Whether as Nawab of Pataudi or as Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi his legacy as batsman and captain endures in Indian cricket. Indeed it is difficult to believe that he will be 70 on January 5. Is it really almost half a century since he first announced his arrival on the international stage with an adventurous 103 against England in the Test match at Madras? The adventurous spirit has stayed with Indian batting ever since.
For many years Pataudi was not only the best batsman in the country, he was one of the leading players in the world. He attracted notice because of many factors - his aristocratic lineage, his background as the son of the elder Nawab of Pataudi, who had played for both England and India and captained the country on their tour of England in 1946, his English cricketing background, having had his education at Winchester and Oxford, his courage at coming back into the game and playing it with remarkable success at the highest level despite a serious eye accident, his ability to shine like a beacon even as the Indian batting collapsed time and again, and the manner of his batting which was bold and exciting.
Indeed, to see `Tiger’ Pataudi bat was a revelation. He was such a gifted player that he could get away with the most remarkable of shots. That is why the purists in England, on seeing the early Pataudi bat in his university days, labeled him as ``unorthodox.’’ Nothing could be further from the truth. Pataudi’s batting was based on scientific principles like all good batting is. But in addition he was such artist that he could get away time and again with shots that were not strictly in the book. He never imitated anyone. He was an original and his style was all his own. Before he came on the scene for example, the pull drive was a shot that was almost never played by any Indian batsman. And even if executed, it was not with a little hesitancy and uncertainty. Pataudi alone could get away with the stroke. There was no element of risk whatsoever in the manner he played it. His left leg was quickly forward and then those steely wrists and strong
shoulders combined to give the ball an all-powerful heave which saw the ball land in the stands at deep mid wicket.
Like the pull drive, Pataudi also perfected the lofted shot over long on. The occasions were not infrequent when I saw him lift the best of spin bowlers for sixes via these two productive shots. He was also perfectly at east against fast bowling – despite the eye injury – and was a fairly good hooker. If all this gives the impression that Pataudi was a stronger player on the leg side, it is correct. But that is not to say he was not a good player on the off side. His off drive and extra cover dive were strokes made with a touch of effrontery. He cut, square and late, with a blend of timing and power. Indeed, timing was the essence of all his strokes. But it is chiefly because of his leg-side strokes that we shall remember Pataudi. It was said that the cares of captaincy burdened his batting but that was probably only late in his career. On the contrary, he thrived on the responsibility.
But for all his gifts as a batsman Pataudi’s most enduring legacy to Indian cricket is undoubtedly as leader. From the time he was suddenly elevated to the captaincy under dramatically tragic circumstances in the West Indies in 1962 at the age of 21 to his last days at the helm against the same opponents at home in 1975 he remained an endearingly heroic figure. A casual glance at the results – only nine wins against 19 losses in 40 Tests as captain – does not speak well of his leadership qualities. Few captains however had the kind of ill luck that Pataudi encountered – the batting was inconsistent, the new ball bowling non existent and the fielding sub standard. Various circumstances too worked against him during his long tenure. All the same those who were witness to Pataudi at the helm were convinced that he was a shrewd, skilful and knowledgeable captain and a leader who led from the front, who charted out many notable achievements even if
only rarely did he gave good fortune on his side.
In the ultimate analysis Pataudi would rank among the five top captains in Indian cricket. He possessed many of the qualities that go to make a great captain. He took over at a time when Indian cricket was known to be dull, drab and unexciting and by his special leadership qualities he did the most to gain self-respect for Indian cricketers with administrators and in the international arena. People sat up and took notice of their performances - even when the team was losing. The formation of the famed spin quartet, vast improvement in the fielding and a string of notable victories – have been his legacies to Indian cricket. What he could have achieved with better resources - a more consistent showing from the batsmen or a better new ball attack or better luck is something that is impossible not to speculate upon.
As a batsman too Pataudi’s final Test figures are a travesty of justice. Without the kind of pressure situations he had to face, it is inconceivable to think how much better the figures would be. He has aged gracefully – like his film star wife - and has remained a personality of utmost charm and dignity. He is perhaps Indian cricket’s ultimate charismatic figure.