When you’re thrown into the deep end, you have two options: sink or swim. It was pretty much on similar lines for Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, born January 5, 1941, who led India for the first time when he was just 21 years & 77 days. Fondly known as Tiger Pataudi, he took charge after Nari Contractor was injured in the previous Test, paving way for the former to captain against West Indies in the third Test in Barbados during the 1962 tour.
To put things into perspective, only two other captains have led their side at younger ages – Tatenda Taibu of Zimbabwe, aged 20 years & 358 days and Afghanistan’s Rashid Khan, who took charge when he was 20 years & 350 days.
However, had things gone south on a fatal night a couple of years ago, India may have never seen or heard of Pataudi. Yes, he was a talented batter in the County Championship for Sussex and then Oxford. He was known for his dashing, charming persona, and he was also the son of another talented cricketer, Iftikhar Ali Khan Pataudi, who too represented Sussex and went on to play three Tests for England and also led India three times.
A Test average of about 35 from 46 games for a middle-order batter does not make for great reading, but it is important to know why that’s an achievement in itself for Pataudi.
Pataudi, who was leading Oxford University against Sussex, jumped into a car, which he preferred over walking for about 300 yards. Pataudi’s automobile hit another one head-on, and a shard of glass went into his eye.
Dr David St Clair Roberts performed an emergency operation. He tried on a contact lens that gave him 90% vision, but he saw two of everything. He realised then he had to play with just one good eye.
He was back playing domestic cricket, and within six months of the accident, he even had a Test hundred to his name. Shortly after that, he was on his way to the Caribbean as Contractor’s deputy and, as mentioned earlier, lead India for the first time.
The title of being a ‘Nawab’ or a Prince meant a lot to Pataudi. Following the death of his father in 1952, Mansur Ali Khan ascended to the throne and, with that had certain privileges as the Nawab of Pataudi.
Ian Chappell once narrated a conversation he had with Pataudi trying to find out what the man did for a living. Playing cricket was never considered a full-time “job” those days, and hence the Australian great wondered what Mansur Ali Khan did. Where did he work? How many hours he worked, etc.
What is your profession, asked Chappell, Pataudi replied, “I’m a prince.”
Chappell pried further, but Pataudi’s response remained the same. Chappell did not give up, he finally asked what was his 9-5 job? “Ian, I m a f**king prince,” was the resounding response.
Pataudi would have been the unhappiest man in the world when the 26th amendment of the Indian constitution came into play in 1971, which effectively meant he was no longer a prince. He further lost the Lok Sabha Election, contesting from Vishal Nagar in Gurgaon, receiving barely 5% of the votes.
Coming back to his cricketing career, he led in 40 of the 46 matches he played. As captain, he won nine of them, including their first-ever overseas Test win that came at Carisbrook, Dunedin. India also went on to win the series 3-1, following wins in Wellington and Auckland. Only five other captains have led India on more occasions than Pataudi. Among those, his win% (22.5) is only better than Sunil Gavaskar (19.14).
In an era where India were not considered serious contenders to pose any threat to the opposition, who were largely either Australia, West Indies or England, Pataudi’s men held their own, making way for an era where India would go on to challenge and even beat the great West Indian side more than once.
He died on September 22, 2011 in Delhi due to respiratory failure. The BCCI continues to keep his legacy alive with the annual Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi Memorial Lecture – the first of which was on February 20, 2013 in Chennai – delivered by Gavaskar. His family, unfortunately, could not attend as they were occupied elsewhere.
The BCCI said it would be on the same lines as the memorial lecture named to honour Colin Cowdrey, who incidentally was Pataudi’s only Test wicket!
(Inputs from Abhishek Mukherjee’s article titled 'Mansur Ali Khan "Tiger" Pataudi: The enigmatic Nawab' on CricketCountry.com)
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