The initial years in Test cricket were anything but easy for India. There were some bright sparks but the most likely result in those days was defeat. Part of the reason for the lack of results was not that India lacked talent but because they rarely ever got the best talent on the field at the same time.
Take, for instance, the 1952 series against England. Every Test saw five changes. By the time the last Test came along, India had had three different wicket-keepers, four sets of openers and four sets of opening bowlers. In those days, it might not be an exaggeration to say, the captain wasn’t even sure if he would play.
But through the series, India had one constant: Vinoo Mankad. He brought great value to the side as a batsman and as a bowler. Even the fickle Indian selectors could not find a reason to drop him.
India were trailing 0-1 going into the fifth and final Test at Madras (now Chennai) which began on February 6. The pitch offered nothing to the bowlers but somehow such wickets brought out the best in Mankad. It would allow him to bring his command of flight and spin into play and he almost seemed to relish the challenge more.
Mankad first came on to bowl with England 65/1 and by the time he was done, the visitors were bowled out for 266. Mankad’s bowling figures were an incredible 38.5-15-55-8. Four of Mankad’s wickets were stumped and that is the kind of dismissal that left-arm orthodox spinners have come to love over the years. He drew the batsmen out and left them stumped.
He took the last five wickets in just 9 runs in 6 overs and 5 balls. It was a collapse of incredible proportions.
India, then, took a first-innings lead of 191 after Pankaj Roy (111), Polly Umrigar (130*) and Dattu Phadkar (61) got among the runs.
Mankad (4/53) and Ghulam Ahmed (4/77) then returned in the second innings, taking four wickets each, to bowl India to a win by an innings and eight runs.
Wisden wrote: “Their hero was Mankad who bowled superbly in each innings, taking twelve wickets in the match for 108. His performance of 8 for 55 in the first innings has seldom been bettered in Test cricket when it is considered that the pitch gave him little assistance. Mankad’s bowled inspired the whole side, the fielding being far better than in previous matches and the batting possessed a more adventurous spirit, necessary for the occasion. England disappointed badly. There was no reason for the batting collapse in the first innings which virtually decided the match.”
It had taken India 20 years to register their first victory and Mankad had played a huge role in it but the selectors were determined to have the last laugh.
Within a week of the victory, India named its squad for tour of England and missing out were Lala Amarnath, Mushtaq Ali, and a certain Vinoo Mankad. Just imagine that... the man who set up India’s first ever Test win was deemed not good enough to be picked for the Test series that immediately followed.
Bonus viewing, an interview with Vinoo Mankad: