The aura of Tiger Pataudi

The first superstar… Indian captain M. A. K. Pataudi shakes hands with President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed as his team-mates look on before the first Test match between India and West Indies in Bangalore in 1974.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

Apart from his cricketing achievements, I will remember Pataudi for his poise and the dignified manner in which he conducted himself. It is rather a shame that the BCCI allowed him to stay away from the game except for his brief stint in the IPL Governing Council.

The cricketing fraternity in India was shocked when Tiger Pataudi passed away recently, and for those who played with him, it will take a while to get over the fact that their most charismatic and influential captain is no more.

The one thing that everyone agreed was the enormous impact he had on the Indian team in making it courageous enough to take on the best in the world. In the wake of his death, everyone connected to cricket reminisced incidents wherein the legendary Tiger was the central figure. Such was the aura of Tiger Pataudi that he had to be the central figure, whether he intended to or not.

On hearing the news of his demise, my mind went back to the time when I first realised the influence that Pataudi had even among the public in India. In my fifth grade in the mid-1970s, I hesitantly approached my teacher for leave of absence from school and the reason I cited was that I was planning to see Tiger Pataudi play against Tamil Nadu at the MAC Stadium! I was reasonably certain that I would get ticked off as the school allowed students to stay away only when they were sick. But the response of my teacher was: “You are lucky, child, to get an opportunity to see Tiger Pataudi play and it is something you should not miss”. This statement left me absolutely stunned and I couldn't wait for the game to start.

The only thing that I remember about that game is that a stylish lofted drive from Pataudi landed a few yards in front of my seat. The fact that Tiger missed a double hundred and batted the home team out did not matter much to me, but the excitement of watching the ball come off Tiger's bat and land in front of me lasted for a long time. As I got into the spin of playing representative cricket, I got to hear numerous stories about Pataudi from his contemporaries. I used to wonder how much of those were facts and how much were myths.

All the stories turned out to be true as no one dared to cook up anything when talking about Pataudi. However, the genesis of his nickname “Tiger” proved to be a myth, as the legend himself clarified in an interview some years ago. Apparently, the sobriquet “Tiger” was given by his parents much before he began playing cricket — they called him so because of the way he crawled as a child. That particular interview was an absorbing one wherein Pataudi revealed his class and his persona. His responses to questions were real gems in that he did not waste words but yet conveyed a lot. His reluctance to waste words matched his fetish for not giving away easy runs on the field.

The Nawab of Pataudi was obviously lucky in some ways, but his life was not without challenges. He lost his father when he was young and had to stay on his own thousands of miles away from home even before he entered his teens. To make matters worse, he lost an eye in his early adulthood. The most remarkable feature about Tiger was that he never moaned about his misfortunes. He spoke about them as dispassionately as someone would when talking about others and this quality coupled with sheer objectivity in his thinking made him the great captain that he was.

Pataudi attributed the loss of his eye to real bad luck and said that no one could be blamed for it. When asked about his father's ability on the polo field, his remark was that the senior was not as good as he was keen! Thank God that Tiger absorbed the best of qualities from the English during his Oxford and county years. Just as an English general and an Indian army are reckoned to be a recipe for success, Tiger proved that a combination of Indian blood and English breeding is an equally potent formula for resounding success.

Apart from his cricketing achievements, I will remember Pataudi for his poise and the dignified manner in which he conducted himself. It is rather a shame that the BCCI allowed him to stay away from the game except for his brief stint in the IPL Governing Council. I suppose it suited Tiger as well, for he could pursue his other interests in life. His interests were many and it is probably a big loss to the Indian public that he chose not to continue his involvement with the media.

His editorials for one of the sports magazines a long time ago were fabulous and I am sure that he would have been extremely popular as a commentator given his clarity of thought and his dry sense of humour. Though Pataudi has departed, he has left a lot of legacy behind that can only be admired and not emulated. Simply put, there can be only one Tiger Pataudi and India was fortunate to have him as a beacon at a crucial juncture. May your soul rest in peace, Mr. Pataudi.