"Sanjay’s straight talk about his father, his colleagues and his life in cricket might come across as brutal at times, but that’s the charm of honestly," Nayan Basu writes.
I started following Indian cricket since World Cup, 1996, and as a result I don’t have many memories of Sanjay Manjrekar playing in India colors. I have followed him more as a cricket commentator and writer than as a player.
However, one vivid memory I have of him as a player is from the 1996 World Cup semi-final match between India and Sri Lanka: I recall the catch Sanjay took, fielding at third man boundary, to get rid of Romesh Kaluwitharana off a Javagal Srinath delivery. Srinath pitched the ball outside the off-stump and the dangerous Kaluwitharana, sensing a scoring opportunity, whacked the ball over the point region only to be caught by the fielder waiting at the third-man region. An enthusiastic celebration followed.
Imperfect, a recently released memoir by Sanjay Manjrekar, which, unlike most of the celerity memoirs, is written by him, digs deep into both his personal and professional lives. Sanjay’s straight talk about his father, his colleagues and his life in cricket might come across as brutal at times, but that’s the charm of honestly.In his book, Imperfect, Sanjay chronicles various facets of his life rather vividly in his usual fluent style. It may be a surprise for many, but in the initial few chapters he makes it very clear that cricket was never his first love. He writes, “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.”
Coming from Mumbai, and being the son of a famous cricketer, Vijay Manjrekar, cricket came to his life almost seamlessly without much planning. And the fact that he had a technique well suited for test cricket, helped him gain a spot in the Indian national side. Though he had all the defensive shots to succeed in Test cricket, Sanjay’s career didn’t last long. His career never took off and with slings of failure under his belt, and he took an untimely retirement in 1998 at the age of 32.
“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.”
Some of the best anecdotes from his cricketing life is in the chapter named ‘Team-Mates’, in which he talks about various interesting events involving former cricketers; however, his take on Azharuddin stands out from the rest. At the outset, Sanjay makes it clear that Azhar was never a good tactician and that he left most of his major captaincy decisions to the Almighty. He followed a fixed pattern and was never comfortable with experimentation. To explain this further, he writes:
“As a tactician, Azhar wasn’t great. The main feature of his captaincy was to leave things to the Almighty. That’s why he wouldn’t tamper too much with what was happening out there, and would do just the basic, textbook stuff with regard to bowling changes and field placements… As captain, when the opposition seemed to be getting away with the game, Azhar would sometimes get all of us together during the drinks break, not to give us a pep talk to lift us but to seek advice. Everybody would give their inputs, and based on it Azhar would sum it up saying, ‘Okay, so I will bowl Raju for three overs from this end, Mannu (Manoj Prabhakar) three overs from that end, and Kapil Paaji and Sri after that.” and then Sanjay adds, “He would then go take his fielding position, relieved that the next seventy-five minutes were sorted. It meant he need not think about captaincy for a while. He could now concentrate on what he enjoyed, his fielding.”
Though he has been a reluctant cricketer during his playing days, he did take on commentary like fish to water. His analysis on the game both on and off air (through his columns) have earned him much love and accolades from his contemporaries. In the book he mentions the names of a few fellow commentators (including Harsha Bhogle and Naseer Hussain) who have inspired him over the years to dig deeper into the game and seek answers. The beauty of the book is that it never tries to play safe. He talks about his personal life, about his relationship with his father and its impact on him as a child. He openly talks about his playing days and his teammates during the time. And at last he speaks about his commentary stints and how they changed his life.
Unlike his batting, which was more conventional, the book indulges in fancy stroke play and often runs on tricky wickets. This book will be appreciated by commoners as well as connoisseurs of the game.