ImperfectMartin Chandler |
Author: Manjrekar, Sanjay
Publisher: Harper Collins India
Rating: 3.5 stars
There have been a number of cricketing autobiographies in recent years that have gone well beyond the game that made the names of their writers. Marcus Trescothick, Mike Yardy, Jonathan Trott, Graeme Fowler and Steve Harmison have all lifted the mental health taboo, and Jonny Bairstow and Chris Lewis have bared their souls on other aspects of the human condition.
In Imperfect Sanjay Manjrekar adds his story to the literature of the game and again he has opened up aspects of his life to public scrutiny that most might choose to leave private. Sanjay was introduced to the game by his famous father, Vijay, one of India’s leading batsmen of the 1950s and early 1960s. Father and son have not dissimilar playing records, but in the way they lived their lives the differences are stark.
Vijay was a man of contradictions. He could clearly be an aggressive and cantankerous individual who caused his family many problems. At the same time he had qualities, and was not all bad. The first chapter in the book is certainly a thought provoking one.
As Sanjay moves away from his childhood and on to how his cricket developed the book’s greatest strength reveals itself. Imperfect is no tedious description of a how a talented young sportsman wins his spurs and goes on to reach the top of his profession, describing the matches that made him. Sanjay scrapes away the façade and spends more time describing his shortcomings than his successes. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that, in places certainly, he judges himself a little too harshly.
Having become an international cricketer Sanjay travelled the world for a decade. He might have filled up a goodly part of Imperfect with details and descriptions of the 37 Tests and 74 ODIs he played in. But he doesn’t do that. He does take his reader with him on his journey, but his emphasis is on people, places and aspects of the game that do not usually make the headlines. The story of a fight on the field of play when Kris Srikkanth was assaulted by a spectator in Pakistan was something I had not read about before, and Sanjay’s accounts of his relationships with Desi Haynes and Imran Khan are illuminating.
In essence Sanjay’s career fell into two distinct parts. The first involved a century at Bridgetown against an attack comprising Courtney Walsh, Curtley Ambrose, Ian Bishop and Malcolm Marshall, followed by a stellar series in Pakistan in which he averaged 94.83. His last Test match came seven years later, but he had never managed to reach those heights again, and the chapter concerned is simply entitled Struggles. There are no tedious match reports, or blow by blow accounts of cricketing encounters. Rather the narrative sticks to what the newspapers and writers other than Sanjay cannot tell us. How it felt to be a young cricketer with the world at his feet, and then an experienced international trying desperately hard to live up to expectations, his own and those of everyone else.
The chapter on retirement looks hard at the emotions that taking that step evokes. In Sanjay’s case he looks back at his mistakes as much as his successes. He almost demonises his behaviour in his first stint as Mumbai captain, although he was clearly happier with the second. I enjoyed his account of Shane Warne’s baptism of fire in India, and later on he has many interesting things to say about his fellow commentators.
Right at the beginning of Imperfect Sanjay writes I played cricket because it served a purpose at the time and not really because I deeply loved the game. As if to present it as evidence in support of that contention he cites the fact that he has not played at all since retirement, and has never been tempted to do so. I am not convinced, and am not sure Sanjay is either, particularly given that he has stayed within the game after his playing days ended, but his outlook on and attitude to the game is certainly unusual.
Something I find easier to accept is Sanjay’s assertion that I have not read a single book on sport or a sportsman’s autobiography. The fact that Imperfect is like no other cricketing autobiography I have read lends strong support to that contention, and the result is a book that is certainly unique, and further evidence of a growing sophistication and importance in the contribution that Indian writers are making to the literature of the game. Taking Sanjay’s comments at face value the book also confirms irrefutably that it is not necessary to love the game of cricket in order to understand and appreciate it.