In one of the talk shows, noted historian and writer Ramchandra Guha had categorised Indian princes in two - ‘Princes who paid and princes who played’. His reference was mostly from pre-independence era when rich Indian princes would sponsor the tours and in return take a place in the playing XI. Maharaja of Vizianagram was a classic example of a prince who paid and went to captain India.
A prince who played
But if we have to look at the princes who played, while there are many in this category as well, the name that would first come to mind is that of Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi. Tiger, as he was called is regarded by many as one of India’s best captains. With 9 wins from 40 Tests under him, in terms of victories, he is at number 5 when we look at the list of all-time records of Indian captains.
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Now these numbers may not look extraordinary for cricket fans of today’s generations as India is currently one of the top teams in world cricket. However, in order to understand the legacy of Tiger Pataudi, one needs to go back to the 1960s when a draw was considered a good result for the Indian team.
Spin quartet was Tiger’s gift to Indian cricket
Having been made the captain at a young age of 21 years (after a head injury to the then captain Nari Contractor), Tiger transformed Indian cricket. In my opinion the famed Indian spin quartet of Bishan Singh Bedi, Erapalli Prasanna, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and Srinivasa Venkataraghavan was Tiger’s gift to Indian cricket.
Bishan Singh Bedi told me that I was unfortunate not to have met Tiger in person, but luckily I got some of the insights from the Nawab’s nephew Saad Bin Jung (also a former First-Class cricketer). As per Saad, since Tiger had the experience of playing in county cricket with other international cricketers and thus he understood the strengths and weaknesses of various teams. He then decided to make spin as his main weapon. Of course, the geniuses of the quartet ensured that Tiger was successful in his plans.
“You are playing for the country, not for your state or zonal teams”
Then, he was also responsible for improving the fielding standards and making the team aggressive. But the biggest contribution of Tiger was the sense of unity that he brought in the team. All the cricketers who played under him that I had the fortune of meeting, told me that Tiger’s message was pretty clear, “You are playing for the country, not for your state or zonal teams”. Given India’s cultural and regional diversity, this was an important step in making eleven men play as a team.
As a batsman, Tiger was just brilliant. Although his Test average of 34.91, will not place him in the list of all-time greats, but those who saw him bat consider him second to none. And mind you he scored close to 3000 runs and six centuries using just one eye. He had lost the vision of one eye during an accident in 1961. Mere mortals would fail to do even the daily chores with one eye, forget facing the fast bowlers.
“I am a Prince”
His teammates and opponents always found his company to be charming. He did not always speak too much, but when he did it was memorable. In a tribute to Tiger Pataudi, former Australian captain Ian Chappell had told a story few years back. Upon being asked by Chappell that what did Tiger do for a job, he said, “I am a Prince”. Now being a prince wasn’t a big deal in Australia so Chappell probed further and asked, “When you go for work, what do you do?” Tiger’s response was again the same so yet again Chappell clarified his question that what did he do between 9 AM to 5 PM. Tiger just stared at Chappell and forcefully said with the addition of few colourful words, “I am a Prince”.
Well, he may not have done a 9 to 5 job, probably wasn’t born for that. But the work that he did to get India a respectable name in the cricket world is beyond doubts. So, next time when you see an aggressive Indian player or a fielder sliding down to stop a boundary, look up into the skies and thank a certain Nawab of Pataudi. His legacy lives on!