The canny captain from Pataudi
As long as men are born, men will die. No matter how hurtful to the immediate family, it's as simple as that, all of the time. But every now and then a man dies leading to countrywide mourning of unknown magnitude.
A few days ago a very special Indian slipped away quietly and with great dignity, leaving behind a billion vulnerable Indians exposed to their own mortality! Tiger Pataudi was that Indian.
The entire family stood by as morphine made his departure less painful. The disease takes time to take life yet there was no sign that it would gallop the way it did. The nawab, mamoojan to me, was too intelligent to be an escapist and knew his days were numbered yet he stood tall, giving his family the strength to deal with his departure.
His last request on this earth was “lal maas” from Moni Mathur’s house. Mohd Azharuddin, who had lost his son a few days earlier, took time away from his loss and came to condole. People from all walks of life drifted into the house in a daze, disbelief written large on their faces. How could such a hero die?
Mamoojan was a genius of a cricketer who was most feared as captain by his opponents yet least understood not only by many a player but even by many on the board. His knowledge and acumen were of such high order that by the time he started to play for India he had moved far ahead of the rest of the pundits of the game. Moved on is probably an understatement. He had left the rest of India on the field and disappeared into the clouds, leaving behind a people who found his decisions, his actions beyond belief. As long as he won, it was fine but every now and then he lost. His attackers used his aloofness and pinned him down, or so they thought.
The fact is that neither the players nor the administrators knew what he was thinking, for he had no time for stupidity and those that didn’t fathom his one-liners were branded ignorant and pushed aside. The administrators were not used to being treated thus and plotted his downfall, time after time. And when these plotters found power they showed it by dropping him only to be humbled and had to recall him back to lead against the mighty West Indies side of 1974-75.
I was but 15, throwing a hard plastic ball at him in the veranda in Delhi. He didn’t see the yorker nor the bouncer. He knew that and I knew that, yet he went out and faced Andy Roberts, Bernard Julian and Vanburn Holder and levelled the series 2-2 only to lose the last Test.
A few years later when I played Malcolm Marshall I understood the magnitude of the hurdle he had crossed, I recognised his braveness and his sheer determination and I acknowledged his genius and chose to spend the rest of my time with him in blind devotion. I think his relationship with the media was a bit like mine was with him. They loved him unconditionally yet unlike I who had made my devotion apparent, they stood back, in deference, knowing in the back of their minds that he was special, yet speaking out only after his demise.
He had this uncanny knack of solving the most difficult of cricket problems by breaking it down into simple, uncomplicated and implementable solutions. To get him to discuss the game was difficult enough but when he did and gave you advice then you listened and memorised it till the day you died for that gem of information would be applicable throughout your life to your ever-changing game.
He loved G.R. Vishwanath and one day I asked him why? He smiled and said when the wicket gets rough, Vishy gets going. Apart from Vijay Manjrekar who he believed was the best Indian batsman of all time, I have heard him praise but a few other Indian batsmen. Some were good. Some were very good but these two were gems.
There were many reasons why he was devoted to E.A.S. Prasanna, Bishan Singh Bedi and B.S. Chandraashekar. He once told me that every delivery that first two bowled had a plan, was part of a larger story. A plan in cricket needs to take into account various factors, the batsman’s technique, his form, the pitch condition, the capability of the fielding side and the capability of the bowler to deliver according to plan.
Tiger Pataudi knew that both Bishan and Prasanna could not only deliver according to the plan but evolve the plan if required and rethink the solution on the field. These great bowlers worked at batsmen every delivery. Hit them for a four, they smiled, it was according to plan. Hit them for a six, they smiled. You were falling into their trap; it was all according to plan. Mamoojan would stand at covers and make a fielding change and these two would know how to alter the attack accordingly.
It was all done without speaking, subtly, just by simple shifts in field placements. That was the level of communication that existed between them. Chandrashekar was different. Mamoojan believed that this incredible bowler bowled incredibly well in bursts and that’s why he let him bowl through his bad burst hoping that the good one would follow. If it did, India won, if it didn’t, it didn’t matter.
He once told me that “good-length” moves around from person to person, it shifts from wicket to wicket and from bowler to bowler. He based his attack accordingly. I wonder how many captains of cricket-playing nations the world over would know this. Such was his acumen and knowledge and that’s why I say that he left the rest of India behind when it came to cricket.
Driving to Pataudi, he would always make me take the wheel and now having driven him there for the last time all I can say is that he has left one family behind only to embrace another. M.L. Jaisimha, Raj Singh Dungarpur, Hanumant Singh, Inderjit Singh, Vijay Manjrekar are with him now sitting on the steps of heaven even as Parathasarathy Sharma fills the pitcher from rivers of red grape waters and prepares the hoors as they watch a replay of India in England, laughing and toasting their reunion.
The writer is a former cricketer and nephew of Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi