Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, who strode the Indian cricket scene like colossus in 1960s and early 70s and one of the best Captains of the era, died of a lung disease on September 22. He was 70 and is survived by wife Sharmila Tagore and three children.
Popularly known as “Tiger” or Nawab of Pataudi, he had the distinction of being the youngest captain of India and led the country in 40 of the 46 tests he played. And also had the honour of leading the country to its first Test series win abroad. Overall under his leadership the team recorded nine test victories. His father Iftikhar Ali Khan Pataudi also led the country in 1946.
The Oxford educated right-handed batsman made his debut for India at the age of 21 in a drawn match against England in 1961. Interestingly, a few months before his debut, Pataudi had damaged his vision in a car accident but he defied all odds and managed to impress with a 103-run knock in the fifth Test of that series, and was selected for the tour of West Indies.
Nari Contractor was captain on that tour and Pataudi was not even played in the first two Tests. But he became the captain in very intriguing circumstances when Contractor got injured. With seniors in the team showing reluctance to take over captaincy, a three-Test-old Pataudi was handed the leadership reins and he held on to that position for nearly a decade.
His best moment came in 1967 when India defeated New Zealand 3-1 to record their maiden overseas Test series triumph. “He was the captain who welded the team into a cohesive unit. He told us that we are playing for the country and not for states like Delhi, Bombay or Bengal,” said former captain Bishen Singh Bedi, who started his test career under Pataudi’s stewardship.
He also gave the Indian cricketers a sense of self-belief and that enabled the team in the later years, the legendary spinner added. Pataudi was perhaps the most attractive batsman of his time but for the damaged vision he would have set many a records. In 1964, he was honoured with Arjuna Award and three years later he was bestowed with a Padma Shri.
His best moment came in 1967 when India defeated New Zealand 3-1 to record their maiden overseas Test series triumph. Amidst protest from some right wingers Pataudi married the then reigning queen of Indian cinema Sharmila Tagore in 1969 and he had three children—Saif Ali Khan, Soha Ali Khan and Saba Ali Khan.
As was his ascendancy to the captaincy was unexpected, his removal from the position also surprised many when chairman of selection committee at that time Vijay Merchant’s casting vote saw Ajit Wadekar succeeding Pataudi.
He was again recalled to lead the side but after being dropped from the national team again in 1975, Pataudi played first-class cricket for a year more before retiring. With 2793 runs at an average of 34, which included six hundreds and 16 half centuries, the Nawab does not have very impressive figures to show but no-body can deny the role he played in giving the Indian cricket a new direction.
He served as an ICC match referee between 1993 and 1996, incharge of two Tests and 10 ODIs during the period. He also contested elections once from Haryana and then from Bhopal and lost both the times. He got enmeshed in a controversy when he was arrested for poaching an endangered blackbuck in 2005.
In 2008, he was appointed to the Governing Council of the Indian Premier League (IPL) and after serving for two years, he refused the BCCI’s offer to continue in the job in 2010 in an honorary capacity. He even threatened to sue the Board for non-payment of dues earlier this year.
BCCI paid moving tribute to Pataudi saying he brought about a revolution in Indian team’s fielding and guided the side to unprecedented heights.
By Harpal Singh Bedi