MAK Pataudi August 21, 2010

A princely state

Pataudi brought to Indian cricket a dash of hauteur and a touch of heroism

When I was growing up in the sixties, the Nawab of Pataudi Jr was more than my favourite cricketer; he was my hero. He was the captain of India in 1963-64, when MCC toured with a second-rate team led by MJK Smith. That was the first cricket series that I actively followed with the help of running commentary on All India Radio and pictures published in Sport & Pastime. Pataudi did nothing noteworthy either as captain or player. All five Tests were drawn, and the Nawab's contribution as a batsman was one double-century and not much more.

But it didn't matter. I knew about Pataudi before I began to follow Test cricket, in the way that I knew of Dara Singh and Milkha Singh. India was a brand-new country in 1957, the year I was born, and in its enthusiasm for mascots it fashioned heroes out of some pretty eccentric material. I knew, for example, that Dara Singh was India's first world champion and that he had got there by wrestling King Kong to the ground. This was a fact; the older boys I played gully cricket with had told me. Just as they had told me that Pataudi had only one eye.

Looking back, it's hard to believe the hours we spent debating the state of Pataudi's eye. There was a colour picture of him in the souvenir album that Esso published in 1964 to mark the MCC tour. It was a spiral-bound album and each player had a page to himself, with space for a picture and a short biography on the right. You bought the album from the petrol pump and each time your parents filled up, you collected some photos and stuck them in the marked spaces. As a marketing ploy, it was brilliant: no Burmah Shell pump sold my parents a drop of petrol till I had filled in the whole album.

As a result, I knew more about Jim Parks and Phil Sharpe than anyone needed to know, but Pataudi's bio was frustrating because it didn't settle the matter of his eye. Was it a glass eye, or a normal one that didn't work? It was hard to tell from the photo. Still, it was a dashing picture, with Pataudi looking vaguely rakish, as a Nawab should. The bio let you know that he had captained Oxford and played for Sussex, which didn't hurt the image. Forty years ago these things mattered.

Pataudi was the best expert commentator I've ever heard: sharp, sardonic and rude, but I'm glad he didn't make it a living because it left my memories of him intact. I didn't have to watch him age into a professional hack

A part of his mystique was the romance of him being a Nawab, multiplied by the improbable fact that he was the son of another Nawab of Pataudi, who had also captained India. To complete the fairy tale for seven-year-old fans like me, just about two years before the MCC tour, he had become, at 21, the youngest captain in the world, when he was given the job in the West Indies after Charlie Griffith broke Nari Contractor's head. And there was more: he wasn't just the Nawab of Pataudi - he was Tiger. For us it wasn't just a name, it was an attitude. I remember him fielding in the covers against the New Zealanders at the Feroz Shah Kotla stadium in Delhi, chasing balls down, well, tigerishly. I think the reason we worshipped him was that at a time when Indian Test teams ranged from mediocre to terrible, he still managed to lead them boldly, with panache and without deference. It didn't hurt that he was born and raised in privilege; ironically, the citizens of republican India were delighted to be led by a debonair prince.

So did his batting matter? Of course it did. There were the two fifties he made against Bob Simpson's Australians that helped us win the Bombay Test in the three-Test series played immediately after the MCC tour. There was the fifty and the hundred in a losing cause at Headingley in 1967. India lost every Test in that series, but listening to Test Match Special on the BBC's World Service I was content that my hero had top-scored in India's first innings and then hit a wonderful 148 out of a total of 510 to avoid a follow-on (India lost respectably, by six wickets).

Listening to John Arlott and Brian Johnston speculate about the batting heights Pataudi might have scaled with two good eyes, I forgave him all the innings when he scored nothing and hadn't seemed to care. Best of all, there were the two fifties he hit against the Australians in the Melbourne Test of 1967-68, where, literally hamstrung, he hit 75 and 85, "with one good eye and on one good leg… " (Mihir Bose, A History of Indian Cricket). We still lost by an innings, but I was used to finding individual consolation in collective failure and the thought of Pataudi, hobbled but heroic, hooking and pulling his way to gallant defeat, was enough.

I didn't actually see him play that many innings. There was his top score of 203 not out in Delhi in that dull dead rubber against Smith's MCC, and the hundred, also in Delhi, against the New Zealanders the following year, which, for once, was in a winning cause. But I can't really remember his strokeplay in the way I can for Gavaskar or Azhar or Laxman, or any batsman made familiar by live telecasts. I saw more of Pataudi after he retired and turned up on television as an expert than I did when he was a player. He was the best expert commentator I've ever heard: sharp, sardonic and rude, but I'm glad he didn't make it a living because it left my memories of him intact. I didn't have to watch him age into a professional hack. Listening at Richie Benaud on Channel Nine, it's impossible to believe he ever played cricket. Pataudi was my hero from a time before television, through a childhood where I followed cricket by hearing it described; in a golden age where I didn't have to see to believe.

Mukul Kesavan is a novelist, essayist and historian based in New Delhi. This article was first published in Wisden Asia Cricket magazine in 2004

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Shaz on August 23, 2010, 20:14 GMT

    Thanks for the piece, Mukul. It helped in knowing what actually the Tiger was to Indian Cricket. Great man, indeed!

  • happy on August 23, 2010, 16:25 GMT

    at no stage is an attempt being made to compare pataudi and wadekar but if pataudi built the team then how come it never performed under him even in india. apart from gavaskar who made his debut in windies, wadekar had tigers team and he used them well or maybe they responded to a commoner like them very wel. what is being suggested is dont call wadekar a lucky skipper as critics have done over the years. and wadekar did not quit after the defeat in england. he retired when he was dropped even as a player from the west zone team on the return from england. quite rightly he thought that if he was not considered good enough as a player for west zone it was better to retire from all cricket. and yes tiger also retired after that defeat to lloyds team in '74/75. so was he a quitter too or is it only commoners who are so? the only point that is being made is use the same criteria to judge everybody and not different ones as per convenience and likes and dislikes.

  • Bis on August 23, 2010, 9:37 GMT

    I hope you are right @CricketPissek though I doubt it. The sentence before the one I quoted he implies that Benaud has "aged into a professional hack." Nor is it the first time that he has shamelessly pandered to populist prejudice in dishonouring the memory and legacy of a mighty Australian cricket figure.

  • Vineesh on August 23, 2010, 8:42 GMT

    It is really an effort to rise to a level and acknowledge the greatness of Tiger and his contribution to Indian cricket. He was indeed peerless among Indian skippers and no better than him before he took the crown of thorns in 1962 as the Indian captain. He was the first Indian captain to show any kind of aggression on the field of play. He indeed put in the likes of Bedi, Prasanna, Chandra, the will to fight attack and take wickets. Wadekar was good in his way, though no comparison to Pat. He was good as long as the win lasted. As soon as he was challenged by his own team mates to present their cases to the board corageously he went adrift of them. I was happy to note that someone else has also put it, but to be very fair, Pat, Saurav and Dhoni have been the only captains that have shown any aggression as a captain. However very few people howmuchsoever they follow Indian cricket fail to understand. Kaps won the WC 83 but otherwise as a captain, he was found wanting.

  • Dimuthu on August 22, 2010, 22:11 GMT

    @bis_d - perhaps the author meant since Richie is so well known as a commentator, it is difficult to think of him as a former player? If he did mean to insult Richie's commentary, then i must agree with you somewhat. Although I believe he's more diplomatic than honest (and has some personal discriminations/prejudices), his analysis of the game is second to none, and Mukul has no right to insult him.

  • Abhishek on August 22, 2010, 20:39 GMT

    @jaanson . . . So you want Wadekar to be put on the same pedestal as captain alongwith Tiger is it? Some issues with that imo. Wadekar inherited the team Tiger built. Tiger used to say that the Indian teams of the 60s were totally lacking in self-belief. He gave them that self-belief, which you can never measure in terms of cold statistics. Wadekar threw in the towel after that England tour of 1974. He had no stomach for defeat. A captain needs to be made of sterner stuff. Didn't he get credit for the '71 wins? He did get a lot of credit. And who led the team in '74-75 after Wadekar left? Tiger. It takes guts to do that, to put your reputation on the line when you know you can instead happily retire and go away. Thats why he was a Tiger among men.

  • aj on August 22, 2010, 12:20 GMT

    this is really sad.. that you guys censor any sorts of criticism of the article....

  • happy on August 22, 2010, 8:05 GMT

    one thing we must respect is the opinion of others even if we dont agree with it so while respecting krishna's view that pataudi was a shrewd skipper and that he motivated his team why is the same not said about wadekar? wadekar had a tougher job trying to get players like bedi prassanna jaisimha viswanath venkat who were all known as tiger's men to rally behind him and that too in his first series overseas. how come india did not win earlier series when pataudi was captain. also if the pitches in 1964 were lifeless and so pataudi cannot be blamed for it why is the same consideration not given to gavaskar when fletchers team drew 5 matches. by all means call pataudi a great skipper but then use the same criteria to judge others too.

  • Azfar on August 22, 2010, 7:56 GMT

    An excellent article by Mukul Kesavan. I am not from that generation as I started following cricket from 1982. But the way my father talks about Patuadi (with the same passion he reserves for Sobers) has convinced me that he was something special. He must have been an irresistable package...a handsome nawab, captained Oxford & Sussex, lost an eye, youngest ever test captain at 21 (come to think of it, he was the youngest member of the team he captained!!), was an attacking batsman, great fielder and a fearless leader. I think he cannot judged by stats. There are no parallels of anybody with such a disability succeeding at the highest level. In my view India has had only 3 great captains till now Pataudi, Ganguly and now Dhoni (who I beleive will eventually become the best ever in Indian history). These 3 are born leaders with a natural flair for captaincy. Even in retirement Tiger Pataudi has retained his dignity. One of the greats on the pre-TV era.

  • Dummy4 on August 21, 2010, 23:19 GMT

    Mukul Kesavan-I wrote a lenghty piece about your article on Pataudi-on 20 August,2010 and posted it on Facebook.I dont know what happened to it.

    I had told some interesting stories there like myself meeting Pataudi,Him being stopped by UK Immigrtaion officers when he came to join Sussex,News about Pataudi on British TV when he cancelled an order for Rolls Royce for being late in delivery and ordering a Mercedes instead,Pataudi opening bowling in a Test match in England etc etc

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