E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: Mansur Ali Khan, the Nawab of Pataudi, was catapulted to the captaincy of the Indian cricket team at the age of 21 when his captain, Nari Contractor, lay hovering between life and death in a hospital in the West Indies after being felled by a beamer from Charlie Griffith.
Thrust into the hotseat, the young captain faced the fearsome West Indies bowlers Wesley Hall and Griffith without any of the accessories that are part of batsman’s armour today.
But fate had earlier thrown its dice against him, when in a car accident in England he nearly lost his life that left him with a loss of one eye which effectively crippled a career that had just taken off.
It was therefore astonishing to the crowd at Chepauk that M.A.K. Pataudi, the name scorers would enter in scorecard, only with one eye could get his focus and sense of line and length and score a century and field like a tiger.
Hence his name ‘Tiger Pataudi’.
Reason #2: In the short time that he led the team, he earned the affection and loyalty of his team members like no other captain before and very few after.
The prince showed it was in him to be an earnest commoner like others and for the first time in Indian cricket he built a team that was devoid of regional and fissiparous tendencies which was the negative hallmark of Indian teams till then.
It was Pataudi who brought in a sense of purpose and direction instilling in his colleagues the spirit that they were playing for India and not representing Bombay or Delhi, a feeling that was widely prevalent and practiced till then.
Pataudi made sure the team plays as a single unit.
It again fell to regional nautanki ways for a while till Sourav Ganguly brought in a no-nonsense approach that has stayed till today.
Reason #3: Pataudi saw the potential of B.S Chandrashekar as a match winner against England’s Mike Smith and had a new ball rubbed on the grass to take the shine off.
E.A.S. Prasanna, Bishen Bedi and Chandrashekar, his leading spinners at that time, spun out most teams because of the daring decisions he took and attacked the weaknesses of visiting teams by having fielders like Eknath Solkar at close-in positions.
Reason #4: It was his keen eye that saw the genius in the little master G.R. Vishwanth for whose inclusion he even fought with the chairman of selectors, Vijay Merchant.
GRV out for a duck in his debut Test at Kanpur and scored a century in the second innings.
Most batsmen never scored another century if they had scored a century on debut. Vishwanath rewrote history when he went on to score many more. But it was Pataudi who made sure he would play for India.
Under him India recorded the first ever overseas victory in New Zealand.
Pataudi lost his captaincy in a rather queer and old-fashioned movie kind of vendetta.
In 1946, due to the differences in selection committee, Vijay Merchant had lost captaincy to the Nawab of Pataudi Sr.
After a quarter of a century, in 1971, when there was a deadlock as to who should be the captain of the Indian team, Merchant, now as chairman of selectors, put his casting vote in favour of Ajit Wadekar instead of the reigning captain MansurAli Khan still only 29!
It is still a topic for hot discussion in cricketing circles.
The Nawab married the Bengal beauty Sharmila Tagore who forsook Bengali films and became a star in her own right in Hindi films.
Pataudi will be best remembered for unorthodox batting before which blocking the ball the whole day was considered a virtue, freshness of ideas as captain and above all raising above regional mindset that still haunts Indian cricket every now and then.
And for the thought once more and for the last time of what he could have been had fate not played a cruel trick on him.