Gandhi illustration - Courtesy Rediff
Ravichandran Ashwin may have given rise to the Mankading debate in the recent past but it will surprise readers that Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi may have executed the controversial run-out long before Vinoo Mankad, first to execute this in international cricket in 1947 and hence the coinage 'Mankading', was even born. Yes, if the letter of Sir Ranjitsinhji Vibhaji Jadeja -- after whom India's premier domestic tournament, the Ranji Trophy, is named -- addressed to fellow England cricketer and friend Charles Burgess Fry is to be believed it was he who was at the receiving end of Gandhi's eyebrow-raising act in school cricket.
The following are excerpts from the letter, written much later than the actual time of the event:
The day of the match was quite cool, but the wicket was hard and dusty as ever — the perfect surface for bowling lobs at which, I was told, the Rajkot captain was a past master. He was the Dewan’s son, a Banyan named M. K. Gandhi - yes, my dear Charlo, the very one who is presently causing us so much trouble! He was, like myself, a frail-looking youth, wearing spectacles. I remember him being very soft-spoken and utterly fluent in English. Truly, it was difficult then to imagine the rabble-rouser he was to become. I have just looked up the statistics of the match in an old school-book to refresh my memory of the occasion. The Rajkot men were first to bat. We were not much afraid of their physical prowess, since most of them were Banyans or Brahmins. But they were clever chaps and by snicking and jabbing the fast, low balls that were our bowlers' stock-in-trade, they got off to a promising start. Indeed, by the time they reached a century and a half they had us seriously worried. Fortunately Bill and a fellow called Gambhirsinhji, known at school as ‘Gambo', contrived to dismiss the last of them. Gandhi, not much of a bat, made five. So there we were, having to chase their total of 168.
Ajitsinhji and Kiritsinhji laid a solid foundation of thirty runs, before both were dismissed by a boy called Bhanu. I played cautiously at first, for the slow high lobs from these Banyans could be treacherous. But soon I began to enjoy myself and went forward to crack them prettily around the field. My partners, alas, were not doing so well: Ramsinhji was out for nought, Takhtsinhji went for a mere four, and Shivsinhji, who did at least stay in for some time to keep me company, made fifteen.
Still, by then I had compiled about four score runs and there were four more wickets to go. It was clear that my most dangerous adversary was Gandhi, for his slow balls had a way of breaking back from leg, and since the surface of the wicket was highly irregular one never quite knew where the ball would end up. So I treated his bowling with great respect, even as I punished the other chaps. When I reached a century, my first, a loud cheer went up from the pavilion, and Mr Macnaghten, who was one of the umpires, beamed like the Cheshire cat. I do believe it was the first time since I arrived at school that I could honestly say I was popular.
Two wickets fell in quick succession and we had another fifteen runs to go. Baubha, facing Gandhi, lifted his bat high —he was a strong, tall, clean-limbed boy — and attempted to smite the breaking ball clear out of the ground, beyond the Maidan. The ball went higher and higher and then descended with ever greater speed, smack into the hands of a fielder. In came Bilkha and I knew it was all up to me now. I felt a little like Tom Brown, trying to stave off defeat against the Lord's men. I told Bill to block his stumps and not to try anything reckless. This he contrived to do, much to my relief, as I slowly accumulated the runs, a two here, a single there, always trying to shield Bill from the bowlers. With two more runs to win, Bill was facing Gandhi. Hoping for a quick run, I started up the pitch as Gandhi came in to bowl. Quite abruptly, Gandhi stopped at the wicket and flicked off the bails. He appealed to the umpire and with a sad expression on his face Mr Macnaghten judged me out. I was dumbfounded, for I had never seen such a trick before. I looked to Mr Macnaghten to see if he might change his mind. He told me in no uncertain terms to walk, as Gandhi had had acted quite within the laws of cricket. I could see Gandhi smirk as I turned smartly towards the pavilion. I thought him an absolutely loathsome fellow, for though his act may have been within the laws, it surely was not within the spirit of the game.”
Years later as is well-documented, both became big rivals as Ranji, being royalty himself, was in favour of the princely states maintaining their privileged and powerful status even in post-Independence India, while Gandhi, man at the helm of India’s freedom struggle, was of the opinion that the principalities should be done away with.
The veracity of this letter and several others published in Ian Buruma's 'Playing the Game' can't be verified though. According to the Dutch writer he received these from Binkie, Ranji's nephew. "The account might be false, of course, but even a man's lies offer invaluable insights into his character," Buruma wrote in the book.
Be that as it may, to date Mankading continues to ruffle feathers with many believing it to be against the spirit of the game. At the start of this year's Indian Premier League (IPL), Delhi Capitals' Ashwin chose not to 'Mankad' Aaron Finch of Royal Challengers Bangalore which won him praise from fans. Last year, however, it was another story as he, as Kings XI Punjab skipper, showed no such mercy to Rajasthan Royals' Jos Buttler, leading to a heavy polarisation of the cricket world on whether or not what he did was right.
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