Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi Biography
“There was suppleness and lithe grace which concealed power, as silkiness of skin conceals the voracity of strength in a beautiful animal of the jungle.” He may have often deviated from truth, but they agreed with Neville Cardus when he said those words of Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi — the Nawab who made every blade of grass bow in awe when he stepped out on the field.
Pataudi was an astute captain who lacked the biggest resource every successful captain in history has craved for: one, if not two, fast bowlers who could run through sides. Hence he had no option but to fall back on spinners — plenty of them: a whopping 80% of balls sent down under his captaincy were by spinners; for other Indian captains the proportion was a mere 58%.
He fell back on spinners, often getting specialist batsmen to share the new ball before tossing it to the spinners. The spinners swore by him. Bapu Nadkarni, Bishan Bedi, EAS Prasanna, and Bhagwat Chandrasekhar all agreed that nobody had handled spinners better than ‘Tiger.’
Taking over midway through the West Indies tour of 1961-62 (India were blackwashed 0-5) from Nari Contractor, Pataudi led India through the 1960s. At that time he was the youngest Test captain in history.
He did not produce great victories, but he worked to a plan and persisted with it. He shuffled his batsmen up and down the batting order. He led India to her first overseas series win. And he led by example when it came to converting India to a potent fielding unit: Eknath Solkar, Srinivas Venkataraghavan, and Ajit Wadekar were all outstanding catchers.
Pataudi’s father Iftikhar, a former Indian captain (they are the only father-son combination to lead India) who also played for England, passed away on his son’s 11th birthday. Mansur studied at Winchester, scoring 1,068 in the first season to smash a 40-year old record of Douglas Jardine — the man who had once dropped Pataudi Sr.
He was a dazzling strokeplayer till the accident at Hove happened: he could score runs at will and hit sixes on demand. After he lost an eye the numbers deteriorated a bit: he finished with 2,793 Test runs at 34.91 and 15,425 First-Class runs at 33.67. There is no way to estimate how he would have fared had the accident not happened.
Despite his stern, disciplined approach towards fielding, his casual approach to batting seems almost unbelievable today. He often travelled without a bat, and picked up the one nearest the dressing-room door while walking out, and seemed at ease every time.
He had his halcyon days, from 1964 to 1967, when he scored 1,467 runs at 45.84, scoring 5 of his 6 hundreds. He averaged 56.50 in Australia and 44.83 in England — numbers achieved not by many. The phase also included his famous MCG performance, where he made himself available at the last minute despite declaring himself unfit earlier. He went out to bat with a limp — and smashed the Australians around for 75 and 85 on one leg. Media made obvious references to Long John Silver and Cyclops, and Lindsay Hassett mentioned that Pataudi’s innings were as good as any played by Don Bradman at his prime.
Then came the early 1970s, when he faced a triple-blow: he was replaced as captain by Ajit Wadekar following a casting-vote by Vijay Merchant (he declared himself unavailable for the tours after this); Pataudi, along with other princely states, was abolished (‘Tiger’ was referred to as Mansur Ali Khan thereafter); and he lost in the Lok Sabha elections by a massive margin.
But there was one final hurrah: despite his success Wadekar was dropped from the side after one poor tour, and Pataudi was reinstated for the home series against West Indies in 1974-75. India came back from 0-2 to level the series before losing the final Test, conceding the series.
Post-retirement, Tiger became Editor of Sportsworld, and later, a popular commentator, an ICC match referee, President of the Players’ Association, and a part of the IPL governing body. His quick wit, one-liners, and practical jokes attained legendary status in the cricket fraternity.
He married actor Sharmila Tagore. Two of his children are also actors, while a third is a jewellery designer.
He passed away in 2011. His good eye was donated. BCCI started an annual memorial lecture in his memory from 2013. The India vs England series bears his name, albeit only when it is played in England.