Friday, September 23, 2011

Nawab of Pataudi....the original Tiger

As team India got whitewashed in the recently concluded test series in England, we saw Tiger Pataudi on the podium at Oval for the awards ceremony, watching balefully, as English Captain, Andrew Straus lifted the winning trophy…..The Pataudi Trophy. A trophy named as a mark of respect, after the illustrious contributions made by the Pataudi family(namely Tiger himself & his father, Sr Pataudi) to the game of cricket. As he blamed IPL for India’s miserable defeat to England, little did the world know that Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, the Tiger was making his last public appearance.
Suffering from a chronic lung infection for which there is no cure, he finally breathed his last yesterday, the 22nd of Sept 2011, at the age of 70 yrs, leaving behind the world mourning all over. He is survived by his wife Sharmila, his son Saif Ali & two daughters Soha & Saba.

Arguably the greatest Captain India has produced thus far, he was given the leadership role in only his fourth Test, when he was barely 21 years of age, in Barbados in 1962, as the regular captain Nari Contractor was in hospital after getting hit on the head by Charlie Griffith. Pataudi was then the youngest Test captain, a record that held until 2004. Over the years, under his able captaincy, India won nine Tests, and it was during his tenure that the team began to believe it could succeed. The first ever overseas victory for India came under his leadership, when in Dunedin, New Zealand, in 1968, India went on to record their first away series victory, beating the Kiwis 3-1, a feat that got Pataudi the “Wisden Cricketer of the Year” award.
In all he played 46 test matches, of which he captained 40, scoring 2793 runs at an healthy average of 35 and made six centuries & 16 half centuries, the highest of which was an unbeaten 203 against England in Delhi in 1964. However, many critics rate his 75, scored on one leg with one eye, against Australia in Melbourne in 1967-68 as his finest batting display. Coming in to bat at 25 for 5 on a green wicket, with a thin drizzle, Pataudi needed a runner because of a pulled hamstring that had kept him out of the previous Test. Unable to play several front-foot shots, & hobbling under pain, he made up by hooking & pulling. By the time he was dismissed, India's total had been lifted to 162. In the second innings, with India facing an innings defeat, Pataudi scored another half-century(85 runs), and added 54 with the No. 10, Ramakant Desai….a test match that India eventually lost by an innings, but would be remembered for his courage & never give up attitude against the marauding Aussies. He was probably India's first batsman to try lofted shots over infield to keep the scorecard ticking, a shot that's used so widely & intelligently by current ODI format champion batsmen like Sehwag, Gambhir, Raina, Dhoni, Watson etc for maximum benefits.
In a country of dreamers, one imagines, what heights of batting credentials Tiger would have conquered, had he not lost his right eye permanently in a tragic car accident.

At the tender age of 20, a car accident damaged his right eye permanently, denying the Tiger from fully realizing his batting / cricketing potential. This would have snuffed out the ambition and resilience of lesser men, but Tiger took on the challenge to overcome the handicap and play the sport he loved most. (For the record, he was also a terrific hockey and squash player).
The loss of one eye would have been unnerving. He saw most things double and only by trial and error at nets did he come to the conclusion that of the two balls he saw while batting, the real one was the inner one. He would tilt his cap in a manner, which would cover his right eye, thus minimizing the blurred vision as much as possible. Once Ted Dexter, a renowned English batsman, & then captain of Sussex, amazed at Pataudi’s batting capabilities, experimented batting one eyed in the nets. He could not middle a single delivery as the hand eye coordination went wrong every single time. He was astounded as to how MAK had been batting so consistently over the years, despite this serious handicap.

As a Captain, having no pace bowler of significance in his team, he masterminded the use of attacking spin bowling, featuring the famous spin quartet of Bedi, Chandra, Prasanna & Venkat. He backed them up with some of the best close in fielders India has ever produced….the likes of Solkar(arguably the best forward short leg fielder ever), Abid Ali, Wadekar, Venkat, Gavaskar etc, as he himself led by example, being India’s best cover fielder ever, which got him the title of Tiger. He literally prowled the cover area as a proud King…the Tiger. He also had a penchant for discovering talent & supporting them to grow...Gundappa Vishwanath, one of India’s all time greatest batsman was his find. He also captained Sussex & Oxford University.

Pataudi retired in 1975 after West Indies' tour of India. After retirement, Pataudi served as a match referee between 1993 and 1996, officiating in two Tests and ten ODIs, but largely stayed away from cricket administration.

Probably the first of the sports superstars in India, Tiger Pataudi was a debonair handsome man in his heydays, & lived his life King Size, marrying the beautiful film actress Sharmila Tagore in 1969. He was known for his ready wit & humor & was always a popular sought after man in any social gatherings. He was the one-eyed prince from a royal lineage in India, who had out-Englished the English and who helped India master this great colonial game in times to come.

In a world of dwindling Tigers, we all mourn the loss of this regal Tiger, the original Prince of Indian Cricket, Mansur Ali Khan of Pataudi…..May his soul rest in peace.


gayatri bhadkamkar said...

Big loss to Indian cricket..May his soul Rest in Peace.
You have put together many facts that were totally unknown..