Sunday, January 6, 2013

Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi (1941-2011)

“Aloof yet witty, plain but direct, regal yet casual. MAK Pataudi was so many contradictory things that eventually you stopped trying to classify him.”
(Mudar Patherya)

The first Indian to captain the Oxford University cricket team;  a member of the first Indian team to win a series against England; captain of India at the age of 21; leader of the first Indian team to win a Test series abroad.  “Tiger” Pataudi was quite literally a Prince of the game, always immaculately dressed off the field as befitted the ninth Nawab of Pataudi, son of the Begum of Bhopal.  He inherited the title on his eleventh birthday, when his father - a Test cricketer who played for England as well as India -  died playing polo in Delhi.  When royal entitlements were abolished by constitutional amendment in 1971, a certain MAK Pataudi stood for political office in protest.

Known for his batting, he scored 2, 793 Test runs, including six centuries.  This was all the more remarkable because he had lost an eye in a car accident in Hove in July 1961 and thus had no binocular vision to focus on a fast cricket ball hurtling towards him.  Tiger Pataudi liked to say that he always saw two balls, and hit the inside one.  He usually pulled his cap down over his right eye to avoid the distraction of a blurred double image.  He made his Indian Test debut less than six months after his injury: in the third Test of that series, he scored 103.  He also played for the Sussex country side, which he captained in 1966.  Had it not been for his impairment, he might have been one of the game’s truly exceptional players, instead of simply a very good one.  Oddly, the Indian team which he was instrumental in building and leading to world status contained at least one other disabled person – Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, the famous leg spinner, who had a withered right wrist as a result of polio contracted in childhood. 

Pataudi was the Muslim captain of  Hindu India, who welded all the regional cricketing stars into one cohesive and venerated national unit.  With his film star wife and his aristocratic poise, he brought glamour to the game, and it was in his day that the idolization of India’s cricket team really took off.  In later life, he was on the council of the Indian Premier League, but as Mukul Kesavan wrote:

“He remained untouched by the squabbles and sleaze that attended cricket’s transformation into big business in India.  As a consequence, death finds him happily embalmed in fond radio memories: still tigerish in the covers, still a prince among men.”

Perhaps typically for a man who grew up in a 150 room palace with over 100 servants, his only recorded brush with the law was when he was arrested for shooting a protected species of deer in 2005.