Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, whose flamboyance on and off the cricket field remains unrivalled, died on Thursday in New Delhi. He was 70. Pataudi suffered from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis ‘ an irreversible progressive lung disease ‘ and was admitted to Sir Ganga Ram Hospital on August 29. Hospital officials said his immediate family members ‘ wife Sharmila Tagore, son Saif and daughters Saba and Soha ‘ were with him for the past three days. Pataudi’s last rites will be held on Friday.What kind of cricketer was Mansur Ali Khan (Tiger) Pataudi, junior?
As a schoolboy in England, then known as the Nawab of Pataudi, junior, he was coached by a former Test all-rounder named George Geary. Geary was so impressed by the soundness of his technique and the range of his strokeplay that he predicted that his ward would become the next Donald Bradman. The Englishman knew what he was talking about, for he had bowled to the Don in the summer of 1930, when the Australian scored 974 runs in the four Tests he played.
The young Nawab went on to Oxford, where he hit a hundred against Cambridge, and two hundreds against an exceptionally strong Yorkshire side which included three Test bowlers. With four matches left to play in the summer of 1961, he was 92 runs short of his father’s record for most runs in a season for Oxford, when he met with a road accident, and lost the use of an eye.
Pataudi learnt how to bat afresh, and fought his way into the Indian Test team. Asked when he thought he could conquer his handicap, he answered: “When I saw the England bowling.” A year after making his international debut, he became the youngest ever Test captain. That was merely one of many records that he, a man who did not otherwise care for personal achievement, was to set.
Pataudi was the only man to score Test hundreds with the use of one eye. He was one of 10 sons to emulate their father in scoring a Test hundred ‘ but the only one to do so while playing for another country. Pataudi was the first Indian captain to win a Test series abroad (in New Zealand in 1967-68).
These records testify to Pataudi’s cricketing prowess. But he also holds a more curious distinction. To my knowledge, there are only three people who have played Test cricket under two different names. Two were converts: thus Yousuf Youhana became Mohammed Yusuf after embracing Islam, while Amritsar Gurugobind Kripal Singh was known as Arnold George Kripal Singh after marrying a Christian girl and accepting her faith. Pataudi’s own change of name had to do with the march of history. When, in 1970, the Government of India abolished princely titles and privy purses, the captain of India, henceforth known in the scorebook as “Nawab of Pataudi, junior”, became, simply, “M.A.K. Pataudi”.
Beyond the personal records ‘ curious or substantial ‘ Tiger Pataudi shall be remembered for two large contributions to Indian cricket. Apart from his batsmanship, he was a top-class fielder. Old-timers in the Sussex town of Hove still remember an impromptu competition, called when rain had stopped play, between Tiger and the great South African cover point Colin Bland. The two men, in turns, were given balls to chase and hurl back at a single wicket behind which stood a journeyman in gloves. The Indian matched the Springbok both in fleetness of foot and in the accuracy of his arm.
As captain of India, Pataudi set high standards in the field. He had a special eye for younger cricketers who matched him in that department. Eknath Solkar, Syed Abid Ali and Srinivas Venkatraghavan were three great fielders who made their Test debuts under him. Pataudi was the first Indian captain to emphasise the importance of fielding, throwing, and catching. And he was the first Indian captain to be completely non-parochial. He worked heroically to challenge the sectarian tendencies that then beset the game in this country ‘ with selectors promoting players from their own state, and even senior players doing likewise.
Pataudi himself encouraged talented youngsters regardless of class, caste, religion, or linguistic group. Among his proteges were the aforementioned Solkar ‘ the son of a groundsman in Bombay ‘ two lower-middle-class boys from Karnataka (G.R. Viswanath and B.S. Chandrasekhar), and the Sikh slow bowler Bishan Singh Bedi.
Pataudi was the son of a nawab whose mother had married into the most famous Muslim family in north India. His own wife was a celebrated, and high-born, film star. Despite a background steeped in ‘ and consolidated by ‘ privilege, he played always for the team. In 1971 Pataudi lost his place in the Indian Test side as both captain and player. He fought his way back, returning eighteen months later to play under the captaincy of the plebeian Ajit Wadekar.
He gave nothing less than his best, as in a match-winning innings in the Madras Test, where his sweeps and cuts were a simultaneous affirmation of his team spirit and his continuing scepticism about the quality of the England bowling. Pataudi’s love of cricket contrasted sharply with the love of self-promotion that marks some of his contemporaries.
During the telecast of the ceremonies at the conclusion of the last Test series in England tells me that after giving away the trophy that bears his family’s name, Pataudi began speaking, in his characteristically polite and euphemistic way, of the fact that a good Test team required a robust domestic first-class competition. The Indian television commentators, sensing a challenge to their own complicity in the destruction of the Ranji Trophy, steered the conversation into safer channels.
When he had two eyes, Tiger Pataudi bid fair to become the next Bradman; with only one he was capable of scoring runs against the best attacks. And whether playing with one eye or two, he remains one of the finest fielders to wear Indian colours.
What kind of sportsman was M.A.K. Pataudi? That question can best be answered by setting him alongside his contemporaries. Think then of a player who was as charismatic as Salim Durani, as brave as Mohinder Amarnath, as independent-minded as Bishan Singh Bedi, and as affable in personal demeanour as G.R. Viswanath.
That man was Tiger Pataudi.