Tiger Pataudi: First Among India's Great Captains - By AR Hemant
‘Tiger’, as Mansur Ali Khan Patuadi was often called, was the son of Iftikhar Ali Khan Pataudi, who had the distinction of playing Test cricket for England and India.
Born into royalty, Mansur Ali Khan was the ninth and final Nawab of Pataudi, a princely state which merged into India in 1947.
Cricket was in the family. Pataudi Senior made a hundred on Test debut for England before his playing days prematurely ended when he opposed his captain Douglas Jardine’s tactics in the 1932 Bodyline series. He later captained India before he passed away on his son’s 11th birthday in 1952.
It is said Pataudi Senior had asked bat-makers Gunn and Moore to manufacture a small-sized bat for his son, who was five at the time. Gunn and Moore didn't make bats for kids, but they agreed to make a special one for the boy who would be India's youngest Test captain at the age of 21.
India’s Finest Captain
Pataudi, an Oxford alumnus, went on to play 46 Tests for India, and was captain in 40. This makes him and Iftikhar the only father-and-son duo to captain India.
Pataudi in action for Oxford against Surrey, June 1961.
He is widely recognised as one of the finest tacticians of his time, a trait which helped bring spin bowling to the forefront of India’s gradual rise to the top. It was under him that India registered their first Test series win abroad, in New Zealand in 1968, by a 3-1 margin. India have never won three Tests in an away series since.
Pataudi realised spin was India’s strength and he built upon it. He’d often play three spinners in the side. This is best reflected in the fact that Bishan Singh Bedi, Erapalli Prasanna and S Venkataraghavan all had better averages and strike-rates under Pataudi.
Pataudi was an attacking batsman. After his schooling in Dehradun, he went to Winchester College, where he made over 2,000 runs in a season. It helped him that his coach George Cox was also an aggressive stroke-maker and encouraged Pataudi’s style of play.
At a time when keeping the ball along the ground was batsmen's mantra, Pataudi loved his lofted drives. His reflexes were sharp and his fielding quick-silver.
In 1960, he made 131 for Sussex against Cambridge at Lord’s. He was Oxford’s captain the next year, becoming the first Indian to receive the honour. This is the time he was involved in a car accident near Brighton beach and lost vision in his right eye.
Describing his post-accident style of play, Author Dean P. Hayes wrote: “As a result of the injury, he preferred a two-eyed stance. His backlift was therefore from the direction of third man, but the bat in the downward swing passed close to the right leg with elbows tucked in, thereby eliminating any chance of gap between bat and pad. In spite of two eyed stance, his off-side play remained a delight, because he quickly positioned himself for the strokes.”
Once asked by a journalist about how he played with one eye, Pataudi said, "I see two balls. I hit the one on the inside." Experts often wonder what he could have achieved as a batsman had he not been impaired.
Successful Debut & Captaincy
He later made his Test debut against England in the Delhi Test of December 1961. In his third Test of the same series, he made an attacking 103 to round off a series win.
Pataudi in 1961.
In 1962, midway through the West Indies tour, captain Nari Contractor was famously felled by a bouncer and never played Tests again. Pataudi, in just his fourth Test, became captain. It was a tough tour for him, and he failed to cross 50 in six innings, and India lost all five Tests.
After a brief slump in form, he hit the high notes again by making his highest Test score — 203 not out in Delhi — when England visited in 1964.
His finest innings is said to be the 75 he made in Brisbane in 1968, coming out to bat on a green-top with India 25-5. He had a hamstring injury which impeded his front-foot play and this innings is thus recalled as the one played with one eye and one leg.
Differences with the then chairman of selectors, Vijay Merchant, and India’s historic wins in the West Indies and England in 1971, brought Ajit Wadekar’s captaincy to the forefront. But following the ‘Summer of 42’ disaster in England in 1974, Wadekar was forced out, and Pataudi returned to lead the team again.
Pataudi played his last Test in 1975 — as captain — and made 9 and 9 against the West Indies at the Wankhede Stadium, a game India lost and surrendered a tightly-fought series 2-3.
He also won the Arjuna Award on 1964 and Padma Shri in 1967.
Pataudi worked as an ICC match referee and sports columnist. In 1974-75 he was India's manager. He also dabbled in politics. Earlier this year, he parted ways with the Indian Premier League and sued the BCCI over non-payment of dues.
The only major controversy he courted was in 2005 when he was arrested for killing an endangered animal.
Pataudi, 70, breathed his last today at a New Delhi hospital after a prolonged infection of his lungs. He is survived by wife, former actress Sharmila Tagore, son Saif Ali Khan, and daughters Soha and Saba