'Even the bluddy Nawab!'
The start of another series for the Pataudi Trophy sent the mind scudding back over past battles between England and India. For most of my adult life the main stumbling block to English success seems to have been pint-sized batsmen - first Sunil Gavaskar and his brother-in-law Gundappa Viswanath; then the mantle (and Gavaskar's special lightweight pads) passed to Sachin Tendulkar.
Rather worryingly, though, my memories stretch back beyond Gavaskar - just - to India's 1967 tour of England, when as an impressionable schoolboy I was devouring cricket on the TV and elsewhere. England's captains seemed like regular chaps, called Colin or Mike or (my favourite, since it was my father's name) Brian. The Aussies were skippered by straightforward Bobs or Bills, South Africa by a Peter.
And then there was India, whose captain was called the Nawab of Pataudi. "It's a sort of prince," my mother explained patiently. My school atlas, though, wasn't quite up to the task of finding Pataudi, a small state in Haryana in India's north.
Still, this was obviously someone a bit different: quite how different became apparent as the commentators explained how the Nawab had lost the use of an eye in a car accident a few years previously, and batted by squinting down the pitch, cap pulled down over the bad eye. I hadn't played much proper cricket, but enough in the back garden to work out the problems of hitting the ball at all, let alone with one eye closed.
He can't be much good, I thought. I didn't know then that he had made a Test century against England about six months after the accident, or an unbeaten double-century against them two years later, or 128 not out against Australia. And he didn't do too badly in the first innings of the first Test at Headingley in 1967, top-scoring with 64. But his Indian team was painfully weak in fast bowling - non-bowler Pataudi himself took the new ball in one game, as did the reserve wicketkeeper - and England had already amassed 550.
With the rest of the batting underachieving - 164 all out - India faced a massive defeat when they followed on midway through the third day. But they rallied, the key role being played by the captain, with a superb 148. He put on 134 for the fifth wicket with Hanumant Singh - who, it turns out, was also an Indian nobleman. I haven't checked but I fondly imagine their stand is the highest in Tests by a pair of princes.
For only the third time in Test history, a side following on passed 500 and, even if England still won in the end, India had avoided humiliation. And Pataudi had led the way. He was an inspiring captain, doing much to create a united team out of one previously susceptible to factions: "He was our first captain who introduced a sense of Indian-ness in the dressing room," wrote Bishan Bedi. "He'd try to make us proud of being Indian. He'd say: 'Look, we're Indians first. We're not playing for Karnataka or Delhi or Mumbai or Madras. We're playing for India.'"
More fine innings followed those Headingley heroics. Pataudi famously smacked a handy Australian attack around in Melbourne in 1967-68 after coming in at 25 for 5: he made 75, despite pulling a hamstring before the match - "One eye and one leg!" enthused Bedi. He added 85 in the second innings. It was around this time that an intrigued Ian Chappell asked Pataudi what he did when not playing cricket. Chappell didn't quite get the answer he expected so asked again, and was advised succinctly: "Ian, I'm a bloody prince!"
Naming the trophy for India's Tests in England after the Pataudi family seemed highly appropriate, as "Tiger's" father had played Tests for both sides - for England on the 1932-33 Bodyline tour, and as India's captain in the first post-war series in England in 1946. I looked on approvingly from the press box in 2011 as the Nawab - long known more simply as Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi - presented Andrew Strauss with the trophy bearing his name. He didn't look terribly well, but then he rarely did - so it was a shock when he died, aged 70, only about a month later.
It reminded me that, many years after I watched him on grainy black-and-white TV in 1967, I'd finally got to meet this hero of my youth. It was a function in the Lord's Museum, and I was at the top of the stairs when a diffident figure ambled up. "It's the Noob!" chortled the man beside me, the ever-cheerful Colin Ingleby-Mackenzie, MCC's president at the time. After an anecdote or two about 1960s county battles, Ingleby had to effervesce elsewhere, so I introduced myself. Pataudi edited a sports magazine at the time - or at least his name was on the masthead - so we briefly chatted about that. I finally thought of a sensible cricket question, and asked if he still played. "No," he said quietly, "I never did after I stopped playing Test cricket. There didn't seem much point."
Which seemed perfectly reasonable - although, I remembered later, it wasn't quite true. A few years previously, in 1982, I had been working at Lord's when there was a flurry of activity on the Nursery ground. It wasn't a match day, so this was unusual: it turned out that several of the participants in a match between Old England and an Old World XI - scheduled for The Oval a couple of days later - had turned up to scrape off the rust in the nets.
"They're all here," said MCC's hyper-enthusiastic head coach Don Wilson, who had probably loped round to the pavilion to alert the physio. "I hope they all survive. I'm about to bowl to Sir Garfield - never could get the booger out!"
This was intriguing, so I made my excuses and left for the other end of the ground. It was as if Wisden's records section had come to life: here was the aforementioned Sobers, there was Rohan Kanhai, and - slightly less scary than in their heyday - Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith. Some grey-haired Aussies were a little more difficult to identify: "That's Neil 'Arvey," Don helped out. "Wears dark glasses now. Apparently he was as blind as a bat when he was playing. Not that you could tell. Next to him is Bob Simpson. And Ray Lind-Wall is here somewhere too."
And finally, who's that floppy-haired chap in the nets, with the open stance and the cap pulled firmly down over his forehead? "I told you, they're all 'ere," said Wilson. "Even the bluddy Nawab!"
Steven Lynch is the editor of the Wisden Guide to International Cricket 2013