Overwhelmed and bogged down by a relentless barrage of opinions, reports, suggestions and claims flooding my social media time line – involving two unscrupulous and insensible Australian cricketers one of whom was plainly caught trying to produce some shocks out of his jocks – I decided to divert my attention to less tumultuous stuff and in pursuance of this endeavor, honed in on “Imperfect”, the autobiography of Sanjay Manjrekar. To be very honest, I did not nurse lofty expectations before commencing my read. But I was pleasantly as well as genuinely surprised. Prior to setting out my review of the book, a confession is in order. Sanjay Vijay Manjrekar was one of my favourite batsmen (much to the chagrin and amusement of my friends). His dour demeanour combined with an attitude of grit and gumption appealed to me. This preference of mine was, completely going against the grain when compared to the idols of my friends, who were stirred into action and excitement by say, the rampages of a Kapil Dev or the surreal exploits of a tender, albeit talented Tendulkar.
Manjrekar brings the same grit and gumption to bear in his autobiography as well. This a book that reverberates with candor and reeks of transparency. Whether it be a professional indiscretion or a personal misjudgment, Manjrekar neither spares punches nor preserves reputations. For a batsman whose defensive technique was one of the soundest and most prudent, his autobiography is akin to the racy fervor that is usually the preserve of the slog overs in a T20 setting! “Imperfect” (“the book”) begins with a no holds barred revelation of the relationship which Sanjay Manjrekar had with his father, the late Vijay Manjrekar. Hailed by many (including Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi) as one of the finest batsmen to have wielded the willow for India, this formidable cricketer seems to have inculcated only fear, anguish and trauma in his son. The relationship between the Manjrekars seems to have been fraught by temper, tarnished by tantrums and marred by aloofness. To quote Sanjay, “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 fifty-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…. A disturbed, frustrated and angry man is what his three children had as a father.” Bold, powerful and distressing words to say the least. This passage epitomizes the thread that Sanjay weaves through the fabric of his memoir. The hallmark of this book lies in its honesty.
While Manjrekar does not dwell at length about his on field performances, even preferring not to gloat over a couple or more of his spectacular performances, he brooks no inhibitions while acknowledging his fallibilities. The two most riveting chapters in the book are the ones titled “Calypso” and “Pakistan”. While “Calypso” deals with the West Indian attitude to cricket both on and off the field, “Pakistan” sets out Manjrekar’ s experience of playing his arch rivals and the attendant emotions. Extremely and extraordinarily lavish in his praise of the legendary Imran Khan, whom Sanjay considers his all-time great hero, Manjrekar describes how one of the greatest all-rounders to have graced the game, transformed a ragged bunch of inflated egos, rambling internecine rivalries and raging incompatibilities into a cohesive, world beating unit that won the World Cup in 1992. Manjrekar also bemoans the lack of a similarly capable and able leader who could have guided India to greater heights. In his characteristic manner, Manjrekar also recounts a hilarious incident involving Abdul Quadir and a spectator. During a practice session before a game in Pakistan, both the Indian and Pakistani teams were shell shocked and amused to see Abdul Quadir run full throttle behind a sprinting spectator. After a long winded chase, and timely assistance from the security guards, the fleeing spectator was brought to ground. Later on Sanjay Manjrekar learns that the unfortunate soul earned Quadir’ s ire by pinching the latter’s bottom during the practice session! The incredulous incident involving the scuffle between then India Captain Krishnamachari Srikkanth and a demented spectator is also recounted in vivid detail.
Manjrekar courts controversy by recounting meaningless team meetings that lasted all of five minutes. A severely strained atmosphere in the Indian dressing room, a North-West divide which ensured cold war amongst players swearing allegiance to royalties and an attitude of condescension among the so-called seniors in their behavior with the junior staff ensured toxicity in the dressing room. “Everybody lived in their own bubble, looking after their own interests. I played for India at a time when the dressing-room atmosphere was not enjoyable at all. What I disliked most was the excessive respect that the seniors expected. The seniors from the north were all addressed as ‘paaji’. They didn’t prefer anything else and they liked it too –that people got up every time they walked in. This didn’t help team building at all…. Meetings were generally scratching the surface on tactics and strategy. The approach was never thorough. Often they would end in five minutes”.
Or consider this hilarious description of Azharuddin at meetings when he was captain of the team. “I found Mohammad Azharuddin’s team talks as captain quite funny. They were mumbling monologues. They sounded exactly like the old short-wave radio transistors. Like the sound waves on the radio, the volume of his voice would also go up and down. Those of us sitting away from him would try to catch and make sense of whatever we could hear.”
Manjrekar, to his great credit, also lays bare his fragilities as a cricketer and a person. On a high subsequent to a string of highly acclaimed performances against the West Indies and Pakistan, Manjrekar concedes that he developed an attitude that was cocksure, arrogant and bristling with overconfidence. His behavior towards peers, juniors and seniors alike left much to be desired and he cultivated a devil-may-care attitude. While this might not have directly led to his hubris, it sure contributed to accelerate his downfall from a batsman of great merit to an India Test discard. It is a monumental tribute to Sanjay Manjrekar that not only does he acknowledge his foibles but cheerfully goes on to dissect its consequences as well.
Sanjay Manjrekar might have fallen way short of fulfilling the grand expectations which a nation hoped for from one of its most solid batsmen, but when it comes to honesty and integrity he proves that he has left no stone unturned and he distinguishes himself admirably well. A bunch of Australian cricketers hanging their heads in shame right now after bringing shame and disrepute to the entire cricketing world would do well to pick up copies of “Imperfect” from the nearest bookshop. Not that it would help much….