If statistics were the true measure of greatness, then Mansoor Ali Khan, the late Nawab of Pataudi, (5th January 1941 – 22nd September 2011) would never be counted among the all-time greats of Indian cricket. With a batting average in the mid-30’s he would rank amidst a host of lesser known names, and by now would have been completely forgotten. The likes of Chandu Borde, Pankaj Roy, and Farook Engineer, who ended their careers with similar figures, and who were his contemporaries, are mainly remembered in old black-and-white photographs on the walls of the Madras Cricket Club, and similar cricket stadia in the country. Of course, there are still some people around who can tell you about the heroic batting of Borde in the Delhi Test in Feb. 1959 against a rampaging West Indian fast bowling attack led by Wesley Hall and Roy Gilchrist, two of the most fearsome new ball bowlers the world had ever seen. Those were the days when the only defensive weapon the batsmen had was their cricket bat. Helmets were unknown, protective shin pads and gloves were of a mediocre quality, and there were no arm and chest guards. There were no restrictions on the number of bouncers a bowler could send down in an over, and the front-foot no ball rule had not been introduced. Borde scored 109 and 96 in that match and helped India earn an honourable draw. Earlier, Pankaj Roy had scored 90 in the second innings of the first test in Bombay, to help India begin the series with a draw. The flamboyant wicket-keeper-batsman Farook Engineer broke into the Indian side in the 1960’s and I will never forget that special innings of his against the West Indies on 13th Jan.1967 when he scored 109 runs while opening the Indian batting. Against a bowling attack consisting of Wesley Hall, Charlie Griffith, Gary Sobers and Lance Gibbs, Engineer had raced to 94 or 96 (I am not quite sure), and was just a boundary away from scoring a century before lunch; a feat that had, till then, only been achieved by the great Don! Chandu Borde scored 125 and 49 in the same Test. India drew the match but it had already lost the series before that.
No, I would not need the help of statistics to keep the memory of Tiger Pataudi fresh in my mind. I saw him but just a couple of times. Cricket was not a TV sport then, and most of us followed the game on radio. There were a few good cricket commentators in India like Chakrapani, Pearson Surita, and Berry Sarbadhikari, who would bring the game live to the followers. Roadside pan shops and dhabas would keep their radios tuned to the cricket commentary, and some of them would even maintain a live scorecard on a blackboard outside their establishments. The excitement of the cricket ground was faithfully conveyed to the listening crowd as every stroke and wicket was described in exciting detail by the commentators. I remember Vizzy once describing a late cut executed by the Australian batsman Norman O’Neill, as a stroke that was played “so late, so posthumously, that one wouldn’t mind going to the next world to see such a shot being played!” What a beautiful way of describing a cricketing shot!
Pataudi had begun his career brilliantly for India, scoring a century in the second Test he played for the country. The commentators were in raptures about his batting style. But what had caught their imagination most was his fielding. He prowled the cover region like the striped golden pride of Bengal and was equally effective in the mid-wicket area. His presence was enough to make opposite batsmen think twice before attempting a run. There was something languidly alert about his manner that made batsmen more cautious of stealing a run from him. His stance was easy and loose-limbed. There was no tightness on view. This gave him ample time to change direction and swoop on the ball on either side of his patrolling area. His catching was just as good as his ground fielding. When at the crease he brought the same feline grace to his batting stance and was perhaps the best player of the short-arm pull the game has seen.
When I saw him bat he had already lost one eye and had adapted his stance to compensate for this terrible handicap. He would face the ball square, which made for some difficulty in playing on the off side. But he had lost none of his ability on the on side. In the 1964 India-England series, he made 203 not out in the second innings of the 4th Test played in Delhi. I was one of those fortunate people who witnessed the action live on all five days. First it was Hanumant Singh who notched up a century on debut, but a superb century by Colin Cowdrey had helped England to a handsome lead of 107 runs. Budhi Kunderan and M. L. Jaisimha ensured a good start to the second innings. When Pataudi came in to bat at no. 4, the deficit had still not been wiped out. The Nawab, in the company of Kunderan, put on 65 runs on the 4th day, himself being unbeaten on 31 at the close of play. On the fifth and final day, Pataudi treated the crowd to an amazing display of classical batsmanship. He was 116 at tea, having added 85 runs in two sessions of two hours each. In the final session of one-and-a-half hours only (the duration those days of the last session of each day’s play in a Test match) he added 87 runs to his score and when play was called off he had scored a double-century (at that time the highest individual score by an Indian against England). If my memory serves me right, the contribution of Chandu Borde, the other batsman at the crease, to the partnership, was just 4 runs. The pull shot off John Mortimore, with which he scored his second hundred, was so brilliantly executed that one would not have minded going to the next world to see it.
The second time I saw him was on the Delhi University cricket ground. I am not sure of the date or year but it had to be in 1964 or 1965. Conrad Hunte, the great West Indian opening batsman, had retired from international cricket. A committed Christian, Hunte in 1961, on the West Indies’ tour of Australia, saw the film The Crowning Experience, about the life of the black American educator, Mary McLeod Bethune. The film was promoted by Moral Re-Armament (MRA), a multi-faith organization promoting absolute moral and ethical standards of behavior. Hunte committed the remainder of his life to this association. While in India on behalf of MRA, Hunte had assembled a cricket team and a friendly match was organized against a University side. Pataudi turned up for the University and one could see his astonishing fielding abilities from very close. I do not remember seeing him bat in that friendly, but his presence in the field was absolutely electrifying.
Although I never saw him again in the flesh, the memory of the Delhi Test remained fresh in my mind. I continued to follow his career until he retired from the game in 1976. Vijay Merchant had put a brake on his Test career. As Chairman of Selectors, Merchant had not liked the no-nonsense attitude of the Nawab. When, as the captain, Pataudi lost the toss in a Test match, Merchant apparently said to him that having lost the toss, the team would lose the Test too. Pataudi, it is said, replied that in that case there was no need to actually go through the motions of playing the match, and the visiting team could be declared the winners. The Chairman was not pleased with this effrontery, and when the time came to choose the Captain for the 1971 tour of the West Indies, he used his casting vote against Pataudi and in favour of Ajit Wadekar. Pataudi was not even a part of the touring party. It is a different matter that he made a come-back, but by then he had realized that in the new scheme of things there was no place for a person of his forthright and audacious views.
Later it was an absolute delight to see him, occasionally, in the experts’ panel on TV. His fluency in the English language, coupled with his mastery of the game, would make for a deadly cocktail of incisive depth. You could make out that he had no time for fools or pretenders. His assessment of the game was uncannily accurate. He could spot the weaknesses of a batsman in a jiffy and suggest the line of attack that the opposing captain should have adopted. It is the loss of Indian cricket that its administrators did not make use of his abilities. Perhaps their egos were so large that there was no room left for someone who had a much better grasp of the game! I hope they realize their loss now and make partial amends by naming the Ferozeshah Kotla ground as the Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi Stadium.
Indian cricket has seen many superstars after that tour of the West Indies in 1971. The names of Gavaskar, Vishwanath, Kapil Dev, Azharuddin, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, Laxman, Sachin Tendulkar and Dhoni have adorned the game with their superb contributions with the bat and the ball. The ubiquitous TV screen has brought their exploits into the drawing rooms of millions of people. I too have experienced the thrill of watching a maestro like Gavaskar notching up milestone after milestones, only to be surpassed by Tendulkar. All the above named have lifted Indian cricket from the basement to unimaginable heights in all forms of the game. They have displayed amazing athletic skills and powers of concentration. Of course, cricket gear has undergone a tremendous change. The batsman today is protected by helmets, and a lot of other padding devices. The bouncing ball is no longer as lethal a missile as it was during the heydays of the West Indian assembly line of superfast bowlers. Cricket has been tilted in favour of the batsmen. The game too has rewarded Indian cricketers monetarily beyond their wildest expectations. I must have seen hundreds of great knocks played by the galaxy of Indian stars. But if one were to ask me the one single knock that has remained etched in my mind, I would immediately recall Tiger Pataudi’s double-hundred at the Ferozeshah Kotla ground. The fact that the Tiger played almost all his cricket with one eye makes statistics completely irrelevant. It is no use speculating how much more he would have contributed to the labors of the scorers, had he not met with that terrible accident. Of all the Indian cricketers who followed him, perhaps only Kapil Dev could come close to his unencumbered batting style, though not with the same grace. Azharuddin may have inherited his flair for fielding but his bony frame could not lend that languid alacrity to his stance that Pataudi had. The game of cricket was privileged when Tiger Pataudi chose to make it his means of expression. Perhaps T. S. Eliot had him in mind when he wrote the following lines:
“No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two;
Advise the prince, no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence,……”
Thank you, Mansoor Ali Khan, for the delight you gave us old-fashioned followers of cricket. I am sure the gods must have been waiting with bated breath to see you bat and field in the cricket fields of Paradise with your erstwhile teammates like Polly Umrigar, Vijay Manjrekar, Jaisimha, Budhi Kunderan, and opponents like Conrad Hunte, Frank Worrell, Colin Cowdrey, Collie Smith and Roy Gilchrist, to name just a few. Men like you come rarely, and are even more rarely recognized!
By Vijaya Dar
Image Source: Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi