Indian cricket has been blessed with some outstanding cricketers who, in different eras, made their mark as leaders.
Initially it was the dynamic Col. C.K. Nayudu, widely regarded as a man responsible for getting India Test status. Then Lala Amarnath took centre-stage. Thereafter it took nearly 10 years for another remarkable man to arrive and take charge of Indian cricket.
He was more gifted than the ordinary and cricket followers have acknowledged the immense contribution of Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi.
Pataudi had a dashing personality, pursued education at Oxford University and wore flannels for University and Sussex County. He made his debut against Ted Dexter's England in 1961 and his last series was against Clive Lloyd's West Indies in 1975.
Fellow teammates say he was the favoured son of Indian cricket, offered the captaincy despite physical disability following a car accident.
Without exception all point out that Pataudi was aloof, spoke only to one or two players in the team and took firm decisions, but was genuinely interested in building the Indian team and cultivating the feeling among the players that they could compete with the best and even beat them.
However, everyone agrees he was a superb player, a splendid fielder and a shrewd captain. Indian cricket has not seen many better fielders than Pataudi; in this aspect of the game he was ranked among the greats.
Frank and blunt
Bapu Nadkarni, who played the last phase of his career under Pataudi, said: “He was a gentleman to the core. He was very frank and blunt and not many liked this particular attitude.
“He had so many handicaps. He lost an eye, damaged his shoulder and thigh in the car accident and yet produced some superb knocks.''
Nadkarni recalled Pataudi's first Test century against England at Madras before going to the West Indies in 1962, his 85 at Melbourne against Australia's Graham McKenzie, David Renneberg, Allan Connolly and John Gleeson, an undefeated 203 against England and 113 against New Zealand at Delhi.
“He played the short-arm pull well; it was neither the conventional pull shot nor the hook. He had the drive, but he hardly played the stroke on Indian wickets. He was a brilliant captain and leader,” said Nadkarni.
Chandu Borde and Pataudi had an eight-year association as part of the Indian team.
“Pataudi was a very special cricketer. Initially it was very difficult to adjust to his ideas. He had spent time in England and did not mix with the Indian team. He was aloof. People in India misunderstood him.
“He was a good leader on the field. He took certain impetuous decisions. Even I was foxed by some of his decisions. He used to call me “Hello maestro.''
Once in the course of a Test match against England at Calcutta I advised him to take the second new ball when Colin Cowdrey scored a century. Pataudi had forgotten that the second new ball was due. After the water break, Ramakant Desai dismissed Cowdrey and England was bowled out for 267.”
Nari Contractor, Pataudi's first captain, felt the latter was aloof on the 1962 tour of the West Indies.
“I have very little association with him. He was a brilliant fielder. As captain there was hardly any fast bowler of note he could use. There was Vasant Ranjane and a waning Ramakant Desai. He had to rely on spinners Bedi, Prasanna, Chandrasekhar and Venkatraghavan. There was no other alternative.”
The record book shows that he played 46 Tests (40 as captain), scored 2,793 runs with a modest average of 34.91 and an unbeaten 203 as his highest.
Following the defeat to Bill Lawry's Australia in 1969, Pataudi did not figure in the Indian team for four years. But he hardly made an impact playing seven Test matches after his recall in 1973 against England and the West Indies.
Many consider his 95 against Australia's McKenzie and Connolly at the Brabourne Stadium in 1969 as one of his finest innings.