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Tuesday, Oct 15, 2019

Tiger was special, custom made

For a person with spectacular achievements, Tiger was utterly self-effacing, totally modest. In the 35-odd years I knew him, I don't think he spoke more than 30 sentences about his cricket. Amrit Mathur reports.

cricket Updated: Sep 24, 2011 23:52 IST
Amrit Mathur
Amrit Mathur

For a person with spectacular achievements, Tiger was utterly self-effacing, totally modest. In the 35-odd years I knew him, I don't think he spoke more than 30 sentences about his cricket.

And, on occasions when he did, it was with typical understatement, in a self-deprecatory sort of manner. Asked to react to Raj Singhji describing him as India's greatest fielder (even better than Azhar), he was typical Tiger: 'That's Raj's opinion!' He even downplayed his contribution as captain, saying, "Too much is made of leading a team. It's a simple thing, only a matter of commonsense."

But once, talking about the myth and romance of his career, some gems emerged. Dismissing the popular image of not having to work hard because of exceptional natural talent, and of showing up at the ground minutes before the toss rubbing his eyes after a night of hard partying, Tiger said, "That is what people want to believe. I slogged."

Tiger, celebrated for an aggressive yet unorthodox streak, played with a straight bat and always displayed a sense of fairness. He spoke his mind in precise, well-constructed arguments but never in an offensive manner.

He was a person of remarkable dignity, tremendous charm and supreme grace. Deeply private by nature, he wasn't the happiest person in a crowd, and you would never find him in the centre of a photograph, room or a conversation.

Interestingly, for someone who defeated odds and surmounted stiff challenges, Tiger was petrified of air travel and, given a choice, would board the Rajdhani rather than take a flight. Also, despite being an engaging and entertaining public speaker, this was something he did not enjoy. Very often, Tiger would accept an invitation for a function only on the condition that he was not required to speak.

Tiger followed cricket without being immersed in it, yet kept his eye on the ball. He supported a strong players' association, admitted to mistakes in the IPL and appealed to the BCCI to show moral leadership. About cricketers, he was difficult to please; statistics did not impress him much and if told about a double ton, his immediate reaction was to ask about the pitch, conditions and bowlers before forming an opinion.

Sobers the best
In his book, Gary Sobers was the ultimate king. From his generation, he liked Cowdrey, Barrington, May and Dexter. However, it is Tiger's choice of Indian cricketers which is far more telling. Once, when I asked him to name 10 of India's greatest, his first pick was Salim Durrani. He respected Vijay Manjrekar, Umrigar, Gupte and admired Gavaskar, Kapil, Tendulkar and Kumble. Quite clearly, Bedi, Prasanna, Vishy and Dravid were very close to his heart.

Tiger will be remembered for taking Indian cricket forward, and for giving it respect.

He stood up to pace when batsmen routinely edged towards square leg, unable to handle the heat. He thought of India when players were chasing individual glory. He dived and chased in the field when the norm was to let balls pass through the legs at cover.

Tiger led from the front and commanded respect. Such was his aura that not many teammates addressed him as Tiger, preferring instead the safe route of saying 'Skip' or Captain.

Still, for all this outwardly aloofness, he was extremely warm, which is why the genuine goodwill for him. Tiger was really one of a kind - special, custom made, 24-carat.

First Published: Sep 24, 2011 23:49 IST

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