20 Intriguing facts about Vijay Merchant- The pioneer of Mumbai Cricket

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(Photo Source: PA Photos)

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20 Intriguing facts about Vijay Merchant- The pioneer of Mumbai Cricket: Vijay Madhavji Merchant is regarded as one of India’s greatest batsman of the pre-independence era. His batting defined elegance. Smooth footwork, strong drives, delicate late cuts and lovely hooks and pulls narrated his batting style. He was a batsman whose batting was class apart from others. Merchant was counted as one of the best during the era amongst the likes Don Bradman, Compton and others.

It was unfortunate that he did not got enough opportunity to play Test matches. Merchant played only 10 Test matches in his international career spanning over 18 years. However, he showed his batting prowess at the domestic level and was the most dominant Indian cricketer ever at the domestic level.

1. Birth:

Vijay Merchant, the classic Mumbai cricketer was born on October 12, 1911, in Mumbai. He was born in a wealthy family of merchants and factory owners.

2. Confusion over name:

Vijay Merchant was earlier known as “Vijay Thakersey.” There is no clear story about how his name got changed. It is believed that the change in name happened during his school days. During an interaction with his English teacher in school. There was some confusion regarding his family business and name. He is supposed to have answered “Merchant” when the teacher asked him about his father’s name. This is how “Vijay Thakersey” became “Vijay Merchant.”

3. Early career:

Vijay was a self-taught cricketer and developed his flawless batting through self-rectification in his technique. He had a penchant for huge run scoring since his teenage years. Merchant captained Sydenham college and was known as an ‘outstanding cricketer’ among peers. Later, in the year 1929, he played for Hindus in the then famous Pentangular Series while still continuing to play for his college.

4. First-class career:

Merchant has an average of 71.64 which stands second only to the great Don Bradman in the list of overall highest first-class averages. Most of his playing years were lost due to the World War. He played six seasons of First class cricket and his batting average in the five of it read- 114, 123, 223, 285, 117.

5. Ranji:

Merchant scored 3639 runs at a mind-boggling average of 98.75 in 47 innings in Ranji Trophy matches.

6. National call:

After mind-blowing performance in the inter-collegiate and first-class matches, Vijay Merchant was named in the Indian squad to play against the England team who were visiting India for the first time to play Test on Indian soil.

7. Drops himself out of the tour:

Vijay was a patriotic Indian. He would have played in the inaugural Test match of India. But, he dropped out of an England tour before Independence because Mahatma Gandhi and many other freedom fighters were in jail. Four years later, he agreed to tour England just because the national leaders were out of jail. Subsequently, he made his Test debut in the 1933-34 tour to England.

8. Impresses Englishmen:

The Englishmen were highly impressed by Vijay Merchant’s flawless batting in his debut series. English cricketer CB Fry exclaimed “Let us paint him white and take him with us to Australia as an opener.” This comment is not an exaggeration as Merchant amassed over 800 runs in two tours to England playing in the middle order.

9. Upsets the ‘Don’:

Merchant opted to skip the tour of Australia due to poor health. The Australian was eager to play against this prodigy. But, they were dejected after realizing that he has skipped the tour. Bradman reacted, “Worst of all, we were denied the sight of Vijay Merchant, who must surely have claims to be the greatest of all Indian players.”

10. Played only against England: 

Just like the great Bradman, Merchant only played against England in two countries- at home and in England.

11. Sabbatical:

International cricket was lost due to the World war. Due to the same reason, Merchant could not play any Test cricket for the span of ten years, while he was at his prime.

12. Oldest Cricketer to score a century:

Vijay Merchant scored 154 at Kotla, Delhi against England in the 1951-52 series. It was the last Test of his career. This century made him the oldest Indian to score a Test Century. The record still stands unbroken.

13. Honors:

In the 1936 tour to England, Merchant scored 1475 runs in the series at an average of 51. This performance gained him the honor of being the Wisden Cricketer of the year in 1937.

14. Unfortunate retirement:

Merchant incurred a shoulder injury while fielding in the 1951-52 home series versus England. This injury eventually forced him to retire and marked the end of a short yet fabulous career.

15. Rivalry with Vijay Hazare:

Vijay Merchant and Vijay Hazare had a gentle yet prolonged rivalry in between them. In the famous Bombay Pentangular tournament, Merchant scored 250 not out against the Rest and broke Hazare’s record of 242 set in the previous match. Hazare responded with a 309 not out in the next innings and Merchant, not to be left behind, scored 359 in a Ranji Trophy game against Maharashtra. Both dominated domestic cricket from 30s to 50s. The rivalry was superficial as they it never affected their personal relation. They respected and admired each other.

16. The ‘Vijay’ dynasty:

Vijay Merchant along with Vijay Hazare and Vijay Manjrekar formed famous “Vijay Dynasty” in Indian cricket, which lasted from 1933 to 1960.

17. Famous speech:

Merchant delivered one of the speeches which is considered the best by any cricketer.

He said  “My Lords and Gentlemen, so often we hear that these exchanges of visits bring the people of two countries together. Don’t you believe that? They only bring a few cricketers together, because people of two countries are brought together in a spirit of understanding, give and take and brotherhood of a much higher plane.”

Referring to a cabinet mission in India, which was still a British colony then, Merchant added, “It is my sincere hope that the cabinet mission will succeed totally and that when our Indian team visits England, it will play the English cricketers on a level of total equality. Until then, we only hope and pray that wiser counsel will prevail.”

18. Life after cricket:

Vijay Merchant became a cricket administrator after retiring as a player. He also became the chief of selectors in the 1960s and was instrumental in infusing future batting legends like Sunil Gavaskar, Eknath Solkar and Gundappa in the team. He was also a writer and a radio commentator. His radio show on Vividh Bharti “Cricket with Vijay Merchant” aired on every Sunday was very famous. He often visited cricket academies and shared his knowledge with the younger talent.

19. Philanthropy:

Merchant was well-known for philanthropy. He used all his reward money and awards for the welfare of the handicapped people.

22. Death:

Merchant died of a heart attack on October 27 in 1987 at the age of 76.