Former England captain, the late Trevor Bailey, once predicted that the ninth Nawab of Pataudi would turn out to be as prodigious and incandescent as Sir Garfield Sobers. As a school boy at Winchester, this talented son of an illustrious father (Iftikhar Ali Khan Pataudi, along with Ranjitsinhji and Duleepsinhji were the only cricketers to have donned the national colours of both England and India in cricket), set the turf alight by going on to break every perceivable record, including that held by Douglas Jardine for the most number of runs. Then misfortune and fate contrived to put paid to what otherwise would have been a sparkling career. A car accident left him completely devoid of eyesight in his right eye. In his typical undaunted fashion, ‘Tiger’ – as he was fondly addressed by teammates and friends alike – shrugged this tragedy aside and went on to change the very façade of Indian cricket in more ways than one, ways the impact of which reverberate even to this day.
In this short compilation, edited by the preternatural cricket writer Suresh Menon, glorious facets of this gallant beacon of Indian cricket are revealed to an excited reader. What makes this book all the more relevant is the fact that it is more a clinical dissection of the genius of the man both on and off the field, than a forced panegyric. Contributors include Tiger Pataudi’s contemporaries as well as opponents. There is a stirring and poignant foreword penned by Tiger’s wife, Sharmila Tagore, not to mention two equally eloquent reminiscences, courtesy his daughters Saba and Soha Ali Khan.
Vijay Merchant, one of India’s earliest batting greats and also former Chairman of selectors recounts the unfortunate and untimely circumstance that led Tiger Pataudi to assume the mantle of captain at a tender age of twenty one. Selected as an understudy to Nari Contractor on the Caribbean tour of 1962, Pataudi was reluctantly thrust into the limelight when a nasty bouncer by Charlie Griffith not only felled Contractor but also ended his career. Thus, a young scion was left to handle experienced cricketers older than him by almost two decades. What happened next was the stuff of legends. As Bishen Singh Bedi, that glorious off spinner, remembers, Pataudi became the glue that bound the players together. In an era where provincialism and geography mattered more than meritocracy and mettle, Pataudi drilled into his team the singularly necessary mindset that it was an Indian team, and not a Karnataka, or a Tamil Nadu or a Delhi team.
He was also a captain who walked the talk. Never one to take refuge behind his irreversible handicap, he adjusted and adapted his game to overcome adversity in a manner only he could have conceived. The result was a few innings of spectacular import and gravity. The feisty and scrappy Australian Ian Chappell writes with a sense of awe on one such essay of absolute class and calculated risk taking that left an Australian attack dumbstruck. In the 1967 Melbourne Test, Pataudi already hampered by a serious leg injury dragged his visage to the crease after an attack led by McKenzie had India in absolute tatters at 25 for 5. Pataudi decided to take the bowling by the scruff of its neck and proceeded to score an imperious 75. With one temporarily nonfunctional leg and a permanently impaired eye, the nawab had proceeded to provide a regal exhibition. Similarly, Ray Robinson waxes eloquent over the 203 not out amassed against Mike Smith’s touring squad in the 1964 series. After ploughing through 97 overs for his century, the nawab cut loose and ravaged the English attack comprising of Parfitt and Smith, among others to smash 103 runs off only 40 overs. If this reads absurd to the unsuspected, living in the age of instant gratification and immediate results, this was an era where ODIs were not even a concept, let alone T20.
Pataudi was also a fielder par excellence. Constantly on the prowl, the cover area was his kingdom and he was the unsurpassed monarch of all he surveyed. Quicksilver to the ball and possessing a bullet throw, he was a veritable nemesis to the quick single. However, after his calamitous accident, he could no longer rule the roost close-in. As was his innate wont, he converted this impediment into an opportunity and became Indian cricket’s best outfielder.
Pataudi was also not beyond the occasional prank. Possessing a wicked sense of humour, he could be a nightmare for an innocuous teammate. During the course of a Caribbean tour, Pataudi and Farokh Engineer put on Caribbean accents, telephoned their teammates in the rooms and clamoured for everyone to rush to the reception in whatever garb they were attired in, since a hurricane was headed their way. “The sight of a bunch of Indians in their pyjamas, dhotis and shorts searching for a hurricane in the reception area….was one of the highlights of a tour where we lost all five Tests.”
When it came to tactical acumen, Pataudi was way ahead of his time. When conventional and received wisdom dictated the presence of two seamers, irrespective of quality (or an absolute lack of it) and two spinning options, Pataudi upended conventions by fielding a troika or even a quartet of spinners! Even if wicket keeper batsman Budhi Kunderan had to wield the new ball just so that it becomes old, then so be it. The outcome: a spinning quartet of vintage quality the likes of which had never been seen before and would arguably be never seen again. Bishan Singh Bedi, Erapalli Prasanna, Bhagawat Chandrasekhar and Srinivas Venkatraghavan were all provided wings by Pataudi to soar hard and high and by Jove, did they soar!
As Rahul Dravid informs the reader, Pataudi also fought for the player’s cause and was at the forefront of an attempt to form a players’ association. Even though such an endeavour did not come to fruition, its objective was more or less accomplished with the Board enhancing the remuneration and compensation of the players.
The book contains a plethora of anecdotes and is permeated with enduring memories. While the book might have contributed a lot in dispelling a great deal of reverential myth associated with Pataudi the man, it also embellished in great deal the aura – deserving by every stretch of imagination – attached to Pataudi the cricketer. Every contributor seems to have endorsed a universal attribute of pride and fortune that ensured that they were in some manner or other tied together with a colossus who strode through the world of cricket. A true prince in philosophy, principles, practice and pedigree.