Sunday, May 06, 2018

Imperfect — Sanjay Manjrekar Autobiography

Among the people who have over-thought about things, including the thing about over-thinking about things, I have over-thought the most about things. This is why I loved Manjrekar’s book because he is the quintessential over-thinker and he puts it in perspective with this passage in his book (its not relevant purely to cricket, but life in general).
“ Thinkers by nature don’t usually make good cricketers because a lot of cricket is about letting instincts take over. It pays not to ponder too much. All exceptional cricketers that I have got to know are people who didn’t give their cricket excessive thought and brushed off their own failures. It is for this reason many of the greats of the game won’t be able to give you much insight into the game.”
As Nassim Taleb says, “you don’t teach birds the theory of flying” — trying to understand everything is overrated. In fact, I have come to believe that “understanding” in an academic sense trades off against the ability to “do”. What matters is that you should be able to do what you have set out to do, effectively and if ‘understanding’ is a minor cog in the wheel of being effective, it should be used that way. As a tool. As a means to an end. 

Manjrekar takes us through a wonderful journey in his book on what this point meant to him as a cricketer. He comes across as a person who loved geeking out on the details of his own game. His introspection has led him down the path of dissecting his game at the molecular level and optimizing it by fixing what he thought were the “broken pieces” that led to imperfections. His realization that the imperfections is what makes a good cricketer is what this book is about. His story is refreshing in the that its an unflattering and honest reflection of the “gaps” he saw in himself and why they weren’t really gaps but his unique fingerprint. This blew my mind. Such a tragic presentation of one’s successes had an interesting Agassi’s Open like take on things.

Manjrekar’s book begins by placing a super critical microscope on his father, Vijay Manjrekar, a superstar test cricket in his own right. He details how father Manjrekar wasted all the money he earned, didn’t care about being a good husband or a father and how he was busy being a superstar to the external world. If you thought this exposition of a former test cricketer was brutal, you should wait for his description of Indian opening batsmen “who suddenly developed an injury when they had to go to West Indies or England”. I loved his chapter on the “Mumbai Cricketer”, which details the ethos of what it means to play the game the hard way and look out for each other. An interesting sub-culture of Indian cricket. 

There is a chapter dedicated to 1996 World Cup, which is was the first WC I watched after I learned to appreciate the game well. The QF game against Pakistan and SF against SL gets some attention (Gavaskar “sobbing” after the SF loss, Jadeja taking Kambli to task for crying in public). A lot of time is dedicated to analyzing the late 80s and mid-90s Indian team and its characters (Kapil, Vengsarkar, Azhar, Wadekar). Prabhakar is held in good esteem (he taught Kapil reverse swing, kept things simple, stood up when India needed openers whenever Siddhu weaseled out). Manjrekar describes Azhar as a poor communicator (in the literal sense — no one could comprehend what he was saying) and an average captain, who disliked decision making. The entire Sachin-Azhar captaincy dog-fight is given some decent scrutiny as well.

Reading this book made me realize the importance of Sehwag to Indian cricket. Generation after generation, Indian batsmen have been intellectually inclined. As if this was some kind of virtue. The focus on technic was needlessly high. I remember when Ian Chappell and another Indian commentator were on air when S.Ramesh was batting. The Indian commentator remarked something about Ramesh’s feet not moving well and Chappell said “Opener don’t have great technic. They have better hand eye coordination”. It took Sehwag to dislodge Indian cricket from a technic-first mentality. Tendulkar’s cricket was getting worse because he was migrating towards technical perfection. Dravid would have become Manjrekar. I felt the mere presence of Sehwag gave them another perspective. Manjrekar writes;
“All you need is a clear mindset. When you hear stories of G.R. Viswanath and Virender Sehwag, you realize that their simplicity was a big reason for their success. For example, when an out-of-form Viswanath. was advised by his well-wishers that he should stop playing the square cut because it had got him out early a few times, his response was, ‘So where do I get my runs?’ He stuck to playing his square cut, and came back to form. If the same advice had been given to me, I think I might have considered using it. Sehwag, meanwhile, was intent on making the most of every ball bowled to him before one with his name on it came along.”
Initially, it was surprising to me that better cricket books are written by dour and boring players . I loved Atherton’s book (and think he is the world’s best commentator) and Manjrekar’s book is certainly impressive. I wondered why this book was so much better than Tendulkar’s trashy autobiography. Then I realized that this book presented an elegant answer to this question. Tendulkar is a better cricket player than a writer. Manjrekar is a lesser cricketer. I am betting Sehwag’s book will just be a few words long. Something along the lines of “I scored a lot of runs”.


Anonymous said...

Hi Bharath,

Nicely written, as usual. You're right about Sehwag's autobiography with it being just few words long. The man simply cannot communicate and he's TRULY at loss of words. In fact, I would be surprised if he even comes out with his autobiography.

Keep the blog coming. You certainly have at least one reader in me :-)

Take Care.

Venkat Srinivasan said...

The comments section is virtually empty these days and mind you, is not a reflection of your writing. While I am a little late to the party, has facebook killed blogs?