Thursday, September 22, 2011

Tiger tiger burning bright

As someone who enjoys hearing and reading cricket anecdotes, specially those of Indian cricket, it was impossible for me to not come across the trail the Tiger had left.

My earliest memories of hearing about the Tiger was when Mom (Pataudi Jr. was charismatic enough to draw her attention to cricket) told me India once had a captain who only had one eye. Apparently, this bloke had had a terrible accident and yet was good enough to play for the country with just one good eye. "Must be one heck of a fella," I thought.

It was much later when the legend of the Nawab of Pataudi started swirling around me. Everywhere I looked, article after article praised this handsome prince whose debonair style of batting suggested he was much better than the record books suggested. The phrase "his record doesn't do him justice" seemed to have been made for him.

I remember watching an interview of him on "Rendezvous with Simi Garewal" (hey, I was *very* young, ok?) and remember her asking him "Is it true that when you appealed for an lbw and if the umpire thought it wasn't out, he would politely tell you 'Not out, Your Highness'?". The impropriety (to him) of asking the question on national television seemed to have caught him by surprise as he paused for a couple of seconds and then without batting his eyelids said, "Yes."

In many ways, that interview told you a lot about the personality that this man had. Quiet, dignified, straight-laced humour, maybe a little snotty (he was a Nawab after all) but very certain about the opinions he had.

Before Pataudi came along as captain (at the age of 21, he was the youngest captain the game had ever seen at that point of time), it is believed that the Indian cricket team were still reeling from a sense of inferiority complex towards their ex-colonial masters. Test matches were played with the objective of somehow eking out a draw. It is to Pataudi Jr.'s credit who walked in with an attitude that said, "Hang on a minute, we should be playing to win and not draw matches." It is to him that the credit goes for bringing steel and grit into a side which once only knew abject surrender.

Not that we won too many matches under his captaincy. But the mindset had been changed. Here was a man who "with one eye and one leg" played a fighting innings at the MCG when India were, I think, 25 for 5. Indian cricket had found its Spartacus.

To him also goes the credit for introducing the spin attack of Chandrashekhar, Bedi and Prasanna. I am sure tomorrow morning's newspapers will be full of better praise from these fine cricketers than I could muster up.

But I will leave you with two quotes about the Tiger which for me epitomize what he meant for Indian cricket.

Asked to describe Pataudi's leadership style, Prasanna once mentioned "He wasn't the kinds who would have to shout at you to tell you what to do. Pataudi led by his eyes... he would just look at you and then look in another direction and you knew what had to be done."

Bishan Singh Bedi, the graceful magician Sardar, said that the greatest contribution of the Tiger to Indian cricket was that he was the first captain to forge an "Indian" team. He was the one, Bedi says, who taught us to think beyond Madras, Bombay, Punjab etc. You're playing for the country, he would say, so play as one.

RIP Nawab Sahab.

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