CRICKETER OF THE YEAR 1968

Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi

It is debatable whether it is an asset or otherwise to be born the son of a famous man, especially if one has aspirations in the same sphere in which the father made his mark. Comparisons are inevitable, and comparisons can be so unnerving and oppressive to the one being compared.

MANSUR ALI, THE NAWAB OF PATAUDI, who captained India in England last summer, inherited more than a princely title when he was born at Bhopal on January 5, 1941. Also handed down to him was a talent for cricket which made his father an outstanding batsman during one of cricket's most prosperous eras.

The younger Nawab has followed gloriously in his father's footsteps, and that in spite of the severe handicap of losing the use of his right eye as the result of a motor car accident, in 1961. Pataudi came to greatness without the guiding influence of his father, although anyone who knows him has no doubt that he has always been inspired by his memory. He was only 11 -- in fact it was on his birthday -- that the former Nawab died of heart failure while playing polo in New Delhi.

Young Pataudi could not have seen his father play cricket many times, and if he did, he was too young then to form impressions of his style and technique. And as critics have said, the similarity between their styles is faint indeed.

Up at Welham Preparatory School in Dehra Dun at the time, Pataudi had just started playing cricket when his father died, but already he was greatly attached to the game. His father was his hero and on the walls of his bedroom hung photographs of his father at the crease and groups of the teams he had played in and captained.

One read in the elder Nawab's obituary that he left behind an only son. The next time the son was mentioned in print was four years later when, in his first year at Winchester, he showed himself to be a batsman of immense promise and a fielder of great ability.

Not many months after his father died, in 1952, Pataudi came to England. The passenger list of the ship on which he travelled included many illustrious cricket names. There was Vinoo Mankad, making his annual trip to play in the Lancashire League; then there were the three W's and Ramadhin, returning from Australia at the end of the West Indies tour. Pataudi played deck games with them and their constant company further stoked his cricketing ambitions.

Hardly could Frank Worrell have imagined then that in ten years, almost to the month, his young shipmate would be walking out with him to toss for innings in a Test match. This happened in Barbados, when Pataudi took over the Indian captaincy from Contactor, who lay in hospital, gravely ill. Pataudi then had played in only three Test matches and, at twenty-one, became the youngest captain ever in international cricket.

The circumstances in which he came to lead his country could have overwhelmed most cricketers in his position. The team was doing badly; Contractor's gruesome accident on the same ground a few days earlier had brought the team's morale down to a very low mark indeed.

Adversity was no strange experience to the young captain. If he could lose an eye and play Test cricket six months later, he could measure up to most situations.

Pataudi's Test record in 24 matches is 1,643 runs, including a double century and two centuries against England, one against Australia (on his first appearance against them) and two hundreds against New Zealand. He has played 43 innings at an average of 40.17. These figures are respectable enough, but could hardly be considered to fulfil the expectations held out by his brilliance in his four years at Winchester and in his first year at Oxford.

The climax to his Winchester career came in 1959, when he was captain. Not only did he pass the thousand mark and beat D.R. Jardine's record for the school, but he showed a distinct flair for leadership.

Even as early as in his second year at school, 1957, he was considered nearly ripe to play first-class cricket and his coach at Winchester, George Cox, persuaded him to qualify for his old county, Sussex.

He played just one friendly match for the county that season, before making his debut in the county championship in 1958 when he played in six matches and next year he played a notable innings of 52 against Yorkshire. Even then it was apparent that the big occasion brought out the best in him.

News of his exploits at Winchester and A.A. Baig's, at Oxford, that year, alleviated the sore disappointment at home over the dismal performances of the Indian touring team.

He went up to Oxford, in 1960, and like his father before him, scored a century against Cambridge in his first University match. Later that year, he made his debut in Indian cricket, playing in a couple of Ranji Trophy matches for Delhi; but having come straight out of the English winter, he could do himself little justice.

Oxford honoured him with their captaincy in 1961, the first Indian to lead either University, but before the University match came along he was involved in that dreadful accident. The season, till then, had seen him at the height of his powers. By the end of June, he had collected 1,216 runs (average 55.27) and was not far from equalling his father's high aggregate in the Oxford season of 1931.

Contrary to predictions that he would never play cricket again, Pataudi was back in flannels during the Indian season immediately following, and was called up by the Test selectors for the third Test against England.

He did not make his presence felt in his first Test match, but in the next, at Calcutta, he scored 64 with the freedom of a very mature player. This innings enabled India to set up a match winning rate of scoring. At a time when the leading Indian batsmen were so given to stodginess, his batting was like a gush of fresh air let into a stuffy, musty room.

In the next Test, the last of the series, he again proved himself as a match-winner, scoring a riotous 103, with two 6's and fourteen 4's. The West Indies tour, during which he was constantly bothered by a muscle injury, did not greatly advance his reputation, but his innings of 48 and 47 in the third and fourth Tests were utterly spectacular and, for a man who could only see with one eye, it was remarkable that he played Hall & Co. with so much time to spare.

He had a poor series against England when M.C.C. toured India again in 1964. He distinguished himself neither as batsman nor captain, and it was hard to tell whether his poor batting form affected his captaincy, or vice versa.

A run of small scores was broken by a not-out double-century in the fourth Test, but to put this effort in its proper perspective, it must be said that a large portion of his runs were made after the match had been written off as a draw, and the regular bowlers had been withdrawn.

Happily, though, this was a passing phase. When the Australians played a short series in India later that year, Pataudi emulated his father by scoring a century on his first appearance against them. It was a masterly innings and the manner in which he dominated Veivers and Martin was memorable. His captaincy also was more purposeful and enterprising and, in the next Test, he led India to a brilliant and dramatic win, contributing 86 and 53 to this unforgettable victory.

The series against West Indies, during the winter of 1966-67 was by no means lean, but nor was it a brilliant success. Then, at Headingley in the first Test, last summer, he played his epic innings of 148 which lifted India out of the dark pit of despair. India lost in spite of his courageous effort, but in defeat they took away as much honour as the winners.

Oxford saw to it that so great a cricketer was not deprived by that unfortunate accident of the honour of captaining them in the University match. He was re-elected captain when he went back to Oxford in 1963.

Pataudi has also had two full seasons with Sussex, the second as captain. His record, however, was modest, a fact that can be partially explained by the poor quality of the Hove pitch at the time and, to an extent, because Pataudi is not temperamentally cut out for the routine of six-days-a-week cricket. He is fond of his leisure and is bored by sameness.

As a Test captain, he could have reached greater stature had his tenure not coincided with a period of very lean bowling resources. This weakness and the low standard of fielding seem to frustrate him, which perhaps explains his periodic urge to call it a day.

However, it is vital to the revival of Indian cricket that he should continue, for there is no doubt that both while batting and fielding he strikes a tremendous personal example.

© John Wisden & Co