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A republican prince

Pataudi was a legend when he started. His pedigree, flair, and epic disregard for his handicap, spoke to the anxieties and aspirations of a young India and to its hunger for heroes

Mukul Kesavan

September 23, 2011

Comments: 31 | Text size: A | A

The Nawab of Pataudi Jr, Mansur Ali Khan
Pataudi: like Shammi Kapoor and the Beatles, his heyday was the sixties © Getty Images

Mansur Ali Khan, the Nawab of Pataudi, was that curious hybrid: a republican prince. Both parts of his personality came together to create the larger-than-life legend that he became, first as an active cricketer and then through the long afterlife that is the lot of every famous sportsman.

His father, the eighth Nawab of Pataudi, was the ruler of a minor principality but a cricketer of considerable distinction. It was a very colonial distinction: educated at Balliol College, Oxford, Pataudi Sr played first for Worcestershire and then for England as the princely subject of a far-flung empire. Before India's independence, in 1946, when his son was five years old, he achieved the double distinction of playing Test cricket for two countries: he captained India against his old team, England.

His son had much to live up to as he came of age in the first decade of the young republic. Born into great privilege (his mother was, in her own right, the Begum of a much grander princely state, Bhopal) he was orphaned early. He was schooled for the most part in England, where he broke all of Douglas Jardine's batting records at Winchester - which gave him particular satisfaction because Jardine and his father had had a famous falling out over the ethics of Bodyline bowling. He gave notice that he wasn't just the son of a famous man but a cricketing prodigy who was likely to eclipse his father.

India in the fifties was a proud young republic, but for its middle classes an education at a famous English public school and thereafter at Oxford still had great cachet. Certainly one reason why Pataudi became India's Test captain after Charlie Griffith broke Nari Contractor's head in the West Indies was because he had captained both Winchester and Oxford. He was absurdly young, just 21, the youngest Test captain in the history of the game. In terms of Test match experience someone like Chandu Borde had the larger claim, but Pataudi's lineage, his English exploits and the fact that he had scored a fifty and a hundred in his first Test series against England persuaded the selectors that he was fit to lead.

It was an extraordinary gamble, the risk mitigated perhaps because the selectors knew they were betting on an extraordinary man. All the runs Pataudi had scored in his young Test career had been made with one functional eye. At the age of 20 he had damaged his right eye in a car accident. He wasn't just a prince; he was already a hero who had overcome a career-ending disability with such savoir faire that the selectors probably felt he could do anything. And they were right.

So from the very start of his Test career, Pataudi was a kind of legend. Schoolboys in the sixties spent inordinate amounts of time trying to work out whether his right eye was real or made of glass. He was the debonair one-eyed prince who had out-Englished the English and who was going to help India master this great colonial game. His pedigree, his poshness, his flair, his epic disregard for his handicap, spoke to the anxieties and aspirations of a young republic, and to its hunger for heroes.

Pataudi played 46 Tests and he captained India in 40 of them. It's hard to believe his career was more or less over before he was 30, so completely did he dominate India's cricketing imagination for a decade. The last series of his eight-year run as captain (before he was replaced by Ajit Wadekar) was the five-Test thriller against Bill Lawry's Australians in 1969, which India lost 3-1. It was the year he married one of Bombay cinema's most celebrated heroines, Sharmila Tagore. Pataudi's considerable charisma was now gilded with stardust.

Like Shammi Kapoor and the Beatles, Pataudi's heyday was the sixties. Between 1962 and 1970, he captained India in 36 Tests, of which India won seven - not, on the face of it, a remarkable record as captain. What the figures conceal is the panache and flair with which he led sides that ranged from middling to poor. He led India to their first series win abroad, against New Zealand, a notable achievement for a side that had always travelled badly.

Faced by a famine of fast bowlers, Pataudi rejected the orthodoxy of a "balanced" bowling attack and bet the house on attacking spinners. His greatest legacy was the golden age of Indian spin bowling, featuring that remarkable quartet, Bedi, Chandrasekhar, Prasanna and Venkataraghavan. To back them up he helped create the best cordon of close-in fielders Indian cricket had ever seen: Eknath Solkar, Wadekar, Venkatraghavan and Abid Ali. He led by example; he was India's best cover fielder right through his career.

As a batsman he hit half a dozen centuries and 16 fifties for a respectable average, 34.91. Did he count as a batsman? Yes he did. There were the two fifties he made against Bob Simpson's Australians that helped India win the Bombay Test in 1964. 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, Indians were content that their 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).

Schoolboys in the sixties spent inordinate amounts of time trying to work out whether his right eye was real or made of glass. He was the debonair one-eyed prince who had out-Englished the English and who was going to help India master this great colonial game

Listening to John Arlott and Brian Johnston speculate about the batting heights Pataudi might have scaled with two good eyes, his countrymen forgave him all the innings when he had 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). India still lost by an innings, but Indians were 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 consolation enough.

He wasn't part of the history-making team that won away series against West Indies and England in 1971, having been dropped as captain and replaced by Wadekar. To add insult to injury, by the end of that landmark year he wasn't a Nawab either: Indira Gandhi abolished princely titles and the privy purses that went with them.

With hindsight, he should have retired then but didn't. He returned to Test cricket to play part of a series under Wadekar's captaincy against a touring English side, and then made an unexpected comeback as captain, when Wadekar retired after a disastrous tour of England in 1974, having lost everything. Pataudi led India in four of the five Tests during West Indies' 1974 tour, and though the rubber was a thriller (West Indies won 3-2), he personally had a terrible run with the bat. The swansong was a mistake; he was too slow for the game at the highest level and it showed.

But given his achievement, this was a minor misjudgment. When Pataudi took charge of the Indian team, it was a team that didn't believe they could win or bowl the opposition out twice. He left them ready to hold their own against any opposition, with the self-belief necessary for success.

In retirement he dabbled unsuccessfully in electoral politics, edited a sports magazine, and briefly became an expert commentator. He had a brilliant television manner: sharp, sardonic, and occasionally rude. When Asif Iqbal led the Pakistan team to India, Pataudi chatted to him on camera. He asked Iqbal, deadpan, if he planned to change countries again. Asif Iqbal had migrated to Pakistan as a 17-year-old after playing cricket for Hyderabad, Pataudi's first-class team, and the great man hadn't forgotten. The audience drew in a sharp breath, Asif, to his great credit, smiled, and the moment passed. It was a quintessentially Pataudi moment.

Luckily he didn't make it a living and his fans didn't have to watch him age into a television hack. A natural reserve also had him keep his distance from India's cricket establishment, except for a brief, ill-fated stint with the IPL. He remained untouched by the squabbles and sleaze that attended cricket's transformation into big business in India. As a consequence, death finds him happily embalmed in fond radio memories: still tigerish in the covers, still a prince amongst men.

Mukul Kesavan is a novelist, essayist and historian based in New Delhi

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Posted by krik8crazy on (September 26, 2011, 16:43 GMT)

I never watched him play but heard his commentary on TV. He used to be the expert commentator chiming in briefly with his comments. I think the last time I heard him was during the 1994-95 India-WI series in India. His voice was crisp and clear and his opinions were concise, insightful and to the point.

People of the previous generation in my family explained his greatness and I was in awe of the man. Playing top class cricket without a helmet with his eye sight issue is just unimaginable in today's world. Captaining India at 21 and with distinction is another remarkable achievement. Bearing the burden of a young nation's hopes at such a young age and transforming the mindset of Indian cricketers deserves the highest respect. MAK was a man of destiny who changed his country's cricketing destiny forever.

He is an inspiration to Indians to hold their head high and take on the toughest challenges with confidence and self esteem.

Posted by aarpee2 on (September 25, 2011, 17:24 GMT)

Truly a Prince.-a skipper who turned the gentle Chandra into an aggresive bowler and a match winner-I remember him throwing the new ball to Chandra and letting him have a go at the best .He will remain an alltime favourite of mine and several others -he brought pride and joy into the hearts of Indian fans with his skills in leaderhip,batting and fielding

Posted by afs_talyarkhan on (September 25, 2011, 9:48 GMT)

@crocker as we have seen recently the standard of indian cricket is nothing to get too excited about. As for Pataudi not being selected in the current side because of his disability - please remember that Pataudi was the best fielder and the best batsman in the side - his electrifying cover fielding would have put the geriatric antics of some of the current Indian test fielders to shame. Also try to remember what it must have been like for Pataudi's generation to face bowlers of the callibre of Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith without headguards, then try to recollect the heroism of Pataudi's hooking and pulling Garth Mckenzie on a juicy Melbourne pitch "on one good leg and with one true eye". In the land of overpaid, underwhelming two-eyed rookies clueless against the shortpiched projectile despite being shielded by armour befitting a medieval knight, the one-eyed centurion with his trusty sabre is king.

Posted by   on (September 25, 2011, 8:58 GMT)


Posted by   on (September 25, 2011, 6:27 GMT)

God doesn't make such heroes anymore. He redefined determination and self-belief for our people by leading from front. People like him have the ability to change the way we think and act....a true inspiration

Posted by   on (September 25, 2011, 5:34 GMT)

Brilliantly written article Mukul. Thanks for giving such wonderful words to my memories of the Tiger; from my teen days. Nawab's charisma was such that even in defeats Indian team under him looked heroic. He presented a fighting face of Indian cricket that made me proud Indian cricket fan for ever; losses including. I remember his tongue-in-cheek comment on TV when some one asked about Indian selectros I think after India won World cup 1983 (or Championship of Cricket in Melbourne, 1985): "Indian team is good not because, but inspite of them..". Sad to see him go so early...

Posted by   on (September 24, 2011, 13:10 GMT)

one i spose cant ave enough of Tiger pat!gr8 piece, language, romantic,poetic,factual..all rolled into one!

Posted by   on (September 24, 2011, 9:35 GMT)

I really like the sentence "He was the debonair one-eyed prince who had out-Englished the English and who was going to help India master this great colonial game." Says a lot about India in 60s...Great article Mukul

Posted by Sheela on (September 24, 2011, 6:15 GMT)

Very truly Pataudi changed the mindset of Indian team of those times from negative mindsets to positive ones. Though there were stray wins in Indian soil only earlier, definitely not because of captaincy and one Test win was solely due to brillliance of Selection Committee Chairman Lala Amarnath, Pataudi brought sense oif Indianness and will to win in Indian team. Unfortunately he was not the captain of Ranji or Duleep Trophy teams.

Posted by   on (September 24, 2011, 5:29 GMT)

Tiger not came again.he was real hero.

Posted by jay57870 on (September 24, 2011, 5:21 GMT)

Pataudi turned a blind eye to his detractors by inculcating a bold new style and "will to win" attitude. His actions rubbed off on his teammates. While he's most known for creating the famous spin quartet (Prasanna, Chandra, Bedi & Venkat), he truly influenced every aspect of the game (except seamers) with his free-wheeling approach - fine top-order batsmen (Jaisimha, Sardesai, Wadekar); useful all-rounders (Durani, Surti, Abid Ali); superb keeper-duo (Engineer, Kunderan); close-in fielding stand-out (Solkar). There was no looking back: In 1971, many played in the unprecedented series triumphs in WI & England. Off the field, he was a glamour boy: The (Royal Bengal) Tiger caught the eye of Bengali actress Rinku Tagore. They were wed in the historic moonshot year of 1969. How will history remember Nawab Jr? As The Bard put it: "Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them." Indeed, that's unique: He was great in all 3 ways. Three cheers Tiger!!!

Posted by jay57870 on (September 24, 2011, 5:04 GMT)

Pataudi was the change agent who led the transformation of Indian cricket from the 1950s to the 60s - from uni-dimensional individuals to multi-purpose team players. I saw Pataudi first in action against Ted Dexter's English side in Dec.1961 at the storied Eden Gardens. In just his second Test, he left his stamp etched in my mind, with his attacking batting (64, 32) and agile fielding. He was the human personification of the Royal Bengal Tiger. India won the match easily by 187 runs, a dramatic change from the many nightmarish defeats of the previous decade. The team went on to win the series 2-0: Only this time, India was the "shikari" subjugating the former master at his own game for the first time. An epochal event. A few months later, at age 21, Pataudi was thrust into the hot seat as accidental captain, replacing the injured Contractor, on the ill-fated WI tour. An inflection point. Always on the prowl, he did not shy away from this daunting challenge. Thus began a new era. (TBC)

Posted by afs_talyarkhan on (September 23, 2011, 20:06 GMT)

And may I reciprocate @Trotsky what a pleasure it is to read your name for there could not have been many greater men in the twentieth century than Lev Davidovich Bronstein. 1974 was indeed a great series - I remember listening to the Bangalore school on the radio in boarding school, the first test ever played at Bangalore, and to the Bombay test at home in Calcutta. I also remember being spellbound by radio descriptions of the power of Viv Richards, of Barry Richards' Hampshire opening partner Gordon Greenidge and of the pace of Andy Roberts. The Indian achievement in holding this side of invincibles (add in Roy Fredericks, Lawrence Rowe, Alvin Kallicharan, Clive Lloyd etc.) almost to parity, scarred as they were by memories of the disastrous 1974 tour to England, the retirement of Wadekar and the loss through injury of Gavaskar for most of the series was nothing short of miraculous. No one else could have taken on that titanic task except Pataudi.

Posted by Bhuwan_Jha on (September 23, 2011, 18:55 GMT)

Hi Mukul, Read a large number of articles on Jr. Pataudi over the last two days, but this certainly counts among the best. It is a balanced tribute expressed in a language which is as elegant as the stroke play and manners of the man himself.

Posted by   on (September 23, 2011, 15:41 GMT)

As a part of the generation that grew up watching Sachin,Dravid and Ganguly, we can only marvel at how this man played with one eye. Truly remarkable. RIP.

Posted by   on (September 23, 2011, 15:15 GMT)

brilliantly written Mukul...

Posted by Venkatb on (September 23, 2011, 13:54 GMT)

India needed Pataudi in the 74-75 series against WI for his captaincy - as a batsman, everyone, save for Vishy, failed. He was the hero I grew up worshiping - as a young Hyderabadi, I saw 3 princes in full flow - Jaisimha, Pataudi and Baig - I once drew a portrait of Pataudi and showed it to him during a Ranji match - he autographed it and remarked that it looked more real than what he sees in the mirror every morning! As a youngster, I too was one of those kids who would try to bat with one eye closed!

His biggest contribution to Indian cricket was to lift fellow players from a mindset that Indians are not inferior to the English, Aussies or WI players.

His falling out with Merchant is intriguing - perhaps the latter felt that the 3-1 loss to the Aussies was due to the Sharmila Tagore factor.

The biggest unknown is what kind of a batsman he could have become with 2 good eyes - some 1960 and 61 articles in The Cricketer compared him to Ranji and Duleep!

Posted by   on (September 23, 2011, 13:52 GMT)

In 1974 test match at Bangalore V/S West Indians, Mansoor Ali was not in the team, we went on strike asking for his inclusion. He was later taken in and he scored 20+ and did not bat in the second innings. It was debut for Sir Richards and he took a super catch off Gavasker, which is still in my mind. Kalicharan scored 100+.

Posted by   on (September 23, 2011, 13:32 GMT)

Only bad spot I can remember was the hunting incident...other than that his was a good career...a nice erudite man

Posted by   on (September 23, 2011, 12:19 GMT)

Thanks Mukul , for a fitting tribute to a gentleman cricketer. Pataudi and Jaishima in the early days of cricket on TV embodied grace and were truly expert commentators. I am surprised at the cricketing fraternity. Couldnt the top bosses of the BCCI pay their respects to a great icon of Indian cricket? What about the local Delhi guys like Viru,Gambhir & co. You would think they would pay their last respects to great Indian captain. It was really nice to see Kapil Dev there. I think Kumble,Dravid and the rest of them should have also gone

Posted by serious-am-i on (September 23, 2011, 11:46 GMT)

Salutations to the great man and may he rest in peace.

Posted by Percy_Fender on (September 23, 2011, 11:32 GMT)

It is nice to read the name afs_talyarkhan,the great man I have had the pleasure of hearing on radio for many many hours in the days when there was no TV.I agree with him that the greatest comeback for Tiger Pataudi was in 1974 against the West Indies.That was the series in which Greenidge and Viv Richards were baptised.After Bangalore and Delhi where they lost there was a captaincy crisis for India. Venkat the captain in Delhi was dropped for the next Test and Pataudi was made the captain.That was in Calcutta and true to a miraculous tale,India won.Then came Madras and thanks to Vishvanath,Gaekwad and the spin trio,India won again. The series came level 2-2.Then in Bombay when West Indies came back to their 600 plus ways.Though India scored over 400 themselves it was too paltry to make a difference.India lost.Pataudi retired admitting that his vision did not allow him to play any more.I am surprised that Mukul has not said much about this great comeback after Merchant had dropped

Posted by   on (September 23, 2011, 10:01 GMT)

Very well put Mukul, truly a touching tribute. MAK (he hated the Tiger sobriquet!) was a great man in every sense of the word. He was humble enough to accept his limitations but remained proud of his roots and strengths alike. A true product of the Raj era and English education, he was aggressive without ever being chippy. He didn't need to waive his shirt to assert his supremacy, it came naturally to him. Just imagine that with a sole good eye, the man was good enough to notch a career test average of 35 without any protection, how good he could have been in the modern era and with two good eyes!! Sunny Gavaskar has paid him a heartfelt tribute. As a batsman, I often marveled at how this man would have faced the fabled English seam and swing I struggled to counter with two good eyes and a fair bit of protection to boot!! Quite what he would have made of the likes Raina and Mukund fumbling hopelessly against bouncers in a series bearing his family name does not bear thinking about!!

Posted by   on (September 23, 2011, 9:26 GMT)

Nice piece. Thank you Mukul

Posted by afs_talyarkhan on (September 23, 2011, 9:06 GMT)

I disagree that it was a mistake for him to come back after being stripped of the captaincy. Au contraire it shows he held no grudges for the shabby manner in which Vijay Merchant and the other selectors treated him. He scored two excellent fifties against Tony Lewis's tourists in 1972. As for the series against Clive Llloyd's West Indians in 1974, it was one of the greatest series ever played, it was the beginning of the great West Indian side which would dominate test cricket for two decades but the Indians under Pataudi held their own. As Gavaskar said, following the 3-0 thrashing in England in 1974 and Wadekar's retirement, the only man who could have stepped in at such short notice and pulled out all the stops to battle evenhandedly against the West Indians, was Pataudi. Not another man could have replaced him in that role. He was a natural as a captain and even his loss of batting form was outweighed by the contribution he made to the team as their born leader and talisman.

Posted by crocker on (September 23, 2011, 9:04 GMT)

@ ravi_hari Nice sentiments excepting the one about " If only he was born in this era,..." - He would never have been selected in team for his disability, and anyways, cricket would never have reached this standard in India without his contribution at that point in time. Those were different days. Can you think of spotting and selecting a bowler with a polio stricken arm in your team today?

Posted by   on (September 23, 2011, 8:56 GMT)

His average against Australia and England is above 40 and among contemporaries he was the finest batsman.

Nice man.He always remained in peace and shall remain in peace.

Posted by   on (September 23, 2011, 8:34 GMT)

A great man, a legend. Just try throwing something at a target with one eye closed.

Posted by ravi_hari on (September 23, 2011, 7:36 GMT)

Undoubtedly the best captain India and the world of cricket had. The way he transformed the side, the way he spotted talent and the way he read the minds of his teammates and acted upon was brilliant. BCCI has not used his services as a coach or chairman of selectors. I think BCCI feared frank and true cricketers who knew much more than the bosses. His batting was elegant and his lofted drives were a treat to watch. His fielding was sharp despite the under prepared grounds in India. If only he was born in this era, he would have excelled in all formats. As an expert he used to give frank opinions and could read the game much better despite not being actively involved with it. I loved his magazine Sportsworld. His editorials were very good. His stint as a model was also marked with elegance and exhibited the royal persona in him. Despite his entire family being in the limelight frequently he never had any controversies surrounding him. Thank you TIGER for entertaining us. Miss you! Ravi

Posted by   on (September 23, 2011, 6:51 GMT)

The last time I saw him on TV was in the interview he gave after presenting the Pataudi Trophy to England, in which he without mincing words lamented the influence of IPL and the destruction it will eventually wreak on the longer forms of cricket in India. Honest to the very end, he was a Tiger in name and in deeds.

Posted by sudhirrao on (September 23, 2011, 6:11 GMT)

nice tribute. The British press called him the Nawab of Pataudi and Headingly in 1967.

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Mukul KesavanClose
Mukul Kesavan teaches social history for a living and writes fiction when he can - he is the author of a novel, Looking Through Glass. He's keen on the game but in a non-playing way. With a top score of 14 in neighbourhood cricket and a lively distaste for fast bowling, his credentials for writing about the game are founded on a spectatorial axiom: distance brings perspective. Kesavan's book of cricket - Men in Whitewas published in 2007.

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