Few cricketers of our era, or perhaps in any generation, have enjoyed such mass adulation (1961 to 75) as Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi.
The career of Pataudi — son of former Test cricketer and skipper, Iftikhar Ali Khan of Pataudi (Sr) — as a player and captain was not embellished merely by lineage.
A ‘prince among cricketers,' his batting reflected a touch of romance, grace and character that surfaced from long exposure in the formative years in England. He had a long innings with Sussex.
In Pataudi's batting, to borrow an observation of Neville Cardus, “there was suppleness and lithe grace which concealed power, as silkiness of skin conceals the voracity of strength in a beautiful animal of the jungle.”
Tutored by expert coaches at Lockers Park School (Hertfordshire) and in Oxford, Pataudi never fell for the grammar of it. His cricket exemplified a synthesis of spirit, skill and style. It elevated the aspect of batting to a different plane.
How many could have come back and stayed in competitive cricket after the loss of vision? He conquered that disability sustained in an auto accident in England. With altered stance he faced the bowlers with one eye. And what amazing strokes he produced to mid-wicket and mid-on!
He was never a conformist. In fact, he despised being one. Rather, he was consciously unconventional. His cricket was instinctive, innovative, and, decidedly, imperious. He attacked the bowlers with lordly disdain.
Those fortunate to witness the unbeaten 128 he played against Australia at the Corporation Stadium in Chennai in 1964 will recall the elegance of his strokes against Graham McKenzie, the peerless pace bowler at that time with Neil Hawke.
Another remarkable innings came in 1975 at the fag end of his career. It was the 198 for Hyderabad in the Ranji Trophy against Tamil Nadu at Chepauk. Before a packed gathering of about 25,000 he played an innings of character, charm and class. Incidentally, it was his highest in Ranji Trophy in which he had amassed 2,562 runs at an average of 37.67.
Catapulted into captaincy at 21 in the West Indies in 1962, Pataudi handled the role with distinction. He took charge when the captain Nari Contractor was felled by a devastating delivery from Charlie Griffith.
Since then, Pataudi was by example the true commander. He captained 40 Tests of the 46 he played. If this is not dynamic and successful leadership what else is it?
Statistics cannot, and should not, be a yardstick to evaluate Pataudi's craft and contribution. He aggregated 2,793 runs (34.91) with the 203 not out against England in Delhi as the best effort. He totalled 15,425 runs in first-class cricket.
Pataudi was a brilliant raconteur. His after dinner speeches were listened to with rapt attention for their humour and ready repartees. His autobiography, Tiger's Tale brings out his perspective on the whole gamut of the sport. Briefly, Pataudi served an expert commentator on TV, and edited a sports magazine from Kolkata.
A lover of hockey — he played during the off-season in Bhopal — and enjoyed classical music. He was also a tabla player.