He is regarded as India’s most brilliant captain, if not the most successful. Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi was responsible for inculcating a strong sense of self-belief in Indian cricket and was known to lead from the front.
The 59-year-old Pataudi has begun to take an interest in cricket after having stayed away from the game for a few years. His exploits are legendary and his wisdom of great value.
In this exclusive interview to Sportstar , Pataudi shares his views on various aspects of the game, from the past and present.
Your last public appearance on a cricket field was in 1975. How has life been since then?
After I retired from cricket, I did lot of writing for a sports magazine in Calcutta. Then I did a lot of commentary, both for BBC and Doordarshan . I was involved as a referee for some matches between England and Australia. It was only in the last few years I did not follow cricket that closely. I couldn’t have taken any interest in commentary because if you are not really following the game, it becomes difficult to commentate.
But recently I have gotten involved in this website of The Hindustan Times and have started to take an interest in the game. It (interest) has revived. Sometimes you lose interest and then it comes back. If you have played for a long time, it is natural that you are not that keen. You want a bit of a rest. But now I am beginning to take a keen interest in what’s happening in cricket. I can’t watch too much of one-day cricket. I think I would like to see a few more Test matches come back.
Why did you not actively associate yourself with cricket apart from being a journalist and commentator?
It is not correct to think that just because you happen to be a cricketer, you must go into administration. Far from it, good sportsmen don’t become good administrators. It is not necessary that everyone who has played the game should become involved in the administration angle.
Why have you always stayed away from the board?
I prefer to stay away from the board (Board of Control for Cricket in India) because it involves a fair amount of politics. If you want to get into the board, you have to win elections. And I know that if you have to win elections, you have to canvass. Once you start canvassing, then you have to return favours. It becomes a big circle and I wanted to stay out of it, that’s all.
Could you not have served cricket as a selector or a coach?
No. I will tell you why. For coaching, you have to be a qualified coach. Certainly, over the years if you have played as much cricket as some others have, then you could recognise a good player from a bad player so easily. But being a selector takes a longer time. There is a lot of travelling in this country. At least when I was playing, the communication was not very good. All this business of the Internet had not come in. A telephone call sometimes took five or six hours to get through, if you got through that day. It was very difficult to communicate. I didn’t really have the time. I was involved in my own priorities after the game and I thought being a selector would have taken away so much of my time that I wouldn’t have been able to do what I thought was priority work.
There was a very popular tournament in Bhopal. Why did you discontinue it?
That tournament was started by me in the good old days when we still had our privy purses and so on. And then the government decided to do away with the privy purses and cut us off from that source of income. And I found it difficult to find sponsors to run that tournament in Bhopal because Bhopal is a kind of place which doesn’t have a great deal of money. So it had to be cancelled, sadly. But there is still cricket in Bhopal. I keep an eye on it though I am not personally involved. People come and talk to me about it. When I go there, I watch the cricket.
People still talk about your captaincy, batting and, of course, fielding. How much did you work on it?
It needed a lot of hard work. In our days, we didn’t play that much cricket, so it was much more difficult to stay physically fit than perhaps it is now because now you have to be physically fit throughout. (In the) off-season, you have to do a lot of work to remain in shape. Whatever you do, whether it is cricket or any field of life, and if you want to succeed, you have to have a bit of talent and do a lot of hard work.
Did you realise the importance of good fielding on your own?
I played a lot of cricket in England in my formative years and people used to take fielding seriously. In India, it wasn’t taken seriously until the ’60s. In (English) county cricket, we were taught that fielding was very important, certainly no less than batting or bowling.
How did you manage to command respect in a team that had many seniors and exceptionally talented players?
When I got the captaincy, I was the youngest, but then I became captain by default and a lot of the senior players supported me. Polly Umrigar and Vijay Manjrekar were very supportive. There were of course one or two who perhaps thought that I had taken their position away, their rightful position away from them. I really couldn’t do much about that and they may have felt disappointed. But I got a lot of support from senior players while I was finding my feet.
How much did your royal background help you in this?
I don’t think that background is all that important. I think what is important is that you have to be totally transparent and no player should feel that you are being biased towards him or discriminating against him. And I don’t think that required any kind of background to get that impression.
How would you compare cricket of your era with what we see today?
One-day cricket has actually taken over. It is a different game absolutely. The bowler is not supposed to take wickets but contain the batsmen. The batsman can’t build an innings. He is not expected to stay there for three or four hours. So, he has to start off pretty early, take unnecessary risks and play shots which he wouldn’t play normally. So, the whole emphasis has changed in that sense. I think the fielding has become most important, obviously. People are physically fitter. The game is under more pressure because it is played a lot. There is a lot of travelling involved. There is a lot of money involved also. So, there is more pressure in that sense. It has become a commercialised game now like many other games and one has to be physically and mentally much more fit than perhaps more than when I was playing.
Has commercialisation of the game affected its charm? Has it done more harm than good?
I think when money comes in, it is bound to take away a certain amount of romance from anything. But I don’t think actually money itself has harmed the game. One or two people who have entered into administration would have entered for the sake of the money. That has harmed cricket. Perhaps one or two players have been a bit greedy over the past few years and that has harmed the game. But money as such has not harmed cricket.
Why do you think our cricketing icons have not been able to inspire the quality ones to emerge from the quantity?
I will tell you why. Because the basic facilities remain the same. Nothing has changed in that sense. The board had a very feudal attitude in the old days and I think it still has that basic attitude. It is still called the Board of Control for Cricket in India when control is not a word very fashionable in this century, but they continue to try and control cricket and not involve the players in its activities. I think that needs a bit of a change.
How would you describe India’s cricket image in the last 50 years or so?
India has always remained inconsistent. We have done well for the last 40 years on our own home pitches, but we have not been able to do well abroad no matter how good the team is or which icon is playing in the team.
What could the remedy be?
I think basically the board has to change its attitude. It has to change the pitches, has to make domestic cricket more competitive. It has to force international players to play domestic cricket. It has to limit cricket, too, especially one-day cricket, so that people still maintain an interest.
Do you approve of so much of one-day cricket?
I think one-day cricket is becoming entirely meaningless. You lose one match and you have another match tomorrow. You lose that one you have another one day after. Public memory being short, they only remember the match before. So, I think one-day cricket has to be curtailed and a proper programme has to come in.
What are your views on the globalisation of cricket?
I don’t agree with this business of globalisation of cricket. I don’t think there is any need to play cricket in Toronto or Papua New Guinea at all. Because only India and Pakistan go there and play and only the Indians and Pakistanis come and watch those matches. The locals actually, the white Canadians, are not interested at all. I don’t think it is necessary to do this at all. You must concentrate on the 10 countries that you play and try and concentrate on having proper cricket there.
Are our priorities misplaced in spotting talent?
No, I don’t think so. Everything in theory is perfect in this country. You have got your under-16, under-19, the Ranji Trophy, the Duleep Trophy, club cricket and college cricket. No matter what the theory is, unless you have the right person in the right job, you are not going to succeed. I think the board has to put the right people in the right places rather than try and run it on a very amateur basis.
There is a lot of focus on cricket in India, with millions playing the game so passionately. Yet we are not able to produce match-winners. What could the reasons be?
I agree with you. With the amount of interest that cricket generates in this country, we should be producing many more Tendulkars. But we don’t do it because we don’t organise it properly. If you look at how cricket is involved in Australia or how football is organised in Germany, you will realise it needs lot of hard work. It needs a more than part-time administration, which is what is happening at the moment.
Do you think we suffer because we don’t groom our youngsters?
I don’t know. Perhaps, in this sense, Pakistan is slightly better than we are because they throw their people into the deep end immediately. I don’t think it makes that (much of a) difference, but a good player, in most cases, will come forward. Maybe it will take him a year or two longer, but he will come through in most cases.
Would you like to comment on the quality of coaches we have in India?
I would say I am not very happy with them. It is again a question of passing an exam and becoming a coach. The institutes in this country just reel out facts and figures on the number of coaches. The quantity is there but the quality is missing.
Have we kept pace with the game and its changes?
Of course. I don’t claim to be an expert, but I have seen lot of changes in world cricket and in Indian cricket also. We have kept pace with the changes, I suppose.
Do you think we feel shy of experimenting?
Not really. If you have a good side, I see no reason why we should experiment. If you have two good bowlers and two good batsmen, why should we experiment with them? There are certain things I don’t agree with. I don’t agree with (Sachin) Tendulkar opening the innings. But then, a lot of people would disagree with me. I think even Tendulkar himself may disagree with me. In a 50-over game, someone like Tendulkar can score a hundred in 30 overs. So why put him against the new ball? He might just get out against some good bowlers like Glenn McGrath. It is okay against Bangladesh. It is okay against other teams. But against top-class bowling, you have more chances of committing mistakes with the new ball. I would prefer to see him bat at No. 3.
What are the qualities that make a good captain?
I think basically there are two ways of captaining. One is if you happen to be the lead player, then you must pull the team with you. If you don’t happen to be the lead player, then you must push the team from behind. For example, Richie Benaud pulled the team. lan Chappell pulled the team. Steve Waugh is pulling the team. Then you have the example of Ray Illingworth who pushed the team. Mike Brearley pushed the team. All were very good captains. Then, Clive Lloyd. Captaining a team like the West Indies was not easy because you were captaining eight or nine different islands. Different countries, actually. But Lloyd, of course, did a superb job.
What role does education play in the making of a good captain?
I don’t think it is necessary to be formally educated at all. But it helps if you read about the game or go through old books and read about other people’s experiences.
But most of our players have a very poor sense of cricket history.
Well, I think not only cricketers, but Indians have a very poor sense of history.
Is it difficult to lead an Indian team because the players come from different cultural backgrounds?
I don’t think it is difficult. I think the great part of playing cricket for your club, state, zone or your country is that you want to do well for yourself, and 99 percent of the time if you are doing well for yourself, you are doing well for the team. It is just a question of being more transparent and saying we are playing for the country. One has to sometimes sacrifice one’s wicket for the team. I don’t think there is a clash of ambition between an individual and the team very often.
What was your experience?
In my time, it was perhaps more difficult. We didn’t play enough cricket and to get the team together after the match was not easy because people had different food habits and different friends. Today, they play so often and meet so often that they don’t have to meet so much after the match. They can go their separate ways in the evening and still remain a part of the team.
Now that your interest in cricket has been revived, is there a particular area where you would like to contribute?
I want to go back to writing. I don’t want to get involved in administration for reasons I have already mentioned. But I would like to go back to writing and commentating.
Finally, how do you view the current scandals in cricket. Does it pain you?
It pains me. It disappoints me. With all the money that has come in, the temptation has also come in, which wasn’t there in our times. Obviously, when there is temptation or greed, it doesn’t recognise any colours, it doesn’t recognise any borders. Some people will get tempted. And not only players. I think with so much money in the game, the administrators might even get tempted. So one has to be very careful now.
This article was first published in the Sportstar issue dates June 3, 2000
Writer's note : This interview, conducted at Tiger Pataudi’s residence in Delhi, was a landmark moment for me. I spent close to two hours with him, replete with his lavish hospitality, but importantly I finally managed to get Tiger’s Tale, his autobiography, signed by the great man. The interview and the signed autobiography were great takeaways from that magical afternoon. We had met countless times before and thereafter but that eventful day remains unforgettable.
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