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The Long Room

Old school tie

On meeting a childhood hero - and letting him down

Edward Craig
Dashing is as dashing does  •  Getty Images

Dashing is as dashing does  •  Getty Images

MAK Pataudi went to my school in England. In the impressive old pavilion at Winchester College, pictures of past schoolboy greats hang on the walls - images of the handful of first-class and international players that the school has produced. Douglas Jardine and Pataudi, two astonishing international captains for very different reasons, hang next to each other. Jardine in a tight-lipped pose, staring down the camera as though it were an Australian batsman - a deadly, dramatic vision. Pataudi is the opposite, a dynamic moment: he has danced out of his crease to smash the ball over mid-on for four, shaggy-haired, hugely athletic, full of energy and daring.
For what it is worth, Pataudi's legend was all-encompassing at my school. His run-scoring achievements, record-breaking innings; his move to Oxford, Sussex, India; the tragic loss of his eye and the glamour of his off-pitch life, made him one of the school's most colourful and enigmatic figures. Forty years on when I studied at Winchester, people still spoke about him. His son, Saif, was in my boarding house. My father played in the same old-boys' side as Pataudi. Yet I had never met him.
On the pitch, I tried my hardest to make Pataudi stand up and take notice. One of the biggest moments in my life was when I managed to beat one of his records - I scored more hundreds for the first XI. Unsurprisingly, Pataudi wasn't that bothered. I guess captaining his country in 40 Test matches and scoring Test double-hundreds meant more to him than what he had achieved when he was a teenager.
Ten years on from the high point of my playing career, I discovered Pataudi was in London, watching a bit of cricket and having a holiday. Via friends, a contact, and some luck, I tracked him down and gave him a call to set up an interview. He was gracious enough, although he genuinely didn't know what day of the week it was ("Come the day after tomorrow"), and despite not knowing how to address a former Nawab known to his friends as Tiger ("Mr Pataudi", the editor of this magazine assured me), I prepared to talk captaincy, cricket and subcontinent.
There is always a danger when you meet your heroes - they can never live up to the idolised version you have in your mind. Disappointment is inevitable. But I wasn't expecting the dashing batsman hanging on the walls in the pavilion (a few years had passed since then), so when a friendly face and big smile greeted me at the door to his west London flat, there was no letdown. It was a sweltering July day; he wore a loose-fitting shirt and had an elegance and eloquence that were simple and thoughtful. Everything was calm and comfortable.
The interview lasted an hour or more, during the course of which Pataudi's frustrations with his own career and achievements came clear.
"Would you have scored more runs if you hadn't been made captain at 21?" I asked.
On the pitch, I tried my hardest to make Pataudi stand up and take notice. One of the biggest moments in my life was when I managed to beat one of his records - I scored more hundreds for the Winchester College first XI
"I'd have scored very many more runs if I had two eyes! I don't think captaincy affected me. I was more worried about my own personal safety. I just hoped I'd be okay."
Did you enjoy your time leading India?
"I don't think captaincy is fun. I don't think anyone enjoys it. I didn't enjoy it - it is either satisfactory or unsatisfactory. It is something one doesn't refuse to do."
He still regrets his inability as captain to get the most out of the uber-talented allrounder Salim Durani. "I was very upset. If [Ian] Botham had been a failure, wouldn't you have been upset?" he explained.
There were stories of touring Australia, swipes at the BCCI, worries about the lack of player representation in the Indian administration, chatting about school (I knew his housemaster, who had recently died). My record cropped up once as well. "I broke Jardine's record, you broke mine," he said without prompting.
As I was leaving Tiger Pataudi (a name he doesn't like: "I do have a name, Mansur. Nobody seems to know it, so I have got used to Tiger.") with this inflated self-esteem, he inadvertently burst my bubble. "So did you ever play first-class cricket?" he asked idly. "No, I wasn't good enough." "Oh, I see." And he looked embarrassed.
Jardine captained England, Pataudi captained India and I don't even captain my club side. "I wasn't good enough so now I write about it instead," I tried. This didn't help. He's never been a big fan of journalists.
There is one thing worse than being disappointed by your heroes and that is to let them down yourself.

Edward Craig is deputy editor of the Wisden Cricketer. This article was first published in the print version of Cricinfo Magazine