A titan of Indian cricket – and a wonderful human being – is no more. A little over a dozen years after his friend ML Jaisimha died of lung cancer, Pataudi – and I have not been able to bring myself to call him Mansur Ali Khan – has fallen to a lung infection. I was hoping that he would pull through, like he did on the cricket field where he battled adversity without flinching.
It was a privilege watching him play the Moin-ud-Dowla Gold Cup in my hometown of Hyderabad for an assortment of teams over a number of years, the Hyderabad side in the Ranji Trophy in places like Kothagudem and Sirpur-Kagaznagar, and the South Zone squad.
He scored but nine runs in two innings in his only Test match in Hyderabad – against New Zealand in 1969 – but I can recall a number of knocks where he showed fans his pedigree. We can talk endlessly about Pataudi’s batsmanship and electric fielding at cover-point – and this with one good eye – but his biggest contributions to our cricket was in making the India players realise that they had to play as a unit and play aggressively to compete with other nations.
The past couple of generations, weaned on colour TV, has seen, criticised and admired the captaincy skills of inspirational leadership like Kapil Dev, Mohammed Azharuddin, Sourav Ganguly and Mahendra Singh Dhoni but I reckon it was Pataudi who first got the Indian cricket team together as one back in the 60s. Undoubtedly, Pataudi had the knack of bringing the best out of his team-mates.
He had some truly loyal and compassionate friends, people with knowledge. Jai, Chandra, GR Viswanath, Prasanna, Bishan Bedi, Sunil Gavaskar and perhaps some in Delhi. He was not a recluse but it was difficult to break ice with him, but once you knew him, he was far from withdrawn. He was extremely intelligent and a genius as far cricket went. He applied this knowledge to the players’ technique and the strategy.
His shift from Delhi to Hyderabad is a story in itself and worth recalling now. Having irreconcilable differences with DDCA strongman Ram Prakash Mehra, Pataudi decided to move base and his friend ML Jaisimha welcomed him to Hyderabad. But if he had to turn out for Hyderabad, he had to show that he was employed in the twin-cities. Jaisimha’s father Motganahalli Laxminarasu appointed him in his construction firm on a grand salary of Re 1 per month.
Pataudi played for Hyderabad and South Zone under Jaisimha’s captaincy not so much because of gratitude for Laxminarasu’s gesture as for his own belief that Jaisimha was a fine thinker of the game. Anyone privileged to have heard them converse on cricket will testify that they were both superb students of the game.
In all my years of knowing him, Pataudi never once gave the impression that he had to be treated differently because of his lineage. Pataudi had a God-given sense of humour and saw humour in every aspect of life, though it could sometimes be lost on lesser mortals. Back in the 60s and 70s, when Test cricketers would turn out in local tournaments, a number of them visited Bhopal each year. Some of them eagerly joined Pataudi on cheetah hunts in the jungles some distance away from the city. They would drive in open jeeps on dusty roads.
One year in the early 70s, some cricketers were getting a bit restive as it was getting dark. They had been driving for a bit, not spottedany animal and the only things they had shot at were some empty beer bottles. As they were preparing to head back to the city, some armed dacoits swooped on the party and held them. GR Viswanath, who had caught the nation’s fancy with a century on debut against Australia in 1969, was tied to a tree.
Word has it that little Viswanath was in tears but one the senior cricketers who was in the know of things, gave the game away bybursting out laughing. It turned out that those who the cricketers believed were dacoits were actually staff from the Bhopal Palace.
I remember once in a Moin-ud-Dowla Gold Cup match at the Fateh Maidan, it started raining but the umpires not immediately calling off play, he gestured towards the 12th man in the dressing room to bring an umbrella on to the field. Needless to say, the umpires promptly suspended play. I also remember him sending leg-spinner BS Chandrasekhar on a wild goose chase across town when Chandra asked him where his team was being lodged. And, as things went, Chandra’s team had been put up at the Fateh Maidan Club itself!
Back in 1999, when he heard his friend Jaisimha was losing his battle to lung cancer, Pataudi flew in to meet him and was shaken beyond words. I watched him on NDTV quite recently and he looked all right. I am sure the souls of the two titans would come together again and, while them may or may not able to share a chilled tumbler, they surely would play a few pranks on unsuspecting buddies.
This piece was written for Mail Today by my father N Ganesan, 82, is a former sports journalist in Hyderabad, who reported on many of his matches for The Hindu and once bowled Pataudi with a googly at the nets in Fateh Maidan.