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Odd Men In

The Bodyline dissenter and India's Tiger prince

The eighth and ninth Nawabs of Pataudi made significant contributions to the game

Paul Edwards
Paul Edwards
Iftikhar Ali, the eighth Nawab of Pataudi, September 1931

Iftikhar Ali, the eighth Nawab of Pataudi  •  Hulton Archive/Getty Images

India's imperial past sometimes seems so distant that its preservation can be entrusted to the heritage industry. People hearing of the two Nawabs of Pataudi might think them characters in a Sherlock Holmes mystery rather than a father and son whose life stories offer a personal history of the independent republic's emergence. Yet any temptation to view them as modern men of the people must take account of their princely background. And no account of either's career could be complete without considering some of the finest innings played by the pair in an era which stretched from Duleepsinhji to Sunil Gavaskar.
The father was the eighth Nawab of Pataudi and inherited the title, aged seven, in 1917; he played three Test matches apiece for England and India, married the daughter of the Maharaja of Bhopal and died of a heart attack in 1952 when playing polo. In no respect outshone, the son was considered a far better batsman and made his first-class debut for Sussex aged 16, when he still had two years' schooling ahead of him at Winchester. Having lost the sight in his right eye when involved in a car accident a fortnight before the 1961 Varsity Match, he remodelled his stance and made his Test debut for India less than six months later. The possessor of film-star looks and effortless charm, he married Sharmila Tagore, a proper film star. Pataudi captained his country in 40 of his 46 Test matches but ended his days in 2011 as simple Mansur Ali Khan, prime minister Indira Gandhi having abolished all princely entitlements some four decades previously. In any case everyone still called him "Tiger". This, you may have gathered, is not a story of everyday Indian folk.
When surrounded with so much glamour - had they played today both men would have been targets for Vogue and Vanity Fair - it might have been easy for the Nawabs to take their cricket for granted, yet this was not a trap into which either fell. Instead, their careers are a beguiling blend of honed talent and aristocratic mien. Perhaps no innings captures this mixture better than the elder Pataudi's only Test century, which was scored on debut in the first match of the Bodyline series. Rather than being achieved with a succession of silky boundaries, the hundred was brought up after five-and-a-half hours' stubborn effort and included only six fours. When mocked by Vic Richardson, Pataudi replied that he was assessing the pace of the Sydney pitch. "Well it's changed three times since you came in," was the amused reply. Nevertheless, the debutant gritted it out against Bill O'Reilly and Clarrie Grimmett before being last out for 102 with his side's total on 524 in a match they eventually won by ten wickets.
Yet there was patronage to go with the patience. As the players left the field after England's first innings, Pataudi asked the umpire, George Hele, for a bail as a memento of the innings. Hele offered him the ball instead and thought nothing more of it until a few weeks later when the grateful Nawab presented him with a gold wristwatch. "I thanked my lucky stars Pataudi did not play in another Test [after the watch was presented]," Hele said.
But Pataudi was as closely involved as most MCC tourists with the unsavoury centrepiece of the Bodyline tour. At a relatively trivial but still insulting level he was addressed as "Pat O'Dea" by some of the folks who lived on The Hill, although others in the Sydney crowd had the grace to ask him what he wished to be called. "Just plain 'Pat' to you boys," he replied, thereby showing a far greater popular touch than his captain, Douglas Jardine, ever revealed or wished to possess. Indeed, the antipathy between the pair seems clear. "I see His Highness is a conscientious objector," Jardine said when Pataudi affected not to hear his instruction to join the leg trap. The Nawab was not selected for any of the three Tests after Melbourne. "I am told he has his good points," he said of Jardine towards the end of the tour. "In three months I have yet to see them."
The elder Pataudi was only 23 when the Bodyline tour ended but he was almost exactly at the midpoint of a career which comprised 127 first-class matches. Some spectators had fond memories of his unbeaten 238 in the Varsity Match two years previously and there would be three double-centuries for Worcestershire in 1933. There was even a return to the England side for the Trent Bridge Test in 1934 but Pataudi was cursed by ill-health for the remainder of the decade and when he returned to England after the war it was as captain of the touring India team. He made four centuries on that trip but managed only 55 runs in the three Tests. And perhaps it was fitting that having made his first-class debut in The Parks; Pataudi should end his top-level cricket career at Lord's. He had, after all, opted to make himself available to play for England against India in his homeland's first official Test in 1932. "While India was still ruled by the British such anomalies were possible," notes Ramachandra Guha.
Wisden's obituary of the elder Nawab is a trifle more oblique, albeit it mentions his schooling in Lahore and adds that "after the partition of India and Pakistan, Pataudi, a Moslem, found himself without a State to rule". But the tribute's most prescient sentence is its last, which notes that he had left "an eleven-year-old son who has shown promise of developing into a good cricketer".
Less than five years later such optimism seemed mild. People spoke wonderingly of the younger Pataudi's talent when he was still at school and he had been recruited by Sussex before he arrived at Oxford in 1960. No doubt the shrewd eyes of the former Sussex players and Winchester coaches, Hubert Doggart and George Cox jnr., played a role in that signing. "There was huge excitement and anticipation," recalled his Oxford contemporary, Abbas Ali Baig. "At first sight in the nets his technique seemed a little unconventional as his bat started its descent from the gully position…However, we soon discovered that at the moment of contact Tiger's bat straightened out magically and his eye and foot coordination was such that he was able to choose where to despatch the ball earlier than both batsmen."
For his freshman season the mystique was maintained; indeed it never completely left the younger Pataudi. But the accident which deprived him of the sight in his right eye necessitated a more square-on stance and if the runs continued to flow from this less classical technique they rarely did so quite as fluently. After the accident, wrote John Woodcock, "his batting was not so often an expression of genius as a triumph over handicap." Nevertheless, after noting that Oxford and Cambridge produced some 15 Test captains in the period 1952-82 Woodcock judges that "none of the 15, not even Dexter or May or Cowdrey or Imran, was capable of greater brilliance than Tiger." Like his father, Pataudi scored more first-class centuries for Oxford than for any other team.
On the field he had presence, a regal touch; one's eyes would be drawn to him, as eyes have been drawn to Imran Khan, Viv Richards, Ian Botham
Mike Brearley on "Tiger" Pataudi
Unlike the eighth Nawab, however, his national loyalties were never divided. At 21 Pataudi became India's youngest captain in only his fourth match when he led the team at Bridgetown in 1962 after Nari Contractor had fractured his skull when ducking into a Charlie Griffiths bouncer. He would lead the side for much of the next decade and when critics pointed to only two series wins, both against New Zealand, Pataudi's supporters, many of them modern writers, would argue that he revolutionised the approach of India's players, inculcating fresh pride and suggesting his colleagues might at least attempt to emulate his own graceful and athletic fielding. "Pataudi remains, perhaps, India's most iconic captain ever, credited with giving Indian cricket the steel to take on the best in the world without backing down," wrote Boria Majumdar in Eleven Gods and a Billion Indians. "In many ways he remains the forerunner to the Sourav Gangulys and Virat Kohlis of the world."
Pataudi scored his first Test century against England in only his third match and his 13-year international career would feature five more. Those against Australia in 1964 and against England at Headingley in 1967 are still rated among the finest Test hundreds, albeit only when the compilers of such lists are not blinded by modernity. Pataudi's record in other first-class matches was more modest. His 33 centuries in 310 matches compares unfavourably with his father's 29 in 127 games.
Yet the opportunity to display his leadership skills helped make the last Nawab's achievement far more substantial. Guha considers him "the most charismatic Indian cricketer since CK Nayudu… Even with one eye he was close to world-class… Back in the 1960s, no one would have cared to question the patriotism of the Muslim captain of India."
Equally significantly, Pataudi demanded that India's cricketers represented their newly-independent country rather than their ancient states. "If you were good, you were in, irrespective of whether you were from Mumbai or Bihar," writes Mudar Patherya. "Today, one would hardly consider that a big deal but in the 1960s, this was a morning breeze in a factional India."
There were tactical innovations, too. Blessed with four high-class spinners in Bishan Bedi, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, Erapalli Prasanna and Srinivasaraghavan Venkataraghavan, Pataudi sometimes bucked orthodoxy and played them all. The nerves of some top-order Test batsmen never recovered, especially if they had toured the subcontinent and been hemmed in by close fielders. Claustrophobia has never since been as fascinating.
Some criticised Pataudi's mercurial temperament but it was still rather a surprise when he was replaced as India's skipper by the calmer Ajit Wadekar. The new captain proceeded to win series in both West Indies and England in his first six months in charge; his predecessor, meanwhile, who had been deprived of both his title and his job in less than a year made an poorly-judged foray into Indian politics but was among the first to send Wadekar a congratulatory telegram after Chandrasekhar had bowled India to their first Test victory against England at The Oval.
Pataudi returned to the Test side for the home victory against England and led his country in his final Tests when India lost 3-2 to a West Indies side captained by Clive Lloyd. On a personal level it was a low-key conclusion to his international career but perhaps there was something fitting about bowing out in a series which saw the debuts of both Viv Richards and Gordon Greenidge. Both men may have hit the ball harder than Pataudi but he, too, could dazzle spectators without blinding them.
"Tiger - in the mind's eye - aquiline, still, slight, swift, hawkish," recalled Mike Brearley, who played against Pataudi in the 1963 Varsity Match. "On the field he had presence, a regal touch; one's eyes would be drawn to him, as eyes have been drawn to Imran Khan, Viv Richards, Ian Botham. A proper arrogance, or as Bishan Bedi put it, an imperious charm."
For those who did not see Pataudi bat there is still film available of him advancing down the pitch and hitting spinners over the infield. For those who did not meet him when he was young and had a world before him, there are many recollections and many more photographs. Few cricketers have done so little to repel the lens. One such shot adorns the cover of a book of tributes: Pataudi, Nawab of Cricket. The young batsman gazes down from what appears to be a hotel balcony on Brighton's sea front in the early 1960s. His eyes are shaded by dark glasses and the hair is immaculately cut and combed. It could be a still from a Visconti film and its subject could indeed be a prince looking down on a possible kingdom. "What will you be doing after Oxford?" he was asked when still an undergraduate. "I won't have to be doing anything," he replied. "You see, I am a Nawab." He little knew.
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Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications