A misunderstood gentleman

Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi was one of India's most charismatic and prolific cricketers. Despite losing vision in one of his eyes, Pataudi, predominantly brought up in England, carried out a genuine transformation in the outlook and approach to the game in India. To his peers he would always remain as a captain of rare courage and a truly gentleman cricketer.

Bapu Nadkarni: I played under Nawab of Pataudi Jr from 1962 to 68. He was a nice man and a gentleman to the core. Pataudi was a much misunderstood man. His handicap was he did not know too many of the Indian players as he came from England, studying and playing for Oxford University and also for Sussex County. He was always very frank and blunt and not many liked this particular side of his. The Nawab had so many handicaps — he played with one eye, had damaged his shoulder and thigh because of the car accident — yet he produced some of the most memorable knocks ever played. I still remember his first century in Test cricket against England at Madras before the West Indies tour of 1962. His 85 at Melbourne against Australia's Graham McKenzie, David Renneberg, Allan Connolly and John Gleeson was a knock of great character. The undefeated 203 against England and 113 against New Zealand at Delhi also deserve mention. Pataudi played the short-arm pull well; it was neither the conventional pull shot nor the hook. He had the drive, but hardly played the stroke on slow Indian wickets. He was a brilliant captain, a true leader of men. We had our differences but he always stood firm on his own decisions. He was a student of the game and people did not realise this. The best thing about him was that he never underestimated his teammates but at the end of the day's play he was nobody's man. He was the greatest Indian cricketer to me because of the fact that he played brilliant cricket despite so many handicaps.

Chandu Borde: I played with MAK for eight years. Pataudi was a very special cricketer. Initially it was very difficult for us to adjust to his ideas. He had spent many years in England and maybe that's the reason he could not mix with the Indian players initially. He was aloof and people in India misunderstood him. A mug of beer after a day's play was a way of life in England but this was not accepted in India.

He did not harm anyone and always lead from the front. He took certain impetuous decisions. Even I was foxed by some of his decisions. He used to call me “Hello maestro”. Once in the course of a Test match against England at Calcutta I advised him to take the second new ball after Colin Cowdrey had scored a century. Pataudi had forgotten that the second new ball was due. After the water-break Ramakant Desai dismissed Cowdrey and England was bowled out for 267.

G.R. Viswanath: Tiger always backed his players and gave them enormous confidence. I wouldn't have been the player I was if not for his support. I was able to play for India as early as 1969 when I was very young only because he had tremendous faith in me and that helped. When your captain backs you, what more do you need? I remember those early days and a sports scribe then made a few critical remarks about me but all in good taste. There was nothing personal in it. He wrote what he felt. Those were the days when players and journalists socialised after the days play, nursing a drink in the bar. Skipper Pataudi got hold of him and said: “Listen, not one more word against Vishy! He is extremely talented and he will do well. Just watch.” That was huge for me, to hear my captain support me and believe in my skills made a big difference to me and subsequently the concerned journalist and I became great friends.

Tiger had an eye for talent and when he started playing for Hyderabad, he noticed my batting (for Mysore/Karnataka) and he had an immediate affection for me. He was a superb captain, made every player feel comfortable and was always honest with his views and more than that he was that rare breed of a true gentleman cricketer'. He had so much grace. I still cannot believe that he is no more. I feel terrible.

E.A.S. Prasanna: When Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi took over as the Indian captain during the West Indies tour after Nari Contractor was injured, he was shrewd enough to make an analysis of the team's strengths and drawbacks. That time the West Indies had great fast bowlers and there was no respite for the opposition batsmen. Pataudi sensed that. He understood that our strength was spin and he backed us — the spin quartet — to the hilt and expected us to do what the West Indies fast bowlers did. He wanted us to bowl out the opposition below 300, because he knew our batsmen could surpass that. He did not want situations where India had conceded 500 plus runs and was always trying the save the game.

He was remarkable in the way he stayed positive right through. Pataudi always wanted to win even if there was only a remote opportunity for it. He backed his skills despite the obvious handicap and his reading of the game was spot on. He could always anticipate the kind of field a bowler wanted and set it accordingly. He is the greatest captain we ever had and there are no doubts about that.

I remember when he came back in the 1974/75 home series against the West Indies, we lost the first two Tests and then during the third game in Kolkata, he came to my room one night and it was the rest day. Those days Tests had rest days. It was 11.30 in the night and he told me, “Pras I want you to hold one end up while the West Indies chase. Bowl a nagging spell. I will go all out with Chandra. As far as Bishan is concerned, I need not tell him anything, he is far too intelligent.”

Next day the plan worked. We attacked with Chandra and Bishan and I kept the pressure up. I went wicket-less but India won the match and then he came to me and said, “Thank you, well bowled.” It was more than enough for me. But when we went to Chennai, there was this ‘drop-Prasanna' campaign but he stood by me and told the selectors. “This will be Prasanna's Test”. And I got nine wickets in that game! He was truly unique and I wish the Board of Control for Cricket in India had used his expertise more over the years.

As told to G. Viswanath & K. C. Vijaya Kumar