A number of Indian kings and princes took to the game of cricket, and a few excelled in it. Among those who excelled, Ranjitsinhji, the ruler of Jamnagar, and his nephew Duleepsinhji caught the imagination of the cricket world, but they chose to play for England. The likes of Maharaja of Porbandar, Maharaja of Patiala and Maharajkumar of Vizianagram, who stayed back in India, did not possess great skills.
And then burst onto the scene, a young prince from the estate of Bhopal, who had both flair for the game and love to lead his country of birth. Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, better known as Nawab of Pataudi junior, was to Indian cricket what Mahatma Gandhi was to Indian freedom movement. Like the charismatic leader who unified India for a common cause, Pataudi, to quote ace spinner Bishan Singh Bedi, was the first Indian captain who brought ‘Indianness’ into the dressing room. Under his leadership, cricketers learned to shed their individual identities and play as a team and do so for the nation.
Pataudi led India in 40 of 46 Tests he represented his country in. His tally of nine wins, 19 losses and 12 draws may not appear extraordinary from today’s standards, but to understand his contribution, one has to look into what went on before he took over.
Prior to Pataudi’s appointment as the captain of Indian Test side, the team had played 79 Tests and won only eight of them. During his tenure, India bettered that number in only half of the matches. To top it all, Pataudi led India to their first Test as well as first Test series win overseas. Fittingly, his teammates referred to him as Tiger Pataudi.
Son of another notable prince cum cricketer, Iftikhar Ali Khan aka Nawab of Pataudi senior, who represented both India and England in Tests, Mansoor Ali Khan inherited his father’s batting prowess. He learned and played first class cricket in England where he had been sent for studies. At the age of 20, he had a car accident in which he damaged his right eye for good.
Despite the injury and its repercussion, Pataudi displayed an exemplary resolve to get back to the cricket field and was able to make his Test debut against England in December 1961, just six months after that fateful accident. His first four Test innings read 13, 64, 32 and 103 (the hundred coming in only 140 minutes). His contributions went a long way in securing India’s first victory in a series against England.
Though Nawab finished with a modest career average of 34, he managed to do it with one eye, making experts wonder about the scale of his achievement if he had both his eyes in a healthy state. The best exhibition of his fighting spirit came to the fore in a Test against Australia at the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground) in 1967-68 where he produced twin knocks of 75 and 85 with not just one eye but one leg too (he had injured one of his legs badly during the match).
MAK Pataudi’s career numbers
Pataudi’s greatest contribution to Indian cricket came as a skipper. He was of only 21 years and 77 days when he was handed over the reins of the side during a tour of the West Indies in 1962 following an injury to the sitting captain Nari Contractor. To date, he holds the distinction of being India’s youngest ever Test captain.
A highlight of Tiger’s captaincy career was India’s series victory in New Zealand in 1968. Going into the first Test at Dunedin, India had not recorded a single win on the foreign soil, but Pataudi’s men scripted a memorable five-wicket win over the Kiwis to end the hoodoo. Though they lost the second Test in Christchurch, victories in Wellington and Auckland ensured India’s maiden Test series triumph abroad.
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Tiger’s tactics to play three spinners was considered a masterstroke during that tour. He believed spin was India’s strength, and therefore, the team’s best chances lied in playing to its strength. Under his captaincy, the spin quartet of Bedi, Chandrasekhar, Venkataraghavan and Prasanna flourished. The spin quartet went on to win many more matches for India during the 70s.
Tiger Pataudi as captain
Tiger Pataudi inspired generations of youngsters to play their cricket fearlessly yet fairly. He was an inspiration to his teammates. With his princely status, he exuded an unparalleled charm, which rubbed on to others as well. Recalling his contribution, Bedi once said this in an interview, “We all followed Tiger and wanted to emulate his cricketing etiquette. It was an education for us and joy to observe watching him conduct himself both on the field and in the public.”
Post retirement, he briefly served as a match referee and also appeared as an expert/commentator on TV channels. His was the voice that commanded respect from every nook and corner of the cricket world. A famous anecdote of his statesmanship from his playing days featured him walking to a leg-before appeal against Glamorgan in England.
When he died on 22 September 2011, the entire cricket fraternity felt the void created by his demise. He would always be remembered as a quintessential gentleman, who played cricket with the spirit that earned it the sobriquet of a gentleman’s game.