Nawab of cricket

Print edition : October 21, 2011

FEBRUARY 13, 1964: Pataudi, who hit 203 runs (not out), going out to resume batting on the fifth and final day of the fourth Test against England at the Ferozeshah Kotla grounds in Delhi. The Test ended in a draw. - THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi (1941-2011), fondly called Tiger by his associates, was a cricketer ahead of his time.

MANSUR ALI KHAN was the Nawab of Pataudi. In cricketing circles, he was the undisputed prince. Yet, he could be a commoner, too, as Salim Durrani, the uncrowned prince of Indian cricket, once revealed. He had no qualms about sitting on the floor. His death on September 22 from a lung infection has robbed Indian cricket of a most charismatic character.

Pataudi, fondly called Tiger by his associates, was a cricketer ahead of his time. His leadership was exceptionally brilliant and his talent an awesome treasure for a man who had a passion for the sport. Cricket became close to his heart because he had a legacy to live up to. His father, Iftikhar Ali Khan, played for England and then for India. It was natural for Tiger to try and emulate his illustrious father.

Iftikhar, who was a hockey Olympian too, ruled Pataudi, a small state in Punjab and now part of Jhajjar in Haryana, and Tiger was the ninth and last Nawab of the state.

Tiger missed the guidance of his father, who died on the day the son was celebrating his 11th birthday. In Tiger's Tale, a racy autobiography, Pataudi remembered his father as a man of very strong principles. He was used to having his own way. Pataudi Senior was known for his ability to carry the team as a unit. Tiger followed in his father's footsteps. His greatest achievement lay in making the team realise the importance of playing as a unit. Parochialism was rampant but he quelled it with a firm hand. We are playing for India, he would remind the team. His father achieved a similar distinction when leading India on the 1946 tour to England, ensuring that there was no factionalism.

That Pataudi was of royal lineage helped him. He had had the best of education and cricket grooming in England. He went on to captain Oxford and then Sussex. It was amazing that five months after a car accident that cost him his right eye, Pataudi was making his Test debut and in less than a year leading the side.

Pataudi's appointment as deputy to Nari Contractor was part of the grooming process that the selectors had planned out. Contractor was expected to play a good five seasons or so, and that was considered adequate for Pataudi to learn the art of leading the side. He became captain soon at 21.

JANUARY 9, 1953: A 12-year-old Pataudi being coached at the Sandham and Gover School at Wandsworth, England. Frank Woolley (left) also coached Pataudi Sr. Alf Gover, former England cricketer who owned the school, is watching.-THE HINDU ARCHIVES

His ascendancy to the captaincy came under the most demanding of circumstances during the tour to the West Indies in 1961. Contractor was felled by a Charlie Griffith bouncer in Barbados, and Tiger suddenly found himself saddled with the enormous responsibility of leading a bunch that included seniors such as Polly Umrigar, Vijay Manjrekar, Chandu Borde and Ramakant Desai.

Those were traumatic times, and he would often remember them with sadness. He once said in an interview: The injury [to Contractor] had all of us vulnerable. He sought the guidance of Umrigar and Manjrekar and admitted later that they were kind to him. In fact, he went on to captain the team in 40 of the 46 Tests he played in, with extraordinary authority.

He epitomised optimism in a team that craved for victories. We are playing to win, his announcement in the dressing room shocked and surprised even the seniors. We are doomed to lose, was the accepted approach. Pataudi changed it with his unstinted faith in his colleagues.

Born in Bhopal, the only son in a family of four children, Pataudi studied at the Wellham School in Dehra Dun and made his first trip to England as an 11-year-old to continue his education at Winchester College. Accompanied by his mother, shortly after the tragic death of Pataudi Sr from a heart attack while playing polo, the young lad had some grand company on the ship: cricketing stars such as Frank Worrell, Everton Weekes, Clyde Walcott and the legendary Vinoo Mankad.

It was often suggested that Pataudi was aloof. This was not true. He had his reasons for picking his inner circle. A man of few words, they said. Again, not true. Abbas Ali Baig, who knew Pataudi for 50 years right from his schooldays, said: Tiger had a fantastic sense of humour and was delightful company. He did not believe in making statements. His sense of humour and one-liners, which could leave one in splits, reflected his friendliness. He was a lovable prankster, said Ajit Wadekar, former captain.

Pataudi and his wife, Sharmila Tagore. Besides his wife, he is survived by son Saif and daughters Saba and Soha.-R.V. MOORTHY

Pataudi was a cricketer for all seasons. He did not subscribe to fixed notions about the game. He was open to suggestions and very willing to innovate. He was a bowler's delight. He would give you the field you wanted and back you all the way. Tiger was the best Indian captain ever. He taught us to be together, believe in ourselves and to win, remembered Bishan Singh Bedi, the great leg spinner.

Bedi should know, for Pataudi was the architect of India's faith in spin. As a captain, he noted that India needed a couple of top-quality fast bowlers. We must find world-class fast bowlers on a top-priority basis. We have had none at all in India since the 1930s, he wrote in his autobiography. He found a way out by encouraging the spinners and the results showed. The famed spin quartet of Bedi, Erapalli Prasanna, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and S. Venkataraghavan came to torment the best batting line-ups and shaped some memorable victories for India.

He taught us to win and would tell us that no team was unbeatable, said Prasanna, who enjoyed Pataudi's confidence. The two would plot against their victims. Tiger loved to hunt the opposition and relied on the spinners to deliver. Prasanna and Bedi asked for and got the field they wanted, but Chandrasekhar always left it to Pataudi.

He said, I never set my field! I would prefer a slip, a leg-slip and a short leg. Tiger knew it. He would adjust the field depending on how I bowled. He was a brilliant captain and a lovely batsman to watch. I wonder what he would have achieved had he not been handicapped with the loss of an eye. I loved his openness. He was large-hearted and never behaved like a senior. People felt nervous in his company but we were great friends. For all his royal background, Tiger came across as a simple man.

Indian cricket took wing under Pataudi's captaincy. That he did not support the idea of playing for a draw helped. The young team rallied round him, and soon India was excelling overseas. The team won its first-ever away series in New Zealand in 1967, thanks to Pataudi's faith in the players.

His fear of flying was well known in cricketing circles, leading him to undertake long train journeys when travelling within the country. His square-on stance, with his cap peaked over the right eye, gave him an unorthodox look, but Tiger was just the cricketer a captain would have desired and an ambassador the fans would have admired. Statistics, 2,793 runs with six centuries, do not portray the joy that he brought cricket lovers.

Pataudi was a compelling cricketer to watch. His batting was an art that he came to develop on the strength of a natural flair to dominate. Equally exceptional was his fielding, which stood out all the more in an era when Indians were not known for being athletic on the field. He patrolled the covers with the ferocity of a tiger. He exhibited sensational anticipation and was a graceful sight on the field, swiftly intercepting the ball, and his quick-as-a-flash pick-and-throw action was breathtaking.

Give me Tiger Pataudi in the covers and I'll take on any batsman in the world, wrote Bedi in his tribute to the captain who mentored his international debut.

The noted cricket writer K.V. Gopala Ratnam, whom Pataudi respected highly, read him the best. He once wrote: Possessing felicity of strokes, fluid and grace, and a certain elegance, the young Nawab is a class by himself. The way he gently taps the ball is a delight to watch. Even when he sends the ball to the fence, there is no vulgar exhibition of strength or force, it looks as if he has just tickled the ball and made it gallop. As a fielder, Pataudi is peerless. His leadership, particularly the handling of the bowling, was clever and shrewd. He rightly puts the premium on winning.

The cricketing world often wondered how much more Pataudi could have achieved if he had not suffered the eye injury. It was a blow no doubt. Close one eye and try reading a book. You will know the difference. Tiger played the best of bowlers with one eye, Baig said. Many teammates tried to bat with one eye closed and soon realised how great Pataudi was. The injury happened even before Pataudi had made his Test debut. The class batsman that he was, Pataudi made an early mark with a century in only his third Test.

Pataudi commanded respect from all quarters. Administrators would support his views and demands. Players would not hesitate to confide in him. He never held any rancour against any individual, emphasised Bedi, who revered Tiger for his commitment to Indian cricket. What would upset Pataudi? A talented player not giving his 100 per cent, remembered Bedi. The player who often caused Pataudi to lose his cool was Durrani. The all-rounder was rated high by Pataudi but sadly he ended up an underachiever.

Pataudi led by example. He could produce incredible shots on difficult pitches, like his assault that left Graham McKenzie's reputation in tatters in a Test at Melbourne. Pataudi batted at No. 7, owing to a thigh injury, and decimated the famed Australian fast bowler with some daring shots, mostly off the back foot. It was a heroic performance as he made 75 and 85. Pataudi was among the few batsmen who played the lofted shots in Tests, sometimes even off fast bowlers.

NOVEMBER 5, 1969: Pataudi pulls Ashely Mallet for four during his innings of 95 on the second day of the first Test between India and Australia at Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai.-THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Having learnt the finer points of the game in England, Pataudi was a firm believer in the traditions of the game. Gamesmanship did not find a place in his cricket dictionary even though he remained an aggressive and dynamic leader. There was a rare flourish in his batting, but it was his captaincy that enhanced his stature. He had to mould a team that included players just out of college. This fact meant his leadership qualities were put to an early test. He did not fail his supporters.

As a captain he was much admired. He was simple, yet firm, and brought great dignity to his job. It was a reflection of his royal grooming and impeccable cricket education in England, recalled Mohinder Amarnath, who made his debut under Pataudi's captaincy.

Prof. Surya Prakash Chaturvedi, who has authored many cricket books, has an interesting tale that highlights Pataudi's self-respect as a captain. Chaturvedi said: Once England captain Brian Close walked out to toss. The Englishman had assumed Pataudi would be following him. But Tiger had stayed back because tradition demanded that the home captain invite his visiting counterpart for the toss. Close obviously had forgotten but quickly realised his mistake and invited Tiger, who had successfully made his point without souring the atmosphere.

In Pataudi's opinion, captains belonged to two categories: pushers and pullers. A captain who motivated his players by setting an example was a puller. The one who goaded his players into performing was a pusher. He rated Garry Sobers and Richie Benaud as pullers and Ray Illingworth and Mike Brearley as pushers. No marks for guessing Pataudi's category.

Sujit Mukherjee, scholar, cricket writer and first-class player, analysed Pataudi's role brilliantly when he wrote: His long reign up to 1969 assumed the appearance of an epoch in India's cricket history. This epoch was marked mainly by a growing reliance on youth to carry the burden of a Test cap. During 1964-69, more young cricketers were called to national duty than at any five-year period earlier. Despite their faults of technique and temperament, these young teams have seldom provided dull fare. And Pataudi has symbolised this spirit of the unexpected throughout his tenure [but] the manner of his deposition [in 1971] was ungracious.

To many, Pataudi remained the most brilliant if not the most successful Indian captain. The charisma, grace and flair that he brought to the job instilled an amazing self-belief through the ranks. The respect that he commanded on and off the field remains unmatched.

Pataudi lost his captaincy to Wadekar for the tour to West Indies owing to Vijay Merchant's casting vote as chairman of the selection committee. I said sorry to him, and believe me the incident did not have any impact on our friendship, said Wadekar. The sporting Pataudi played three Tests under Wadekar's captaincy in 1972-73 before returning to lead India in four of the five Tests in a home series against Clive Lloyd's West Indies in 1974-75. That happened to be Pataudi's farewell international appearance.

The immensely modest private person, Pataudi had some rough moments too. Being arrested for allegedly poaching blackbuck was uncharacteristic, as was his unsuccessful contest in the 1991 Lok Sabha election from Bhopal. After finishing with playing cricket, he took to media work, commentated for a while, performed the job of international match referee for two seasons and served on the governing council of the Indian Premier League but refrained from taking up roles in coaching or selection.

For some of us, a gesture of his, made close to four decades ago, will remain unforgettable. At the end of a cricket final in Pataudi, where he stood as umpire in the match, the affable Tiger showered us with gifts: school bags with plenty of accessories, shoes, caps and shirts. They were priceless treasures for the budding cricketers amongst us.

Married to the film star Sharmila Tagore, he is survived by son Saif and daughters Saba and Soha besides his wife. He was 70. Stars may enrich the game in future, too, but there will never be another Nawab of cricket like him.

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