The advertisement used to insist that Vinoo Mankad’s successes on the cricket field were partially due to his using Brylcream on his scoreboard-black hair. Whether he did so or not, I have seen him come back to the pavilion after a full day’s batting or bowling with not a hair out of place. The pendulum fortunes of a day’s cricket left not the least impression on Mankad’s hair, where other men generally register the way the wind has blown on their luck.
Sometimes Vinoo Mankad used a cap that bunched up behind his head above his neck like a pair of baggy trousers, but even this never disrupted the polished set of his hair. This permanent hairdo and the never-fully buttoned shirt front were two impressions one most readily gathered about India’s most prodigious all-rounder. Calm must have been the middle name of Mulvantrai Mankad, who was born on April 12, 1917.
At the batting crease, he was a statuesque calmness while he awaited the ball, gazing up the pitch out of eyes whose lower lids were underlined with Surma. While bowling, his calm inscrutability made onlookers wonder whether Mankad knew he was bowling or not. Fielding at his favorite post behind the batsman close up on the legside, his legs yawning apart like a pair of dividers, Mankad’s calmness amounted almost to indifference as to the state of the game in which he seemed to be participating only casually.
Yet this calm was a carefully cultivated attitude; it was the calm that resulted in absolute control of activity. Nobody who has seen Mankad hunt eagerly up the wicket in search of slow bowling can accuse Mankad of sloth. Nor anyone who has watched him field so accurately to his bowling to dispense with orthodox mid-on and mid-off can complain of any lack of agility on Vinoo Mankad’s part. No, the studied imperturbability of Mankad was part of the economics of his cricket. Knowing full well how much he could contribute to the day’s proceedings, he preferred to conserve his stupendous energies until their expenditure became inevitable. Not the least remarkable instance of this was the Lord’s Test of 1952.
The Indian team was touring England that year without Mankad in its ranks. High among the list of acts of maladministration of the Cricket Control Board in India stands the blunder by which Vinoo Mankad might have been present in England all summer playing in the Lancashire League while his country’s team was making the rounds of country grounds without conspicuous success. After India lost the first Test at Leeds, it was freely acknowledged, even by Englishmen, that with Vinoo Mankad there to augment the guile of Ghulam Ahmed, there would have been a different story to tell.