Pataudi: Nawab of Cricket May 12, 2013

The many Pataudis

Twenty-two essays delve into the legacy of one of Indian cricket's most significant figures

Trust Mike Brearley to come up with the mot juste. A distinguished former England captain and one of the most respected and original thinkers on the game, Brearley had this to say in his speech (reprinted in this anthology) about Tiger Pataudi at Lord's in 2012: "Tiger was… the first cricketing superstar in India whose appeal involved so heady a mix of brilliance, charm and charisma."

If one were to search for a coda for this book, to look for an encapsulation of what Pataudi meant to his fans, to Indian cricket and, indeed, India, one needn't go any further.

Brearley's is one of several perceptive, well-enunciated contributions that make up this handsomely produced book. In the day of the ebook, this collection - with its beautiful, well-chosen photographs, pages with generous margins, and arresting front cover - reminds us again that there are few things as gorgeous as the book as an object, as an artefact.

Sharmila Tagore's moving foreword - shorn of self-pity at her loss, underlit by a plangent dignity and love - sets the tone for the anthology. Abbas Ali Baig recalls his escapades with Pataudi at Oxford. Bishan Bedi, part of the formidable quartet of spinners that Pataudi used as an unprecedented spin-only attacking force, pays a glowing tribute to his first Test captain. Sunil Gavaskar recounts his struggle about how to address the Nawab (a question that seems to have preoccupied other cricketers as well).

Mike Coward's interview with Pataudi (from the archives of the Bradman International Cricket Hall of Fame) is illuminating. The veteran Australian cricket writer asked Pataudi what it took him to play cricket at the top level after the accident in which his vision was impaired. "Determination. And, perhaps, an ability to not get completely frustrated; to get over the fact that I could never be what I would have liked to be. To accept that I was, say, 30 or 40% below what I would have liked to have been. That took a while; took a bit of doing."

What kind of a player Pataudi might have been had he not met with that accident as an Oxford undergraduate is one of the most popular counterfactual discussions among Indian cricket fans of a certain generation. Pataudi himself never chose to dwell on it. But that remark in the interview to Coward offers a key to the staggering mental strength and resolve it must have taken him to become the player he did. This dwindled brilliance that was on show, shadowed by the speculation of what the undiminished genius might have been like, is at the heart of the legend that was Pataudi.

But Pataudi: Nawab of Cricket is no hagiography. Suresh Menon, the editor, has been clever in including in the book an essay by Vijay Merchant, the man whose casting vote stripped Pataudi of the India captaincy in favour of Ajit Wadekar. Then we have journalist Mudar Patherya's essay, "The Many Pataudis", which realises two aims: it makes an enterprising attempt to cut through the myths and received wisdom and objectively assess Pataudi's achievements and legacy; and it shows how, had Pataudi been less withdrawn than he was, he could have made a far bigger contribution to the game.

The pieces by Pataudi's daughters, Saba and Soha Ali Khan, while shining with the love they had for their father, clearly throw up the angularities he had as a person.

Certain common themes about Pataudi emerge in the 22 essays in this book: his wicked sense of humour, his love for repartee, his unquestionable qualities as a leader, and the fact that he would walk out to the middle with whichever bat was closest to the dressing-room door.

For cricket fans who never saw Pataudi play, this book offers a glimpse of why those who did were entranced by him.

Pataudi: Nawab of Cricket
edited by Suresh Menon
Harper Collins India
186 pages, Rs 399

Soumya Bhattacharya is the editor of Hindustan Times, Mumbai. He is the author of, among other books, You Must Like Cricket; and All That You Can't Leave Behind

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ashok on May 14, 2013, 19:13 GMT

    MAK "Tiger" Pataudi was just as imperious on the Cricket field as his inherited title of Nawab- the king of a small state. This Nawab worked hard for his living cricket. He was supremely great batsman at the Oxford university until his eye injury. Even with 40% vision in one eye he adjusted his stand to a 2-eyed stance + be almost as great. Tiger despite his serious almost career threatening injury fought against odds to be the best Captain in Indian Cricket History. His Greatness lies in finding solutions despite personal or team handicaps. At a time when India lacked good pace bowlers, MAK did not hesitate using 4 spinners to get the job done. While Dhoni has consistently blamed lack of bowling in his team, Pataudi believed in finding the solution by making use of available talent. Everyone knows Pataudi as a great batsman. But he was a brilliant fielder too & chased the ball like a Tiger rather than like a Nawabir. He is just as great after life as he was during his career -Bravo!

  • Dummy4 on May 14, 2013, 7:43 GMT

    He was my hero when I first learnt how to play cricket in my village. I used to listen to the radio commentary of all tests and each time, Tiger Pataudi batted, there was huge anticipation of free flowingi cricket, stylish cover drives especially. He was a fashion icon, dressed immaculately. I would dare to say here that every time he played in a test match, or Ranji trophy match, the crowd waited in anticipation of a big score. He is the first real cricketing hero for India. He showed that he could use four spinners in a test match and the winning mentality was cultivated in Indian cricket the Nawab Saheb himself. Great sports personality and a hero always for cricketing loving fans.

  • Manish on May 13, 2013, 14:11 GMT

    I am still reading the ebook - so I am not sure if this story is part of it.

    Apparently, Tiger Pataudi had a shoulder dislocation and the doctors were trying to fix it. Tiger was howling in pain and the doctor said - "Listen, there's a lady next door giving birth to a child - and she isn't screaming as much as you are."

    And Tiger retorted - " Oh yeah, tell them to try putting it back".

  • Karthik on May 13, 2013, 7:25 GMT

    I think the greatest thing what Nawab did was to believe in "Indian way" of going about cricket even though his upbringing and playing days were predominantly in England. Being as influential he was, it would have been very easy to instill an "english" way of playing the game, but to his credit he didn't. He encouraged local talent and had the guts to go with a 4-pronged spin attack and be successful. His contribution to Indian cricket is invaluable.

  • Subramani on May 12, 2013, 12:14 GMT

    That was in 1967 Rowayton. I was hearing the hushed voices of Alan Magilvray and some other delightful commentators from the ABC. I say hushed because that is how it used to come on air in those days early in the morning. I wish I could have watched those two innings because they filled me with hope that India was after all making a fist of it. Tiger was just hobbling on one leg the commentator would say. Pataudi batted at No 7 I think. And there was not just Renneberg but Mackenzie as well. Though the series was won by Australia 4-0 the scoreline does not convey the spirit of the team under a spirited captain. Jaisimha was flown in for the 3rd Test at Brisbane and he nearly won that match for India.Set to get around 375 in the last innings India fell short just by 35 odd runs.Jaisimha scored a 70 odd in the first innings and a century in the second. He was not part of the original team ! That is how selections were done then. Prasanna and Surti were quite superb. A great tour really.

  • Nazir on May 12, 2013, 9:47 GMT

    A family of gentlemen. How can one forget the Senior Pataudi's resistance to the tactics of Douglas Jardine during the Body Line series. That's probably the time when the terms "It's not cricket" was phrased.It is because of people like these that cricket is known as the sport of gentlemen.

  • N. on May 12, 2013, 6:45 GMT

    N. Sundararajan from Chennai---a completely different dimension to the man---almost two decades after he laid down his bat, he was still considered prime choice for Gwalior Suitings/Grasims---the dignity and class being the quality highlighted. And, surely he was not doing those ads with Ms. Sharmila for money !--it was for the dignity tha they protrayed---a reflection of his life, his values and the way he played the game ! And he was respected all over the world !