Tiger Pataudi was a man of very few words. For him the art of conversation meant being pithy, terse and yet his one-liners were sometimes pregnant with more meaning than a tome. His face would always remain impassive and even his most biting or humour-laced comment would take time to sink in.
I spent a lot of time with him a few years back, working on his biography which, unfortunately, never materialised. I would very diligently sit with him for a couple of hours each day for almost a month at his Vasant Kunj residence, and record in his own words the
past which had made him modern Indian cricket’s first captain, who created a team and a path for future captains to follow.
It won't be wrong to say that had there been no Pataudi, Indian cricket would have taken much more time to graduate into a combative, cohesive unit, which played to win and not lose.
It was not easy to penetrate the carefully crafted facade of a man who appeared civil and friendly, yet was extremely difficult to fathom. His father, Iftikhar Ali Khan, who played Test cricket for England as well as for India in 1946, and had Jawahar Lal Nehru's wish prevailed, would have been independent India's first captain as well, passed away when the young Pataudi was in the midst of celebrating his 11th birthday.
To keep him away from the tragedy at home, he was taken for his first tiger hunt and he felt this was possibly why he was nicknamed “Tiger”.
The young Nawab was sent to Winchester School in England, against his wishes, and never liked “the cold, impersonal world which treated him with far less warmth than he was used to at home.”
He was a born athlete, good at any game he picked up and even suffered for his precociousness in the school. He was so good at squash that within no time he started beating his senior and the best player of the school. “It was not liked. I was treated as if I had committed a sin,” he would recount with a silent chuckle.
But it was cricket, whether in school or later at Oxford University, which caught the attention of his peers and the cricketing world.
He would never say that the car accident in which he lost the vision in his right eye made him half the batsman he was, and what I found remarkable was that he talked about his struggle and pain to come back to cricket as if it was a routine matter, and not a question of harsh destiny changing the course of an immensely talented and gifted batsman.
What is so significant in his career is not that he became the captain of the team, possibly because of his social standing, but the tact and maturity with which he handled the Indian team.
His realising that if India had to do well, spin was the recourse to take and the loyalty which he commanded from the spinners, is one of the prime factors which makes Bishan Singh Bedi always say, “he made us believe and feel proud that we are playing for India and not for an individual or for personal records.''
His losing India's captaincy because of Vijay Merchant's casting vote for the 1971 tour to the West Indies did hurt him a lot, though he would never say so in as many words.
That was also a period of great upheaval in his personal life, as Indira Gandhi's government abolished privy purses and the Nawab lost most of his privileges.
To his immense satisfaction, he was literally begged to come back and lead a completely devastated and divided team in the aftermath of India's embarrassing show on the 1974 tour of England.
That he managed to win two tests against a strong West Indies team before he finally quit, was the last hurrah of a man, who without doubt, will be remembered as one who laid the foundations of modern India's cricket team.