The axe has finally fallen on Mohammed Azharuddin. Going by the squad selected for the first three ties of the Independence Cup, Vinod Kambli is expected to be his replacement. The latter has had a good domestic season and this was advanced as the justification for picking him again. Laxman's omission was expected but the stylish opener may well have some grounds for saying that he has not been given a fair trial.
One mystery remains however. What has happened to Sanjay Manjrekar? Why is he being forced to languish in the wilderness? He has had as good a season as Kambli and has led the Bombay team as well. Is he going to be overlooked as Robin Singh was? Singh was spoken of as a likely Indian player in the mid-80s but came into the team very much later. Abey Kuruvilla suffered a similar fate; the tall paceman, who now seems to have cemented his place in the team, was all of 28 before he was selected to play his first international tie; he had been doing yeoman service for Bombay for many years before that.
Manjrekar has nothing left to prove. Time and again, the argument is put forward that he is "not a one-day batsman", a statement which should be dismissed with contempt. This myth of a specialist one-day player is just that -- a myth. The best one-day player to date has been Desmond Haynes -- find me a batsman who is more technically correct and orthodox in his play. Manjrekar's one-day hundred against South Africa in Delhi in 1991 is rated by some as one of the finest hundreds made by an Indian in the one-day game.
His omission has nothing to do with ability. It has everything to do with Tendulkar; before he became captain, Sachin used to look to Sanjay as a younger brother would to an elder. He was never loath to approach Manjrekar for advice. Now that he is captain, he obviously feels that it would be infra-dig to continue to approach Manjrekar. It is sad but true.
This means that Manjrekar will continue to languish on the sidelines until someone pleads his case forcefully. It is a pity that India's most technically correct player has to watch the game on TV and not be a part of it. His father's Test career ended ignominously in 1965 along with that of Kripal Singh when they were caught with a damsel in Madras. The authorities took the high moral road and decided to end his career then and there. (It must be noted that nobody ever objected to Amrita Singh staying with Ravi Shatsri during tours in the 1980s when they were definitely not married; the same goes for Sangeeta Bijlani and Azharuddin and the latter had a wife and kids in Hyderabad at that time.) Now it looks like the son will not have much of a chance to play for his country again either; his only fault is that he was too close to the captain.
What is sadder about Manjrekar's case is that there is nobody in the media to highlight his case. Cricket writers prefer to tread the administration's path these days for two reasons -- they would not like to antagonise people who have grown extremely powerful and they would also not like to miss out on any favours which these administrators can shower. The power wielded by cricket officials has grown in proportion to the income which the game generates. But even in the past, only one scribe -- Rajan Bala -- was known to persistently question the authorities and take them apart in print and he is now a mellowed man.
It is doubtful whether Manjrekar will ever ventilate what he really feels for the man is a gentleman. He is a quiet soul and prefers to speak with his bat. He has always proved his worth whenever selected and, from what has appeared recently in print, is unwilling to blame any person or factor for his being left out. Two months short of 32, he still has a few years of cricket left in him but not too many; if India has to make use of a man as competent as he is, it should do so soon. Else, he will be another of those who never get a chance to play for India again for no fault of their own.