three, I had already played my last test for India.
Imperfect by Sanjay Manjarekar’ has been published by Harper Collins India. Excerpted with permission from Harper Collins.