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‘Kaka’, fountain of cricket gyaan, dries up
Former India Test Player Ashok Mankad Dies At 61
Pradeep Vijayakar | From the Archives of ‘‘The Times of India’’: 2008
Mumbai: Just a few days ago, Ashok Mankad had called asking if I would write in the papers about a TV channel not keeping its promise of paying him for some work he had done. As he was my skipper at St Xavier's College, I assured him I would. He didn't call again and one doesn't know if the matter was resolved. One won't know ever either for Ashok Mulvantrai Mankad, the former India opening batsman and Mumbai skipper, passed away suddenly in his sleep at his Worli residence on Friday.
Mankad was 61 and is survived by brothers (Atul and Rahul), wife Nirupama (a former Asian tennis champion), and tennis-playing sons (Mihir and Harsh, a Davis Cupper).
Brother Atul, who played with Ashok at Xavier's and against him in the Ranji trophy (he played for Saurashtra) said: "When I called him on Thursday, he told me he had played golf at the US Club. I told him ‘you must be the only mad chap to play in all the muck.' It's a shock to us.
Mankad had a fruitful coaching career after his retirement from the active game but had no current commitments and could enjoy his golf, which had become his new passion and he was a regular at the US Club. But according to MCA joint secretary Hemant Waingankar, he had a few offers from the IPL teams for the next season. ‘‘He had called me to his home to discuss the offers. I couldn't go as I went abroad. I am regretting I couldn't go.
Mankad’s last coaching assignment was with the Baroda Ranji team and they enjoyed his inputs. For, sharing his knowledge was another passion for him. It was in his genes for he was the son of India's all-time great all-rounder Vinoo Mankad whose coaching at the PJ Hindu Gymkhana's LR Tairsee nets was legendary and gave Mumbai and India some of its great players.
Mankad, who went on to be India team coach at Sharjah, has some very big scores for Fellowship High School in the Harris Shield bringing him headlines. The runs continued to flow for Siddharth and St Xavier's Colleges, Mumbai University and Mumbai for whom he once scored over 800 in a season.
But the tragedy of Ashok Mankad was that the volume of runs was not replicated at the international level. Had he been given a tour spot for the 1967-68 tour of Australia playing on bouncy pitches, it would have fast-tracked his growth as a complete batsman. But inspite of scoring 79 and 97 in the selection game — the Irani Cup for Mumbai against Rest of India — Mankad was not on the tour party. There were already six Mumbai players and a seventh must have been considered too much for the selectors.
However Mankad got his chance when Australia and New Zealand toured India with selector Vijay Merchant converting him into an opener. He scored 300 plus against Lawry's Australians which was to be his best in a series. He hit six half-centuries. But his lack of consistency saw him lose his spot to, first, Farokh Enginner and then Chetan Chauhan.
Said Milind Rege, his Mumbai and college mate: ‘‘To me Ashok was a natural leader. He had the qualities to lead India.” He was called ‘Kaka' which was the name of film icon Rajesh Khanna, whose great admirer he was. As Gavaskar wrote in ‘Sunny Days’: ‘‘Train journeys were never tedious when ‘Kaka' was around.
Mankad was a fund of anecdotes at any cricket function and importantly was a good listener which most top cricketers are not. That was because he liked the stimulus, liked to absorb as much as he could for he was greedy for cricket gyaan just as he was a fountain of it.
It's sad that this fountain should dry up so abruptly when it had so much flow still left.
'Tests: 22 (42 Inns), 991 runs, Highest: 97, Avg: 25.41, 50s: 6. ODIs: Played 1, scored 44 runs. First-class: 218 (326 inns), 12,980 runs, Highest: 265, Avg: 50.90, Tons: 31, 50s: 70.
Mankad's top six innings in Tests: 97 vs Aus in Delhi, 1969-70; 74 vs Aus in Mumbai, 1969-70; 68 vs Aus in Kanpur, 1969-70; 64 vs Aus in Kanpur, 1969-70; 53*vs WI in Georgetown, 1970-71; 50 vs NZ in Kanpur, 1976-77.