Full text of VVS Laxman's Pataudi Memorial Lecture in Kolkata.
Good evening ladies and gentlemen. It is a great honour to address this August gathering and deliver this lecture, instituted in the memory of one of the pioneers of Indian cricket, its youngest Test captain and the first man under whose leadership India won its first overseas Test series.
When I was first approached to speak at the M A K Pataudi Memorial Lecture, I was a little apprehensive – I had not had many opportunities to interact personally with Mr Pataudi. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that in my formative days as a cricketer in Hyderabad, I had certainly heard a lot about him, about his exploits on the field and about how he had overcome all odds to carve a niche for himself.
Apart from his many achievements, Tiger Pataudi was the first superstar of Indian cricket. He was someone who was ahead of his time, a visionary and, I must point out with pride, a player of Hyderabad.
So, from a cricketing perspective, I must say that he was the Nawab not only of Pataudi, but, in my eyes, a Nawab of Hyderabad too.
The stories I had heard usually involved both Tiger Pataudi and M L Jaisimha, two Hyderabadi cricket heroes. Speak of one, speak of the other. It was as if Tiger Pataudi and ML Jaisimha were two people with one soul.
I was lucky enough to interact closely with Jaisimha Sir, when he was the coach of the Hyderabad Ranji team, and to hear him speak so glowingly of his great friend “Tiger” was inspiring, and for a young cricketer like me, a revelation. It provided great insights about a man whom we had admired from a distance.
When you spoke to the legends of the game who had played with Tiger Pataudi, and also under his captaincy, you would know that cricket was a far richer sport because Tiger Pataudi had graced its stage.
As a young player, his coach had predicted that he had it in him to become the next Bradman. The loss of sight in one eye after an accident would have derailed the career of most cricketers. But Tiger Pataudi fought his way back to Test cricket and continued scoring runs against the best of the attacks – and on uncovered wickets with little or no protective gear.
To understand the greatness of his batting and the strength of his personality, I ask all batsmen to shut one eye and face a cricket ball. I tried this a few days ago and asked my young son to throw the ball at me. Seeing the game with one eye completely alters the visual field and the experience. What had completely slowed down when using only one eye while batting was the instinctive reaction of spotting the ball and reacting to it. What slowed down was something fundamental to batsmanship at the highest level: being able to see the ball early. Also it is nearly impossible to perceive the depth, the third dimension which allows us to judge the length.
For Tiger Pataudi to adjust to the loss of sight in an eye and then adapt his batting to continue to succeed at the highest level of the game tells us a lot about the man and the steel within him. It is one of cricket’s most extraordinary stories. How a catastrophic event in a batsman’s life was turned into a mere blip, an interruption.
What made Tiger Pataudi tick and how he made light of an injury that would have broken the spirit of most people, will continue to intrigue me.
Mr. Pataudi had a certain aura and charisma around him, which, along with his achievements on the cricket field, elevated him to the rank of the first among equals.
He was not only an accomplished batsman, but also ended his career as one of India’s finest fielders, and set extremely high standards as a captain, developing a core group of brilliant close-in fielders.
I have often heard that huge crowds turned up to the Lal Bahadur Shastri Stadium in Hyderabad and to Gymkhana Grounds in Secunderabad to watch him play and just get a glimpse of his unique charm. Everything about him, I was told, was about a casual elegance. He would patrol the covers, seemingly disinterested, nawaabi almost, before pouncing on the ball like a tiger and accurately hitting the stumps.
Recently, I read an article which said that in the history of Test cricket (with a minimum of 40 Tests being the basic criteria), no batsman in the world has absorbed more pressure - of falling wickets - than Tiger Pataudi did in his career.
Now, while you associate him with grace, with elegance, style and charisma, this revelation by the Impact Index team threw light on another, lesser-known facet of Tiger Pataudi’s personality of handling pressure.
But it didn’t surprise me at all because when he could absorb the pressure of life’s greatest challenge as a cricketer and continue unaffected, would the pressure of a few wickets falling around him ever affect him?
To overcome the loss of one eye and continue to play cricket at the highest level with lot of success is a tribute not just to his wondrous skills, but also to his determination and undying zeal. Often, with the truly gifted, we take things for granted. Take someone like Sachin, for instance. For all his God-given skills, he worked very hard at maintaining high standards, and I have been privy as an Indian teammate, to his preparation and the work ethic he adopted. To infer that Sachin was born to play cricket is too naive and also a little unfair because it doesn’t do justice to the work he put in behind the scenes. Likewise, while Mr Pataudi was exceptionally gifted, he had to overcome great adversity to reach the heights he did, and for that, I salute him.
Tiger Pataudi was known to be a fair leader of men. A master strategist, he was able to get the best out of the resources he commanded -- like using his best bowlers to their optimum.
He was willing to go against convention and play three specialist spinners -- on one occasion even four -- because they happened to be the best bowlers around. It was an act of daring and foresight which had the Pataudi touch and brought India much success.
His ability to communicate amongst his team is not talked about much but I remember G R Viswanath Sir talking about Tiger Pataudi’s role when he scored a century in his second innings on Test debut against Australia. GRV was disappointed at not opening his account in the first innings and was understandably filled with self-doubt, but a short conversation with his captain lifted his confidence and he said he was able to go into the second innings with an open mind, without any doubts or insecurity.
Mr.Pataudi also advocated equality and Indian fervor in an age when feudal thinking and regional bias were dominant. He instilled self-belief and pride in the Indian team, the confidence that they were second to none.
He may have been schooled in England and cut his teeth in county cricket, but his heart truly beat for India and he always wanted to excel against England. I saw it personally. When he handed the Pataudi Trophy to us in 2007 after we won the series in England, you could see the pride in his eyes. However in 2011, when he waited on stage to hand the trophy over to the England team, I was struck by how disappointed he looked. This is a man who had retired more than 35 years ago, but you could see how much he hated losing. I could see that his very persona stood out for so many things.
From the time India began playing Test cricket, more than 80 years ago, we have always had the skills to compete with the best, but the belief that we could do so was possibly missing. Mr. Pataudi’s great legacy is that he compelled the Indian team to shed this trait. He was a true champion in every way – a champion at cricket and a champion of Indian cricket.
He stood for much that was good about cricket and Indian cricket and the modern game must be reminded of Tiger Pataudi’s values.
In his era, cricket was a straightforward game of bat and ball, one that instilled camaraderie and gave a young player the conviction to compete. And where competing did not stop you from appreciating your opponents, with a pat on the back or a shake of the hand - an indelible part of cricket culture.
These days, while I admit there is appreciation, we also see teams indulging in more gamesmanship in the guise of professionalism. Modern cricket has allowed players to become more expressive and aggressive. While cricket does reflect the times we live in - and that is understandable – we must ask if it should lead to compromising the image and ethos of the game.
I am anguished, - and I use the word anguish in all seriousness - when I see needless aggression in the name of competition, foul language and ugly demonstrations on the field in the name of “making your point” or “giving it back” or “playing hard but fair”.
Youngsters and children watching on television can easily lip-read and understand the choicest swear words being used on the field. We should remember that as cricketers, we are role models and can easily influence the younger generation. Therefore it's our duty to influence them in the most positive way.
I know I sound old fashioned but there are a few things in cricket we must be old fashioned about. Like, for instance, about what has happened in the last few months - the reporting of a string of bowlers for suspect actions. Some of the most celebrated names in the world of cricket have come under the scanner, and while I do sympathize with them, it is imperative that the rules that are in place are respected and adhered to.
It is essential that we address the issue of suspect actions which is not endemic to one region or one country. It becomes imperative for every coach, every state/ provincial unit and every cricket board to root out this problem. It places an enormous responsibility on coaches at the grassroots level, and on administrators. I am glad that ICC has taken a proactive and aggressive stance towards weeding out the malaise of illegal bowling actions.
One of the fall-outs of watching bowlers with suspect actions on television is that young kids could be influenced into following suit. We need to set the right example for the stars of tomorrow and I believe that there can be no compromise on the laws of the game as they exist.
There is another issue on which, however, a compromise of sorts must be reached. The modern day cricketer faces the threat of a faster burnout. At any given point, international cricket of some type is being played in some corner of the world.
For the cricketer, it is not possible to concentrate with the same intensity at all times. When concentration wavers, so does performance. Fitness levels may have improved, but so have the demands.
It is no surprise that one of the big challenges for the modern cricketer is to be consistent. It is a vicious cycle that sometimes impacts an individual’s capabilities. The cricket that is being played all the time in all formats must not become one-dimensional and predictable to the extent that it begins to drive spectators away. There is no joy in performing to empty galleries. Sadly, though, this is a trend that has come to afflict Test cricket in most countries.
The survival of the longer version of the game is critical for the future of cricket. This should be the biggest worry confronting the administrators, the bigger challenge - how to attract more spectators to Tests.
There have been several suggestions to promote day-night Test matches – I am not too sure if this variety would find favor with the spectators. It is, however, imperative that ways are found to sustain interest in Test cricket.
The simplistic explanation given for the lack of interest in Test cricket is the proliferation of franchise-based domestic Twenty20 leagues across the world. But like I said, the explanation is too simple, just like the theory that increasingly, younger players are content with playing only Twenty20 cricket and do not care enough about Test cricket.
In my capacity as a mentor for Sunrisers Hyderabad, I have interacted with young talent not only from India but from around the world and I state with confidence and optimism that, to a majority of these players, Test cricket remains the ultimate priority, their most sought after badge of honour.
Admittedly, the Twenty20 format has opened up the cricket economy for a larger number of players and offers a whole new avenue for the paying spectator.
The spectator is guaranteed entertainment and a result in three, action-packed hours. Like going to a movie. T20 has also attracted more women as well as younger people who were being drawn away from Test cricket.
We have to find a way to get both formats to work. Day-night Test cricket is being suggested, and while we are not sure whether it can meet technical requirements, it might draw newer audiences for its sheer novelty value. People could dash to a ground after a day’s work and unwind for a few hours. Who knows, gradually their interest in Test cricket might be reignited, they might start coming to the grounds more regularly.
So maybe day-night cricket is worth a shot, no doubt, especially when the shot doesn’t compromise the inherent core fabric of the longer version. Test matches during the day should remain the norm, but occasionally, five days of Test cricket under lights, especially in places of extreme heat and where dew is not a massive factor, will add an exciting dimension to the game.
Despite being old fashioned, I must say I am a huge fan of Twenty20 cricket. If I don’t see too many surprised faces here, that’s because I have said this often enough.
I would have loved to have played Twenty20 cricket earlier in my career.
Twenty20 forces you to think differently, both as a batsman and as a captain. It opens up new avenues of scoring and exploring different scoring options, and as we have seen, it has triggered bowling and fielding innovations that are, quite simply, mind boggling and have gradually made their way into Test cricket too. There is no denial to the fact that the format adds excitement and entertainment value to our sport.
Cricket today is more vibrant than ever before. It has spread its wings with more people and more nations playing it competitively, with greater financial benefits available to players.
But all of us practitioners of cricket are in it because we love the sport. Cricket is not and can never be just another job. A day on the cricket field can never be just another day at the office.
As much as it is our responsibility to contribute to our team’s cause, it is also up to us to remember that we are entertainers, too. That we owe it to the fans, cricket’s largest body of stakeholders, to ensure that we provide them a good time and offer them an authentic sport that is both fair and clean. Just the way Tiger Pataudi would have played it.
I strongly advocate that counselling about right values form a part of the sports curriculum at school and college level. The values we inculcate in the youngsters at an impressionable age are what they will carry into their adulthood.
It becomes our singular responsibility to offer the right guidance to the younger cricketers – not just on cricketing techniques, but how to conduct oneself in public and how to be able to differentiate right from wrong.
Before I conclude, I would like to talk about the continued relevance and applicability of ideals that Tiger Pataudi held very close to his heart.
The sense of Indianness and self-belief that he brought to the national team when he was the captain, has, I am happy to say, continued over the years. That is a great achievement on its own.
It could have been so easy for Indian teams to be divided along differences of state, region, language, culture. In all the teams I played in, I did not see any such divide, I only saw what held us together – Indian cricket.
The cricket team is an extended family and often you end up spending more time with your teammates than with your family. Hence it’s important that you feel comfortable in each other’s presence and for that, you must belong to a team in the truest sense, not just a coming together of individuals.
Of course there will be disagreements and the occasional flare-up, but that is part and parcel of 'family’ life too. Once you are secure with a convincing thought that the men with whom you are sharing a dressing room are men who will go to battle with you and stand by you no matter what, it makes life easier and takes away the tedium of travel, training and practice which can set in at times.
I am fortunate to have formed some extraordinary relationships through cricket, which I am sure will last till eternity.
Sure, I have friends outside the cricket fraternity but in cricket I have found people of a similar wavelength with whom I can share my fears, happiness, ambitions, and misgivings.
That is because we have all believed that we are Indians first and Mumbaikars, Delhiites, Bangaloreans, Hyderabadis or Kolkatans only after that. We were all driven by a common goal – of making the Indian team the best side, and therefore, there was no room for politicking or trying to undermine each other.
The Indian team is the final stop for every aspiring cricketer. What has struck me for a long time throughout my career was the relative fairness of the entire process of going through school, college, club, state and zonal cricket. There will be the odd glitch, the occasional stutter, but for the most part, the greatest consideration in selecting teams was primarily merit. For that, we must be grateful to the many individuals who have been involved in administering the sport.
They have shown that it is important to rise above petty issues, so that by the time players come through the system and break into the Indian team, the importance of Indianness is a given.
We talk differently, we dress differently but as Indian cricketers, we walk the same path. Sometimes side by side, sometimes one behind the other, and the goal is always to strive to be the best.
The sense of Indianness that Tiger Pataudi advocated was achieved by self-belief and pride in wearing India colours. At the start of my career with the Indian team, we didn’t necessarily believe that we could compete on an even footing with some of the bigger teams, especially when we travelled overseas.
That showed in our results that led to us to drawing matches we should have won, losing matches which we should have at least drawn.
All that changed after our victory, 13 years ago at the Eden Gardens, here in Kolkata. Yes, it was achieved at home, but the manner in which we came back from the dead to defeat Australia, instilled a renewed sense of belief.
Suddenly, we felt no situation was beyond us, nothing was impossible. That if we didn’t give up and that if we kept plugging away, we could do miracles. That glorious victory, and the one in Chennai in the next Test in 2001, was a huge turning point in the history of Indian cricket.
Not so much for the results themselves, but for the manner in which they were to impact the thinking of the national side. The presence of John Wright as coach and an aggressive captain in Sourav Ganguly also had a large part to play in this transformation.
It is no coincidence that India began to travel better post-2001. We won Test matches in Zimbabwe, England, the West Indies and Australia in the next three years – apart from in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan – and no longer did we turn up in Australia or South Africa to merely make up the numbers.
Of course, belief and confidence alone can’t win you matches. You need to prepare impeccably and ensure that all bases are covered, before you set out on a tour.
In an ideal world, before we travel to Australia or South Africa, we would spend weeks together in camps, honing techniques against the bouncing ball or working out the lengths that are optimal to bowl on surfaces with pace and bounce. But we do not live in an ideal world, with tours packed into the calendar.
Today, we need to substitute extensive preparation with smart preparation.
I am a great believer in playing to our strengths and maximizing home advantage. We must therefore, continue to play international cricket at home on pitches that suit our traditional strength, which is spin, but we must also identify at least one venue in each zone where we can replicate surfaces we are most likely to encounter overseas. That way, we can have proper preparatory camps in such venues before going on tour.
Given that our first-class season these days starts in November, players are exposed to different conditions in various parts of India. In the north, the ball darts around in the winter and tests the technical expertise of the batsmen. Unfortunately, due to the packed international calendar, the national team players don’t always get to play first-class cricket.
It is therefore, imperative that we prepare for overseas visits with diligence and intelligence. Performances at home can’t be devalued, but I can say from experience that India’s victories overseas have given me the greatest satisfaction. As a team, we must strive to be consistently successful when we travel away from the subcontinent.
I spoke earlier of Tiger Pataudi’s stunning fielding skills and how he was probably the first Indian captain who laid real emphasis on fielding. From what we were earlier, we have also become a good fielding unit.
In the past and during our formative years, India’s ground fielding didn’t match up to that of Australia or South Africa’s mainly because we weren’t exposed to throwing ourselves around.
Several of us grew up learning not to dive. It wasn’t because we didn’t rate fielding highly; it is just that the threat of injury on the outfields at that time was so genuine that you didn’t want to take that risk. So even when we went on to play at higher levels on outfields of better quality, we couldn’t necessarily pull off dives because it wasn’t something that came naturally to us.
How things have changed! Look at the Kohlis, Rahanes, Rainas and the Jadejas of today. They are among the best fielders in the world. This generation has grown up not just being exposed to high fielding standards, but also encouraged by better outfields.
The next step is to ensure that the infrastructure that has helped the modern generation become world class fielders is made available across the country, in every district. When I say that, I mean simple things: turf pitches, well-tended grassy outfields and practice nets that will help prepare kids for what lies ahead.
As Indian cricket moves ahead, we need to build on the structures that can expand the sport base and include rural India. The bigger centres will continue to churn out the talent but by taking cricket to every corner of the country, we will be giving ourselves a chance of choosing from a larger, deeper, more teeming pool of eager players.
Early in my India career, I played alongside the first wave of players from small towns – Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Mohammed Kaif, SS Das to name a few. In a little over ten years, there came MS Dhoni - from Ranchi, who went on to lead India, become its most successful captain, and who is now a source of inspiration to thousands of players across hundreds of small towns in India.
I am heartened by the presence of players like Karn Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron and Axar Patel, in the Indian side. To see three Test cricketers emerge from Saurashtra in the last four years is fantastic.
If we provide the right opportunities, then talent can express itself from all parts of the country. No serious practitioner of cricket in India should feel let down by the lack of opportunities or facilities.
That is our greatest challenge, but from all indications, it is a challenge we are extremely well equipped – in means and will - to tackle successfully.
India has been the No. 1 Test team in the past, a position we held for nearly three years. As we seek to return to the top of the Test rankings, it therefore becomes non-negotiable that we improve our performances away from home.
In England this year, India won at Lord's, and showed that we can be a force in Test cricket. Australia looms ahead in the winter, and that will be another big test as well as a learning experience for our young side. I am sure nothing will please Tiger Pataudi more than a vibrant Indian Test team, awesome at home and more than competitive overseas. Let us work towards achieving that goal.