The First Indian Batsman to make an Impact on the Domestic and the International Scene
Vijaysingh Madhavji Thakersey Merchant was born on 12th October 1911 in Bombay. He belonged to a family that was doing well with most of the family members being established businessmen. He studied at Sydenham College, Bombay. He started playing domestic cricket with the Ranji Trophy and the Bombay Pentangular in 1929. He was regularly in the limelight along with Vijay Hazare by making big scores in both the tournaments.
Vijay Merchant made his test debut at the age of twenty two in 1933 against the visiting English side when India played its inaugural test at the Bombay Gymkhana. Then three years later in 1936, Vijay Merchant made his first great impact on the test scene in the Manchester test against England. It was just the third test that India was playing and in the second innings they were behind by 368 runs. Merchant’s great batting and his double century stand for the opening partnership with Mushtaq Ali garnered international applause as he went on to save the test for India, earning for himself the accolade of being declared as Wisden’s cricketer of the Year. This partnership made him into a legend and he became the first Indian batsman to make a deep impact on both the domestic as well as the test circuit at home and abroad.
Vijay Merchant was a right hand bat and a right arm medium pace bowler. Indian cricket went through a struggling phase in the nineteen forties just before and after the independence. Not many overseas tours could be undertaken nor there were many tests being played in India during a calendar year. After the end of the Second World War, India toured England in 1946. This year saw Vijay Merchant pile up 2,385 first class runs in England at an average of 74. He played his last test in 1951 at Delhi against the visiting English side and he made 154, being his highest score in tests. His highest in Ranji Trophy was 359. A shoulder injury in that Delhi test in 1951 hastened his retirement from first class cricket.
Vijay Merchant played only ten tests and made only 859 test runs. He played only against England, five tests at home and five in England. He missed out on tours to West Indies and Australia for ill health reasons.
Vijay Merchant is the record holder for the highest batting average in Indian domestic cricket, finishing with 150 matches at an accumulation of 13,470 runs at an average of 71.64 which is the second best first class average by anyone in the world after Sir Donald Bradman’s 95.61. His Ranji Trophy average itself is 98. He has forty five centuries and fifty two half centuries in the domestic cricket and three test centuries.
He is the founder of the Bombay School of Batsmanship. This school has placed more emphasis on the right technique and approach to batting, discouraging free flow of the bat and undue lifting of the ball. The mid nineteen thirties to the mid nineteen fifties are referred to as the `Vijay Dynasty’ in Indian cricket hinting to Vijay Merchant, Vijay Hazare and Vijay Manjrekar.
Vijay Merchant died on 27th October 1987. He was a completely organised batsman and an elegant striker of the ball with good footwork. He deserves a place in the Indian Top Twenty Cricketer’s List not because of his test records but for his overall contribution to Indian cricket both in the domestic as well as the international scenes.