Review: Imperfect by Sanjay Manjrekar

One of the most technically proficient batters of his generation, Sanjay Manjrekar’s account of his career humanises the cutthroat world of international cricket

books Updated: Feb 16, 2018 19:13 IST
Aasheesh Sharma
Aasheesh Sharma
Hindustan Times
cricket,Sachin Tendulkar,Kishore Kumar
Sanjay Manjrekar batting for India during his innings of 104 runs in the inaugural test match between Zimbabwe and India at the Harare Sports Club, 21st October 1992. The Zimbabwe wicketkeeper is Andy Flower. The match ended in a draw. (David Munden/Popperfoto/Getty Images)

Make no mistake, this is no airbrushed hagiography dressed up as a biography. During the time when he was playing, there were few better sights than the ball meeting the middle of Sanjay Manjrekar’s bat, whether it was in forward defence or for a drive through the off side. Considered one of the most technically proficient batters of his time, as he recounts his rollercoaster career as cricketer and TV commentator, Manjrekar offers a straight, wide bat to the narrative. He doesn’t duck the awkward deliveries, whether it is while reminiscing about his troubled relationship with a violent father that left him scarred, writing about his penchant for overanalysis, or coming to grips with failures and what some would consider, untimely retirement at the age of 32.

That he would transform into a successful TV analyst after giving up the cricket whites was in a way a painless transition. Manjrekar has always been a good student of the game, the kind who is brutally objective when judging his own performance. In the chapter titled ‘Struggles’, for instance, he writes: “I just enjoyed batting defensively. It didn’t bother me much what my score was after an hour, as long as I was playing flawlessly. I focused so much on playing correctly that I sometimes lost sight of what my real purpose at the crease was: to get runs…I had to look good to all those who were watching me. Tendulkar, to an extent, was the same, but because of his prodigious talent he could not help but hit a good ball for a four every now and then. Unlike me, who would be stuck on 20 for almost two hours. This was the Mumbai School of Batting. How you got your runs and against whom you got it mattered a lot. Just runs were not enough for Mumbai cricket.”

Sanjay Manjrekar attended an awards ceremony in Mumbai on January 28, 2015. (Yogen Shah/HT Photo)

One can argue that Manjrekar was both a beneficiary and victim of the Mumbai School of Batsmanship. It was here that he inherited the ‘khadoos’ quality of putting a price on one’s wicket, the guidance of icons such as Sunil Gavaskar, who once personally delivered a Gray-Nicolls bat to him at a playground and the technical perfection that many from the cricket nursery are instilled with. But he also suffered because of the hype and the pressure that the Bombay media and his seniors created by anointing him the next Gavaskar, not to mention his illustrious father, Vijay Manjrekar, who took it for granted that his progeny was “destined to be a Test cricketer.”

To be fair, Manjrekar played in an era where Indian teams were expected to capitulate on overseas tours, team morale was not the highest and match-fixing was rearing its head. A sentiment recurring through the book is that Manjrekar didn’t have a choice but to be a Test cricketer. That he was not that much into it to enjoy the gentleman’s game. “If my father had not been a former cricketer, and if I had not grown up in Dadar, where the only sport people played was cricket, I would not have become a cricketer,” he writes.

This gets one thinking: Had Manjrekar not grown up in Dadar but Thane or Dombivli, would he have grown up to be as successful as he did in the vocation he chose to pursue? This reviewer has reason to believe Manjrekar would still be behind a microphone, if not analysing the nuances of run chases and spin bowling, then letting out an aalaap in a recording studio.

Since his retirement, he has cut a Rabindra Sangeet album and is mighty proud of it. But the singing and Mumbai cricket connection runs deeper than that. And some of it has to do with a maverick artiste from Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh.

Manjrekar writes that since he called it a day as a cricketer, in his personal life, he has little patience for those who want to discuss the game. But engage him in a conversation on Kishore Kumar and he’ll be your friend for life. Now we know that a certain Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, who makes intermittent appearances in the book, was famously named after Sachin Dev Burman, Tendulkar Senior’s favourite composer. There is a good chance that both Sachin and Sanjay grew up listening to the golden melodies composed by Burman Senior or his prodigious son Pancham and there is a likelihood many of them were sung by Kishore Kumar.

Former Indian cricketers and commentators for the World Twenty20 world cup, Saurav Ganguly (L) and Sanjay Manjrekar speak at a press conference in New Delhi on August 28, 2012. (Sajjad Hussain/AFP)

That Manjrekar takes his singing seriously is no secret. Even when he was playing, in 1996, he had cut an album called Rest Day – reminiscent of the indulgence in which Test cricketers got an extra day to rejuvenate apart from the five match days. During an interaction with him in the early 2000s, I got first-hand exposure to his singing prowess. When I asked Manjrekar about his obsession with Kishore and whether he remembered the lyrics of his wacky numbers from the 1960s, he nodded vociferously and went on to prove it. Manjrekar began belting out some of Kishore’s zaniest songs, along with the Asha Bhosle portions in the duets, for the next 30 minutes or so. I distinctly remember C-A-T, cat maane billi, dil hai tere panje mein toh kya hua and was most impressed with his rendition of Zindagi ik safar hai suhana, yahan kal kya ho kisne jaana! complete with the yodelling.

Read more: Sports memoirs are a delight and a challenge

Unlike the cricketer who had his share of highs and lows, Manjrekar the author is an artist at heart who retains his form throughout. He wields a light, deft touch whether it is describing his hundred in the Barbados Test against a fierce Caribbean bowling attack or fighting the demons in his mind when the slide in his batting began that culminated in his retirement. In this process, he humanises the cutthroat world of international cricket for readers.

The beauty of Imperfect is that unlike Manjrekar’s batting, it often plays outside the V. It indulges in lofted strokes and doesn’t run on unexpected lines. This is where the autobiography may appeal to connoisseurs as well as commoners.

First Published: Feb 16, 2018 19:12 IST