Ocotber 13 , 1997
BOOKS & THINGS
The Cricket Interview/Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi
'Captaincy has not changed... only the pressures have...'
Indian cricket has never been short of periods of crises. And each fresh crisis has brought, with it, a 'great redeemer' -- a player of obviously above the average abilities, on whom the selectors conferred the ultimate responsibility, and to whom the nation looked up to for miracles, nothing less.
Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, made skipper at the age of 23 and, a year later, already realising that the expectations of fans have no limits to them whatsoever, was one such. But perhaps the archetype was Mansur Ali Khan, Nawab of Pataudi -- the man who was elevated to the captaincy at the world record age of 21, the man who led India to stirring triumphs and shocking defeats, the man who seemed, for a good part of his career, to be hogging centrestage in a never-ending Greek tragedy.
Tragedy, in fact, was the emotion underlying the average Indian's first introduction to the Nawab. For barely had news filtered down from England that the 'Noob' had become the first Indian to captain Oxford University (Pataudi subsequently captained Sussex in 1966), than it was followed by word that a freak car accident had cost him his right eye.
Even before the echoes of the 'oh how sad, what a pity' had ended, Pataudi was back in the nets, adjusting his stance, learning to play cricket with just one eye -- which, given the nature of the game, was a task few would have attempted. Not only did he succeed, but more, he brought to his batting a flair, a panache, that often made the onlooker forget his handicap.
And even as he was learning to sight the ball properly with his reduced vision, he was installed as captain of India -- and Indian cricket was never, really, to be the same again.
Even his initial elevation to the post was tinged with tragedy -- for he was taking over, during the 1961-'62 tour of the West Indies, when Nari Contractor was felled by Charlie Griffith. And remember, this was for Pataudi his debut series with the Indian side.
Till that point in time, Indian cricket was predictable, draw-oriented, boring. From the moment Pataudi took over the reins, it became unpredictable, exciting, eventful, maddeningly inconsistent -- but never, ever boring. A lesser personality would have been axed after some of the more shocking of defeats -- Pataudi, however, had the kind of charisma that left the nation with the impression that even when his side lost, it was through gallantly attempting the impossible.
And it was not just about "attempting" the impossible. For often, his team pulled it off as well -- and again, he was right up there in the centre of the stage, large as life and twice as natural. Given that this is an interview and not a profile, a recap of his most stirring sagas would be inappropriate. However, even an elementary introduction to the man's career needs must contain a mention of what ranks among the greatest victories in Indian cricket -- the one against Bobby Simpson's Australians at Bombay in the 1964/65 series.
For the record, Australia batting first made 320, to which India replied with 341, gaining the psychological first innings lead. And this particular innings, perhaps, sums up the quintessential 'Tiger' -- India at one stage was 188 for six when Pataudi took charge of the lower order to such good effect that the last four wickets added 153 runs. And no grim battle of attrition about it either -- Pataudi gave the Bombay crowd palpitations as he gaily lofted his shots into the vacant outfield, top-scoring with 86.
In the second innings, Australia at 246 for three appeared to have regained the initiative when Pataudi demonstrated one of those flashes of leadership brilliance that still makes him an icon -- he teamed debutant Bhagwat Chandrashekar with Bapu Nadkarni. Mr Maverick and Mr Accuracy, between them, raced through the innings, Australia collapsing to 274 all out and India -- again guided by a fine 53 from the captain, shrugging off several alarms to post a two wicket win.
That victory demonstrated to Indian fans that the side could take on the best in the world and win. Which was one of Pataudi's two major contributions to the game in this country. Some would rate the fact that he also led India to its first series victory abroad (versus New Zealand) as his second -- but from a broader perspective, Pataudi's biggest contribution was the forging of the famed Indian spin quartet, which he spotted, nurtured, and handed over, fully fashioned into a lethal strike force, to his eventual successor Ajit Wadekar.
Pataudi's enduring appeal can, perhaps, be gauged from one simple fact -- that two decades and more after he was last seen on a cricket field, his name and image continues to sell everything from clothes to household gadgets.
Amrit Mathur discusses, with 'Tiger' Pataudi, the intricacies of captaincy. Excerpts from the conversation:
The Pataudi Interview