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Tiger played with straight bat on and off the field


New Delhi : Former India captain Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi always played the game with a straight bat and was equally forthright off the field.

He will be remembered as the Tiger who preyed with one eye.

Born in 1941 in Bhopal, to former India captain and the eighth Nawab of Pataudi, Iftikhar Ali Khan, who also played for England, and Sajida Sultan, second daughter of the last ruling nawab of Bhopal, cricket was always in Pataudi’s blood.

He was one of the best educated Indian cricketers. He spent his formative years at Welham Boys’ School in Dehradun and then went to England like his father to study at Lockers Park Prep School in Hertfordshire, Winchester College and Balliol College, Oxford.

He lost his father on his 11th birthday while Iftikhar was playing polo. But Iftikar, who captained India in 1946, was a constant source of inspiration in Tiger’s life.

Pataudi suffered another setback 10 years later, when he lost the vision of his right eye after a car crash in England. But a steely resolve saw him making his international debut a few month later against the formidable Ted Dexter’s England in Delhi, in December, 1961.

Once asked by a journalist, how he played with one eye, Pataudi said: “In I fact see two balls. I hit the one on the inside.”

Like his father, Pataudi couldn’t get a century on debut but achieved his maiden ton, a classy 103, in his third Test against England to set-up a 128-run win in Chennai. He never looked in discomfort playing with one eye, and swotted the fast bowlers with ease. The innings earned him a berth for the Caribbean tour.

The presence of Polly Umrigar, Nari Contractor and Vijay Manjrekar made it difficult for Pataudi to find a place in the final eleven in the West Indies and he had to miss the first two Tests, in which India suffered humiliating defeats.

But a nasty injury to Contractor, who had to undergo a brain operation after being hit by a Charlie Griffith bouncer, changed Pataudi’s fortunes. There was bickering in the team and none of the seniors were willing to take up the responsibility of leading the side.

They found a leader in Pataudi, who on March 23, 1962, at the age of 21 years and 79 days, became the youngest cricketer to captain any country in a Test match.

The next 13 years were known as the Pataudi era during which he went on to re-write India’s cricketing history by captaining the side to its first ever overseas series win, when they defeated New Zealand 3-1 in 1967-68, at a time when a draw was considered as a win.

Under him, India played some good cricket and got the confidence of beating big teams overseas. The spin quartet of Bishan Singh Bedi, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, S. Venkatraghavan and Erapalli Prasanna also flourished under his captaincy.

For Pataudi, limited eyesight was never a handicap, but flighted spin and tear-away pace occasionally troubled him. But the good looking Pataudi always made cricket look good. Pataudi was also a great fielder and set benchmarks for his fellow players.

Pataudi’s highest, 203 not out, was against against one of the finest fast bowling attacks of Colin Cowdrey’s England at the Ferozeshah Kotla here in his 10th Test match in 1964. The same year he was conferred the Arjuna Award. He emulated his father in 1968 when he was named the Wisden Cricketer of the Year, his father having received the honour in 1932.

Pataudi also emulated his father in 1968 when he got a hundred in his first Test against Australia. He was compared to Robert Loius Stevenson’s fictional character Long John Silver after he braved a hamstring injury to make gritty 75 and 85 at Melbourne in 1967-68.

In 1969, Pataudi got married to top Bollywood actress Sharmila Tagore after a four-year courtship. They had three childreen Saif Ali Khan, Saba Ali Khan and Soha Ali Khan. Both Saif and Soha followed their mother’s footsteps in films while Saba became a jewellery designer.

Pataudi retired from international cricket in 1975 after playing 46 Test matches and scored 2,793 runs at an average of 34.91. He got his six hundreds in his first 22 Tests but couldn’t add one in the next 24. He led the country in 40 of his 46 Tests and guided the team to nine wins and was easily the greatest captain ever.

Pataudi preferred to stay away from the limelight after his retirement. He dabbled in politics, was the cricket team’s manager in 1974-75 and was also an International Cricket Council (ICC) match referee for a brief period.

Pataudi was also a part of the Governing Council of the Indian Premier League (IPL) but never enjoyed it. He also dragged the board to the court over his dues.

His spotless career was scarred after he was arrested for killing a blackbuck in Jhajjar in 2005. He spent few days in jail before being released on bail.