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The Tiger In White

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In the late 1970s, soon after joining Balliol College, Oxford, I was at a black-tie dinner sitting next to a distinguished gentleman in his mid-60s — Sir Edgar (Bill) Williams, fellow of Balliol and Warden of Rhodes House. He asked me if I was interested in cricket. On hearing that I was mad about the game, he regaled me over dinner with stories of Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, a favourite of his, also a student of Balliol, captain of Oxford and Sussex. I still remember him saying, "Tiger was the best batsman that I have seen play for Oxford."

Tiger was my generation's hero. Those who watched cricket from the 1960s and up to the mid-1970s will never forget a man who led his team on to the field with a slight stoop, some 10 ft ahead of the rest, took his position at cover and, more often than not, would be the only player taking four to five steps forward, crouched and on his toes, as the bowler came up to his delivery stride. In an era where most Indian out-fielders believed that running after a ball was a waste of time, and that hard hit shots were best left alone or at most ineffectively blocked by splayed feet, only Tiger Pataudi and Rusi Surti fielded in the true sense of the word.

Here are three matches that I remember as if they were yesterday — one in 1969-70 which we lost, and two winning Tests in Tiger's last series against the West Indies in 1975.

India versus Australia led by Bill Lawry, first Test, November 1969, at the Brabourne Stadium. Pataudi won the toss and chose to bat. After Sardesai, Engineer and Borde were dismissed by McKenzie bowling at a blistering pace and
India were 42 for 3, Pataudi and Ashok Mankad took control. The next wicket fell at 188 when Mankad was bowled by McKenzie — a fourth-wicket stand of 146 which was a record against Australia. Pataudi hit 14 boundaries and went on to score 95. Australia won the Test by eight wickets.

But Tiger showed two things: first, his ability to attack genuine fast bowling and play his favourite lofted shots despite one eye; and second, his unerring skill of using the spinners. In Australia's first innings, despite a century by Keith Stackpole, 77 by Ian Redpath and 48 by Doug Walters, Prasanna took five wickets, Bedi took three, and Venkat two.

Tiger returned in 1975 to captain against Clive Lloyd's team. India had been mauled in the first two Tests — by Kallicharran, Greenidge and Lloyd in Bangalore, and by Richards in Delhi. The third Test was at Eden Gardens. India started disastrously with Naik caught Murray off Roberts in the very first ball. Pataudi walked into a rising delivery by Roberts that hit his chin. When he returned after his stitches, he played like a man possessed, smashing Roberts for four boundaries in an over, and scoring a whirlwind 36. India was all out for 233.

Despite a 100 by Fredericks, West Indies scored 240 in its first innings — a lead of just seven runs. Then Engineer counter-attacked with 61, followed by an innings of sheer beauty by Viswanath, who scored 139 with 23 boundaries. India closed at 313 with a lead of 306 runs. But West Indies attacked and at the end of Day 4 were 146 for 3, with Kallicharran and Lloyd at the crease.

On Day 5, Lloyd began by punishing Chandra. But Pataudi persisted. And Chandra's ball curled around Lloyd's leg to take his stumps off. 163 for 4. Shortly afterwards, Chandra got Kallicharran. 178 for five. Soon it was 186 for six: Julien lbw'ed by Chandra. Then Bedi arm-balled Murray plumb in front of the stumps. 198 for seven. Holder ran himself out. Bedi then took the last two — Lance Gibbs and Andy Roberts. India won by 85 runs on New Year's Day 1975. Tiger's spinner's had delivered for the Noob.

The fourth Test at Chepauk in January 1975. India batted first, scored 190 and played poorly, with the exception of Viswanath who was stranded without partners at 97. Roberts ripped the batting taking seven for 64. But it was to be Prasanna's, Bedi's and Chandra's match. West Indies collapsed for 192, with Prasanna taking five for 70, Bedi three for 40 and Chandra one for 33. India scored 256 in the second innings.

Needing to score 255 to win, this is what happened: 1-32 (Fredericks, Prasanna), 2-45 (Greenidge, Chandra); 3-62 (Gibbs, night watchman, Chandra); 4-65 (Richards, Prasanna); 5-85 (Lloyd, Prasanna); 6-125 (Murray, Bedi); 7-133 (Kallicharran, run out); 8-138 (Boyce, Prasanna); 9-152 (Holder, Bedi); and all out 154 (Roberts, Bedi). India won by 100 runs. The spinners had delivered for Pataudi.

Tiger. Thank you. And rest well.

The author is chairman of CERG Advisory. omkar(dot)goswami(at)cergindia(dot)com

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 10-10-2011)