Sunday, October 2, 2011

Saluting Tiger

It is 23rd March of 1962, there are two captains walking out for the toss at the test match in Bridgetown. On one hand, there is the great Sir Frank Worrell, but Worrell would have been stumped to see a greenhorn all of 21 walking out with him to toss the coin. Just about ten years ago, the same cricketer at the tender age of 10 was travelling on a ship to England for studies and was the shipmate of Worrell, but ten years later, he was the leader of a national team! If you haven't guessed the great man yet, I was thinking about none other than the Republican prince Nawab of Pataudi, the cricketer who charmed everyone with his calm demeanour, his visionary captaincy, batting with full of flash and dash and his electrifying fielding at cover point. He could do all this with just one eye as he lost his right eye in a tragic car accident.

Tiger Pataudi came from a family of great cricketing lineage. His father Pataudi senior played for England in the famous bodyline series and interestingly fell out with Jardine's method of restricting the run machine Bradman from making about million runs with his bodyline tactic. Pataudi senior even went onto captain the Indian side in 1946. As he came from a rich cricketing background, it  was on expected lines that at an young age, he was passionate about the game. Pataudi though, unfortunately  lost his father when he was just about 10, but he took it in his stride and made his mark as a batsman for his school at Winchester. The young boy must have felt a bit awkward at his school in Winchester as that was the time when India had just gained independence from Britain, but here he was studying in a British school where he was the only Indian.  Pataudi though, soon started to break all types of records in school cricket including the record for the highest individual score. Interestingly, the previous record was held by Douglas Jardine.

In a few years time, he was already playing for Oxford and seemed to be destined for greatness.In 1961 at the height of his prowess, the young man made more than 1000 runs at an average of well over 50. Pataudi also became the first Indian to be honoured with captaining Oxford University in 1961. Pataudi's attacking batsmanship made many experts and former players to sit up and take notice of this young prodigy. His captain at Oxford, AC Smith even went onto say that he is the best 19 year old batsman, he has seen. I reckon that he would still say the same. Just when it seemed like the young prodigy would blossom into the next great batsman, fate played a cruel joke as in a road accident, he tragically lost his right eye. Pataudi  though, wasn't known as Tiger for nothing and in a few months time, he was back in his flannels and was playing domestic cricket in India. Most would  have cursed their bad luck, but instead of getting into depression mode, Pataudi in-spite of his handicap went onto play test cricket for more than a decade!

At the end of 1961 season, he was even playing for India against England. He soon made his presence felt by getting 64 in his second test and a century in the final test of the series. Those were the days, when newly independent nations like Pakistan and India seemed to have a defeatist attitude and were always looking to escape with draws. Pataudi's batting though, was said to be like a breath of fresh air in a team seemed to be made up of dour batsman with a defeatist attitude written all over their face.

After the series against England, India soon set sails to the Caribbean Islands for a test series. I am sure the Indian cricketers would have loved every bit of the serene beauty of Caribbean beaches. Those beautiful Caribbean beaches though, can be a bit misleading, as when every test series starts, batsmen would have to face fast bowlers bowling deliveries that were as dangerous as the SS-N-25 Onyx missile. One such missile like beamer from Charlie Grifftih smashed into the then Indian captain Contractor's head and his test career was all over.The team was said to be in a complete mess as they had lost the test heavily and their captain was battling for life. In such trying circumstances, the charming prince Pataudi was appointed the captain and that too at a young age of just 21.

Pataudi passed the baptism by fire as even though India lost the series, everyone who played under him at that time thought of him as a positive influence on the team. It is always said, his visionary captaincy made sure that players who got picked to play for India were first of all said by Pataudi that they were no more playing for their state or province, but for the country. The morass defeatist attitude which was said to be in veins of every Indian cricketer was replaced by a new positive outlook of a team that would go all out for a win. It is not a mere co-incidence that India won their first test series away from home under Pataudi's captaincy in the land of Long White Clouds. Yes, the Kiwis were very much the lightweights of cricket world yet, any series victory would help to lift the morale of an upcoming team. In-fact, it can be said that Pataudi guided a generation of young cricketers including famed spinners like Bedi, Venkat, Pras and Chandra. Even little Vishy has always said that if it wasn't for Pataudi, he may have struggled to make an impact as a batsman.

As a captain, Pataudi always believed that he had to push the players from behind rather than pull them from the front. Due to his handicap, Pataudi wasn't always able to lead the team by getting big scores, so he had to push the players from behind. It would have been tough for captains like Brearley or Pataudi as they weren't great players themselves, but hats off to them, as they were able to motivate teams with moderate resources and help them to win matches.

Pataudi's strategy as a captain was very simple, play the best four bowlers and he didn't mind that his best four bowlers were spinners. I tend to agree with that theory, as there is no point in picking a medium pacer if he isn't good enough. On occasions, it came unstruck like on a greentop at Melbourne in 67/68, when Pataudi was forced to bat first as he didn't have a decent pace bowler to take advantage of the juice in the wicket, but more often than not his strategy worked for him. Pataudi was also said to be a very intuitive captain and with experience he just became better. In his last series as a player and captain in 1975, he straightaway introduced a freak bowler like Chandra against a newbie like Viv. I am sure he introduced Chandra into the attack because he was able to see that only a freak bowler like Chandra could trouble someone having a great hand-eye co-ordination like Viv. It was said that every-time Viv played Chandra, he had no clue of how to bat against him

As a batsman, Pataudi's handicap of  playing with just one eye meant that he couldn't play to his potential yet, he was able to play a few top notch knocks. Cricket aficionados who saw Pataudi's knock at Leeds in 67 against Snow and co. won't forget it in a hurry. India were trailing England by million runs after the first innings, but Pataudi is said to have played a  glorious knock and helped India to even gain a small lead. From the few clippings I have seen from that knock, I think of a batsman going for all out attack against a bowling line-up thirsting for blood.

Pataudi's greatest  knock though, is said to be the 75 he made on a greentop at Melbourne against Mckenzie, Connelly and co. Pataudi had opted to bat first on a greentop, as he didn't have a decent pace bowler. On expected lines, McKenzie and co. went for the kill and in no time, India were smashed to smithereens with five wickets falling for next to nothing. In walked Pataudi and in-spite of having to play with one eye and a hamstring injury, he tore into the Aussie pact attack with grit and gumption. He is said to have hooked and pulled anything that was marginally short and that too with just one eye and on one leg! I just visualise a tragic war king with a bunch of dozen soldiers fighting a huge army and meeting fire with fire. Maybe it was the anger of not having a decent pace bowler in helpful conditions which made him play like the way he did, but to play like that with just one eye and on one leg is something that is hard to imagine.

After watching Pataudi's knock, the great Lindsay Hassett said,
 "That's the way Bradman used to attack the bowling."

All good things though, have to come to an end which happened to Tiger as well, as he was unceremoniously dumped as the captain of the team after a closely fought series against Australia in 69/70. I don't know about Tiger, but if anyone else was in his position, he would have been a bit frustrated watching the very team that was built and nurtured by him, going onto create history by defeating heavyweights of cricket, West Indies and England, but that is fate for you. Pataudi did make a comeback in 1975 as a captain against the Windies, but observers who saw him play during that series opine that he was a pale shadow of  his former self. It can be said that the newest missile from the Caribbean Islands, Andy Roberts had him for breakfast, dinner and supper. Even in that series though, Pataudi showed he was a brave captain, as he made sure that it was a closely fought series with his attacking captaincy. After the series was over, Pataudi realised that he no more had it in him to play test cricket and he announced his retirement from all forms of the game.

Yes, Pataudi wasn't a great batsman nor did he have a great record as a captain, but a man who fought a handicap and faced the best of bowlers like Lock, Snow, Arnold, McKenzie, Griffith, Sobers, Mallett and co. is worthy of being remembered.

I also won't do justice to Pataudi, if I don't bring out the fact that he came across as a honest man, who played the game in the right spirit. For instance, when India's former spinner Nadkarni stood his ground even after being given out by the umpire in a match, Pataudi is believed to have shouted; comeback to the pavilion. I also remember his honest and forthright answer, he gave in an interview on cricinfo. The question that was asked to him was, would he have done better, if he hadn't been thrust with the burden of captaining the national team at the age of just 21. I really liked the answer he gave, as he said that more than captaining the side, he was worried about playing with one eye and his personal safety.

I understand that in modern times, where every minute detail is analysed, there would be experts who will come and tell Oh! this Pataudi averaged just 34 as a batsman and under his captaincy, India didn't win too many tests. I though, will remember MAK as the vision behind India's success in cricket in the last few decades and as a mighty fine batsman, who played with just one eye against bowlers bowling at 90mph. May the man who played cricket with brio, elan, vigour, joie, de vivre and vitality RIP.


Soulberry said...

Informative. It wasn't easy forging a team out of India back then...divided as it was along so many lines. And to instill a sense of confidence into that team required leadership.

greyblazer said...


Great to see you again!! I think one can say that Pataudi was the reason behind India's success during early 70's as the same set of players who were guided by Pat went onto help India to win series in WI and Eng.

Sanath said...

Link your blog and I'll do the same. With regards.