The Committee Room at the Oval gives you what is possibly the finest view of a cricket ground in England. It’s only a small room, accessed after one has hoofed up several long flights of stairs.
There is little that is particularly grand about it, although the walls are oak-paneled and lined with black-and-white photographs of the great and the good of Surrey cricket club.
I was there on the first day of the last Test match in India’s appalling series against England on a cloudy day. It began to drizzle during lunch and that was it for the day — mercifully so, because watching RP Singh offer his friendly deliveries was getting to be a bit embarrassing.
The biggest cloud to settle over Indian cricket since that awful series has come with the death of Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi. He was watching the same match from the Committee Room on the last day — in the company of his wife Sharmila Tagore. Also with him was India’s Acting High Commissioner in London, Rajesh Prasad, a cricketing diplomat.
Not once during the day did Pat show any signs of illness, I’m told. He chatted amiably — and typically coolly, one would imagine — about Indian cricket. Tendulkar should have been given the benefit of the doubt, he felt; to him, the team looked tired and jaded but, even so, complacent after the West Indies series win.
India lost the Test by an innings and 8 runs, and on the way home, crowds milled around their hero. If Tiger Pataudi was put out by his fans he was careful not to show it, although he did ask them – once, and gently — not to take photographs.
With Indian cricketers crumbling without the semblance of a fightback, disappointed fans would have recognised in Pataudi a feisty hero from another era. And at that moment in the Oval, the memory of Tiger would have been something to cling to.