Mumbai:Former Test player Ashok Mankad, who died in his sleep at his Worli residence here today, was among those Indian cricketers whose performance at the highest level of the game never matched his early promise for various reasons.
Son of one of India's greatest-ever all-rounders Vinoo, the right-handed batsman, who became one among many of India's converted openers to suit the team's needs, could make only 991 runs in 42 innings spread over 22 Tests (average 25.41).
The Mumbai-born (October 12, 1946) Mankad's knock of 97 at Delhi against Australia in 1969, that helped India win it and level the four-match series 1-1, was his best in his almost decade-long international career that started in 1969 at Mumbai against New Zealand and ended at Sydney in 1978 against Australia.
Mankad (61), who put on a record 146 runs with his captain Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi for the fourth wicket when making 74 against Bill Lawry's strong Australian team in only his third Test struck a purple patch in the series after being promoted as a opener in the same rubber.
Mankad, whose wife Nirupama was an oft-crowned national tennis champion in the 1960s and 1970s, lit up the Mumbai cricket landscape with two triple and one double century in the famous Harris Shield tournament for senior schoolboys.
The Mumbai-born cricketer, whose sons Mihir and Harsh took up their mothers' passion tennis instead of the willow game, continued his phenomenal rise at the university level in the Rohinton Baria All India tournament too to catch the attention of the national selection committee headed by Vijay Merchant.
The time was ripe for youngsters Mankad, Eknath Solkar, Ambar Roy Ashok Gandotra and Gundappa Vishwanath to be thrown into the deep end of international cricket when Graham Dowling's unheralded New Zealand team visited India in 1969, just ahead of Bill Lawry's Australians, and the seniors in the Indian squad, led by Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi,were floundering.
Mankad, who made his first class debut at the young age of 17, looked to have the potential to carry Indian cricket forward when he started his Test career with a string of four fifties in his first nine innings (74, 64, 68 and 67) against Australia.
But a visit to the West Indies as opening partner of the debut-making Sunil Gavaskar proved to be his undoing as he failed miserably though India, under Ajit Wadekar, went on to create history by recording the first-ever Test series win in the Caribbean.
As a matter of irony, the man he replaced at the top of the Indian order against Australia in his second Test series, Mumbai teammate Dilip Sardesai, became one of the prime architects of that famous triumph after being asked to bat in his preferred middle order slot by another Mumbai stalwart Wadekar.
Mankad flopped in the next series in England too as opener against the England new ball duo of John Snow and John Price and from that stage onwards could never recapture his early form at the international level though he continued to be a prolific scorer and a shrewd captain at the Ranji Trophy level.
In his last fifteen Tests, Mankad, whose brothers Rahul and Atul also played first class cricket without much distinction, could score just one half century. He also played one ODI against England on the 1974 tour under Wadekar.
But at the domestic level Mankad, nicknamed 'Kaka' by his teammates, was among the most difficult batsmen to dislodge. He led under-strength Mumbai team to title triumphs twice in 1974-75 and 1975-76.
In all, he scored over 6600 runs in Ranji Trophy with 22 tons to his credit, equaling Vijay Hazare's record, and his highest score of 265 in the 1981 finals against arch-foes Delhi.
After his playing days Mankad continued his association with cricket as a coach and was also the cricket manager of the Indian squad for a brief while in 1982-83.
Later he coached the Mumbai, Madhya Pradesh, Railways and Baroda Ranji Trophy teams.
Mankad's cremation is scheduled later in the day after the arrival of his sons Mihir, based in Delhi, and Indian David Cup team member and tennis professional Harsh, according to family sources.