“He was always ahead of his time, wasn’t he?” Ted Dexter, the former England captain says on Sunday, going back in time by 50 years to recall the beginning of a young man called Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, Tiger to friends and, indeed, all.
“He was way ahead of the graph at every level he played — he was taking the mickey out of club bowling,” Dexter continues. “Playing for the Universities, he was knocking the counties all over. Then he came to county cricket and was starting to do the same thing, and then…”
Here Dexter, 72, shakes his head sadly and smacks the table — talking about Pataudi’s car accident, 46 years and a week ago, not far from where it actually happened, seems to dismay the man who captained the Indian at Sussex before handling over the reins to him in 1966.
Dexter is not a man given to emotion. He is the old public school type — even a bit snooty, some say — and not likely to wring hands over what happened 50 years ago. His anguish, thus, could be caused by a recollection of his own cricketing tragedy.
In 1965 in London, his car ran out of petrol and as he pushed it to safety, he was pinned against a warehouse. He broke a leg and quit cricket at 30. His playing days were over, though he did make a brief return, playing a couple of Tests more. It was just before a game for Oxford University against Sussex at the Hove ground, not far from the seashore, that Pataudi had the accident which caused him to lose vision in his right eye. Dexter seems to be still wondering at what might have been.
As does Jim Parks, the Sussex wicketkeeper who played 46 Tests for England. “I remember his first match, his debut was down at Worcester,” Parks, now 75, says of Pataudi, then 16. “He was quite a young man then and Worcestershire’s Jack Flavell was a very quick bowler. He got Tiger for nought in the first innings. I was at the other end when he came in the second knock. Flavell bowled him a magnificent bouncer first ball and Tiger ducked, but left the bat up… the ball hit the bat and went for four runs, and those were his first runs in first-class cricket!”
Pataudi made 23, Parks an unbeaten 100 and the game was drawn.
Musing, Dexter adds that strangely, Pataudi was bothered more by the slower bowlers than pacemen. “Maybe he was bothered by the change of pace, maybe he wasn’t getting the right information,” he says. “But he did play so well all the same.”
One man who had no trouble against slower bowlers was Duleepsinhji, the second Indian to captain Sussex after Ranjitsinhi. “My father used to say that Duleep was the best player of spin bowling he ever saw. He was so light on his feet, so quick,” Parks says. His father, also named Jim Parks, played with Duleep when Sussex were third in the championship three years running in the 1930s. Parks smiles more than Dexter, whose fondest recollections are given word with an expression that’s rather stern, but he relaxes for a few laughs when he talks about another great from the subcontinent. “I have a nice little story about Imran Khan,” says Dexter. “He played for Worcester before Tony Greig tapped him up to come and play here. They had a hearing before a tribunal on whether he could move… And I was wheeled in as a witness!”
“I had never met the young man,” says Dexter, allowing himself a loud guffaw. “But I brought him in as a virtual friend of the family, told all sorts of stories and persuaded the committee to let him come down here!”
“Then when I watched him bowl, I knew he was in for trouble,” continues Dexter. “He used to jump up high and then put his front foot completely sideways. I said this man is going to break his ankle! And he did!”
In Dexter’s own life, one thing has remained unbreakable — his bond with India. His wife Susan was born in India, her father played for Bengal and Kent. As Test pro, though, Dexter came to India only once, in 1961/62.
Parks came on the next tour, 1963/64. Their memories centre around “beautiful batting surfaces”, drawn matches and the friendship with Tiger. “Tiger was a great man to be with, very social,” says Parks and tells the story of his only Test wicket.
“I kept wickets for three says, and on the last day, the captain asked if I wanted to remove my pads and bowl,” says Parks. “I wanted to! The gentleman who’s just died, Dilip Sardesai, was batting. Second ball I bowled him a googly and got him — it was caught Edrich bowled Parks, in my first over in Tests!”
Suddenly, there is a sensation in the committee room — Nadal has taken the second set in the Wimbledon final. Dexter and Parks decide Federer must have their immediate attention.
One lives in the past a lot, but can’t ignore history in the making.