The Merchant of India and his Friendly Nemesis

While growing up, I used to be fascinated about the three Vijays of Indian Cricket, namely, Vijay Merchant, Vijay Hazare and Vijay Manjrekar, drawing parallels with three Ws in my mind. As I grew up, I realised, while Mr. Manjrekar was the better batsman in his family, the other two Vijays were in different class, both in terms of age, as well as batting class and averages.

There are a lot of things, that can be told about the two Vijays, not least Cricket with Vijay Merchant or Mr. Hazare who breached the Don’s defence twice, a feat not many bowlers achieved, leave aside, the person being one of the two best batsmen in the team. But today, the story is different. Merchant is the Indian Numero Uno, the batsman with the highest First Class average after who else but the Don, he was the founder of Mumbai School of Khadoos Batsmanship, a tradition modified only with the arrival of a curly-haired teenager more than 5 decades later. While the biggest tragedy for Indian Cricket according to Merchant was that Hazare (a Test batting average only .07 lower than Merchant) couldn’t be the finest Indian batsman due to captaincy load.

The batting rivalry of the Don Bradman and Wally Hammond is well-known to the cricket literati, their Ashes rivalries where eventually the Don would prevail over Hammond besting Don’s previous efforts. Similar story-line developed in a similar time frame on the grounds of India, most famously in the matches between Bombay and Maharashtra (Baroda later).

The run race for the highest individual innings by an Indian between the two Prima Donnas began in 1941-42. Merchant’s innings of 242(3) for Hindus against Muslims in Bombay Pentangular was the highest score by an Indian till date. A record, duly broken by Hazare in the very next season with a score of 248 in the same championship against the same opponents, for “The Rest” against Muslims.

The next year, the final match featured, Merchant’s Hindus versus Hazare’s The Rest. Hindus batted first, with Merchant yet again breaking the record with a 250 in the team score. Not to be outdone by the other Vijay, Mr. Hazare scored a mammoth 309 out of a team total of 387, a 300 run partnership with his tailender brother scoring 266 out of them. Thus becoming the first Indian triple centurion.

Final saga of the story again came from the Merchant, scoring a 359* almost a week later, settling the debate for one last time. Hazare although scored another 316 but couldn’t best Vijay Merchant, the Indian Numero Uno.

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