January 5, 1952 – A little boy was all excited and getting ready to celebrate his 11th birthday party. Just when he was dressing up to attend the party, his elder sister came running to inform him that their father was no more. Their father had a heart attack while playing polo and passed away.
Now, an 11-year- old really doesn’t have much knowledge about birth and death and by his own admission – “I didn’t understand much about my dad passing away, until a couple of days when I started missing him…”
However, being the sole male member of his family, not only did he become responsible for his family, he also was handed over the responsibility of the welfare of 15,000 people of his princely state – at 11, he became the new Nawab.
July 1, 1961 – The Nawab was merely 20 years old then. He travelled to England to complete his education and made a name for himself as a cricket player. After a hard day in the field against Sussex, five members of the Oxford University team went out for some dinner. It was a beautiful evening, with a soft, breeze blowing from the sea and three of the friends decided to walk back home.
The Nawab was too lazy to walk so he stay put in the car with his team mate, wicket keeper, Robin Waters. Just then a big car suddenly pulled out into the middle of the road and hit them straight on. Robin Waters got off easy with a few cuts above his forehead, but the Nawab lost vision in his right eye forever.
Injuries are a part and parcel of every sportsman’s career – but what happens, when you lose one eye for the rest of your life? What do you do when you pour water on the table instead of the tumbler, kept on table, because you can’t gauze where exactly the tumbler is? What do you do when you can’t light your cigarette because you can’t fathom where exactly the tip of the cigarette is?
Most people give up but if your name’s Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, you make your Test debut for India exactly six months after the accident, go onto score 3000 plus runs at an average of 35 and etch your name in cricket’s history as one of the greatest captains ever!
March 1962, India’s tour of West Indies – Charlie Griffith knocked out the then Indian captain, Nari Contractor with a lethal bouncer. It hit him on the back of his skull and technically ended his career as a cricketer.
In the fourth Test at Barbados, the Nawab, who went on the tour as the vice-captain, was handed over the reins of Team India, thus making him the youngest Test captain for India.
The circumstances under which Pataudi became the captain of his country would have weighed down any other cricketers in his position. A team with low self esteem, the appointed captain in the hospital, fast bowlers charging in on bouncy tracks – things couldn’t have been any worse for a 21-year-old.
But “Tiger” Pataudi was no stranger to adversity. If he could lose an eye and play Test cricket six months later, he was ready to measure up to any challenge.
Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He didn’t have a “rags to riches” story because he came from the family of the privileged. He grew up in a palace boasting of 150 rooms, attended by well over 100 servants, with eight of them being personal attendants to the heir to the throne – “Tiger”. He received the best of education and was brought up in an environment of well being.
However, he had tougher battles to fight. He not only fought a physical handicap, he fought against the ideologies that ruled Indian cricket. Captaining the Indian cricket team, even now, is perhaps the most difficult job in the world but during the 1960s, it was equivalent to that of a poisoned chalice.
During that period, Indian cricket was devoid of adequate fast bowling resources or a solid batting line-up. Internal splits and board politics tore apart the team and added to the captain’s woes.
Pataudi lost his first series 5-0 against the West Indies. To be honest, West Indies had such a strong side that India never had a chance anyway but that series kick started a new era in Indian cricket.
The first thing that Pataudi did was to constitute an Indian team that was difficult to beat – he created a team. He evicted much of the narrow-mindedness and internal politics that prevailed in Indian cricket, by being transparent and honest. He demanded for players who performed and refused to carry passengers on the tours.
He was the first person who introduced the word “strategy” in Indian cricket. He convinced the selectors to play their best bowlers irrespective of the conditions and came up with the four spinner theory.
“I have never believed in the horses-for-courses theory… A bad seamer will not get you wickets on a green top and a bad spinner will not get you wickets on a turner. I played four spinners because they happened to be the best bowlers around.” – MAK Pataudi
When he took over the side, India was still suffering from the colonial hangover and the players lacked in self belief. He took it on himself to make the players realise their true worth.
According to Pataudi, “Sometimes players themselves don’t know how good they can be. Then you make him realise his importance to the team, how the team depends on him, and how he will let his side down if he doesn’t perform at his very best.”
Pataudi became a leader of an India that was battered and bruised after gaining independence. Perhaps becoming a Nawab at the age of 11 helped him guide a team that needed direction and strong leadership. He was the first Indian captain to focus on “Indianness”, shunning out parochialism and any regional biases in the dressing room.
Pataudi channeled all his energies towards building an Indian side for the future. Although, during his Oxford days, he seemed destined to become one of the greats of the game as a batsman, the injury to his eye, forced him to rely more on his instincts rather than his technique.
“Some captains lead from the front and some push from the back…I wanted to lead from the front but I found myself a long way from being the best player after my accident. So it was a question of pushing” – MAK Pataudi
He knew that at the highest level of cricket, his batting would fall short and so, he abandoned his early ambition of becoming one of the greatest batsmen and chose to become a leader who pushed his team to extract the best out of them.
Yet, Pataudi never took refuge of excuses or indulged in any self pity and to measure him just by his captaincy or Test record as a batsman will do him no justice. His true contribution to Indian cricket went beyond realms of the cricket field. He lifted Indian cricket from the abyss of negativity and tameness to instill the belief of “belonging to the highest level.”
He brought in an era of tactical boldness that was unheard of in Indian cricket. His control over his side during his tenure at the helm was commendable and was a cause of envy for the Indian cricketing establishment.
“Tiger” Pataudi wasn’t perfect, he and his ways had their own flaws but none dared to challenge his authority because of the aura that surrounded him. He was not the best cricketer during his time but his influence on Indian cricket was second to none.
He was known as “the Noob” during his Oxford days but the “Noob” made Indian cricket stylish. The lifted shirt collar, the cap slightly tipped to the right, the handkerchief tied round his neck and the prowl in the covers oozed confidence and royalty, yet he always chose to underplay his achievements.
“In the country of the blind, it had been said, the one-eyed man is king. But in the keen-eyed world of cricket a fellow with just one good eye-and-a-bit has to settle for something less than the perfection he once sought. Lucky me, despite this, to have been able to play the game all over the world in the company of the giants.” – MAK Pataudi, the first superstar of Indian Cricket.