Millennium Post

The gentleman’s game

We know the legend that Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi aka Tiger was when it came to cricket. Much has been said about his skills as a batsman and fielder and how he had turned the Indian team around when he took over as the captain. Much has been said about his aloofness, out of the field, as well, which is generally perceived as arrogance and haughtiness befitting a prince.
But his family, friends and colleagues will tell you otherwise. In Pataudi Nawab of Cricket, they piece together  ‘The Noob’. They tell us about a man who didn’t mince his words, who was clued into reality and was frugal for a prince. They tell us what a good friend, father and husband he was. A man who could deal with any situation with ‘imperious charm’ and sly wit. A man who loved to dance and make merry. But above all, a man, who kept to himself and let his actions speak for him. Excerpts.


Zeal was not his favourite virtue. he was too relaxed to bear the burden of strong ideology. But the one thing that did stir his feelings was Mrs Indira Gandhi’s abolition of the privileges and privy purses of the pre-Independence nobility. Ptaudi was young in 1971, and stepped into politics to right a perceived wrong. he was wary of elections after that, even when repeatedly wooed by the party he had once opposed, the Congress.



I first met him a few weeks before my twenty-first birthday. He was three years and eleven months older. what instantly attracted me to him was his sense of humour and his innate gentleness. I felt that I could trust him implicitly. He was, even at that young age, the same person he was still the end of his life – mature, calm, responsible, with the strongest sense of self. I, on the other hand, was impulsive and quite unschooled in the ways of the world. I guess we complemented each other.


... A man of few words! But also a man of sly wit. I am watching a game. Amma is reading something, Abba pacing in and out of the drawing room, where we sit. Sourav (Ganguly) falls, trying to catch the ball, and misses. he clutches his calf in what seems like excruciating pain. Abba: ‘There he goes again!’ I ask, ‘He’s not hurt?’ In that matter-of-fact manner of his, he says, ‘He missed the catch, who knows?’

People often ask me what it was like growing up in a royal household and I never knew what to say. There was never a sense of being flush with wealth – quite the contray... It was not unusual to find yellow post-it notes adorning various doors and tabletops with the words ‘Turn the lights off’ scrawled on them. He didn’t like to waste petrol. If we wanted the car to go to a friend’s house, my sister and I had to think very carefully about how to broach the subject... Perhaps the vicissitudes of life that he experienced at a young age led him to develop his sense of frugality, having lost so much becoming Mr Khan. In fact, loss was no stranger to him – losing his father at the age of eleven, sight in his right eye at twenty, his titles and privy purses at thirty... It could have been the result of a boarding school education from the age of eleven; he was always quick to adjust – even to my cramped two-bedroom apartment in bandra, Mumbai. As long as his clothes were pressed and a decent bottle of red wine produced come 7.30 p.m., he would look after himself, even making his own morning teaand, when leaving the room, always remembering to turn the lights off!



As a person, pataudi was, as Hubert Doggart has said, a lovely man. He was laconic and understated, wry not slapstick. He once convinced a team member that the great white-marble Victoria Memorial in Kolkata (one of Raj’s great monuments) was another of his personal palaces... I think he was probably a bit of a rascal too. He once invited Woodcock (John) and Henry Blofeld to the back of a dry Indian Airlines flight from Mumbai to kolkata to share a bottle of vintage brandy he had quietly removed from the cellars of the palace in Bhopal. More notoriously, he got into trouble for a hunting incident. A friend of mine, the historian Ramachandra Guha, who wrote the excellent book on Indian cricket, A Corner of a Foreign Field, told me how, when they were both on a TV panel together shortly after that affair, tiger surrounded by intellectuals of one kind and another, murmured that no doubt he had been invited as the panel needed a convict to provide balance.


... He was a terrific prankster and stories of him playing practical jokes wearing scary masks and waking unsuspecting teammates and press guys in the middle of the night are legion. I thought I would play one on him too. It was well known that he hated flying and would tank up before he got on board. we were returning from Nairobi on Independence Day where we has gone for a tour just before the 1978 season began. The weather was quite rough, it being monsoon time, and we stopped over in karachi I saw that the clock had gone past midnight and so the date had changed. With the flight getting more bumpy, he started to get more edgy and I tried to add to it by asking him that since it was past midnight it would be his son Saif’s birthday, wouldn’t it? He barely nodded and I asked why I was asking him that, so I said, ‘Didn’t your father pass away on your birthday? Maybe now history is repeating itself on Saif’s birthday.’ The look I got would have killed me well before any possible crash. uckily, we were through the rough weather and on solid ground but it was worth the look on his face when he landed shaking his head and almost vowing never to fly again.

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