Home > Latest News > TRIBUTE TO TIGER PATAUDI by Sunil Gavaskar


September 28, 2011

Source: The Tribune, Chandigarh (India)

Sunil Gavaskar

What should we address you as? This was the question posed by me to the Nawab of Pataudi in 1966 when we were playing for the Vazir Sultan Colts team in the Moin-ud- Dowlah Gold Cup. “Should we call you skipper, captain, Nawabsaab, Pat or Tiger” was the next question from me.

I had summoned up the courage to ask these questions after I had effected a run out and he had applauded me and then sat down to tighten his shoelaces. It fell upon me because all the other colts had decided that whoever contributed to the first wicket would do so.

He was the only Test player in that team and all of us were just young players trying to make a mark in the game. We had discussed this the previous evening among ourselves but couldn’t agree on how to address him but didn’t have the courage to ask him before the game began.

He had turned up just a few minutes before the toss in his cricket clothes but with no other kit and after his legs had been massaged by the masseur he had gone out to toss, lost it and promptly came back and the massage was resumed. When the umpires went out he led us and we kept at least fifteen yards behind him on the field. How simple the game was then?

eye of the tiger

What was remarkable was how he could bat with just one eye and how he could catch so well in the covers or in the slips. Just imagine if he had two eyes. His sense of humour was the dry kind with one liners. Asked by an Englishman, when he thought he could play at the highest level again after the accident that cost him his eye he replied ‘When I saw the English bowling’.

There was none of the hectic warm ups that we see today, be it football or frisbee catching, there was no huddle. The captain went out and the team followed. At every interval be it lunch or tea the masseur would resume his massage and it was only the legs especially the calves that were rubbed. He would sit on the massage table and the masseur would do his bit using loads of talcum powder.

That was not my first glimpse of the great man. I was lucky enough to get a pass to the send off ceremony that the Mumbai Municipal Corporation had arranged for the India team going to West Indies in 1962 and it was there that I saw him close up for the first time.

Of course I was more interested in just keeping my eyes glued to my idol, M. L. Jaisimha and when the team was leaving I like the others crowded around trying to breathe the air that these heroes were exhaling. How madly excited I was when I came back home and told my parents just about every second of that evening. The dream to play for India became a determination that evening.

I don’t think there was a single budding teenage cricketer in the country who did not try to walk like him or have a stance like him. Of course none of us had the guts to have the collar up for that would have straightaway invited the tag of ‘chuckoo’ a Mumbai cricket term for someone who thinks no end of himself.

The Test cricketers were exempt since they had already played for India and could put their collars up but not a youngster. The open stance was unique since he had lost one eye and so opened his stance to get a better look at the bowler with his one good eye. We all tried to copy that but kept getting out bowled or leg before playing across the line.

We couldn’t copy his fielding since in that era he was pretty much a one off who could slide and save the ball going past him. In fact his fielding was equally thrilling as his batting. There were some outstanding fielders in the 60s , Rusi Surti, Chandu ‘Panther’ Borde, Abbas Ali Baig and the off-side was like the wall of China which could hardly be breached by the opposition batsmen.

What was remarkable was how he could bat with just one eye and how he could catch so well in the covers or in the slips. Just imagine if he had two eyes. His sense of humour was the dry kind with one liners. Asked by an Englishman, when he thought he could play at the highest level again after the accident that cost him his eye he replied ‘When I saw the English bowling’.

The other extraordinary thing was that he did not have any kit of his own or if he did then he seldom got it to the ground. So he would pick up the nearest gloves and bat at the door and walk out to bat and still score runs. In those days players didn’t get dozens of bats from their sponsors but had to buy them so the person whose bat he had taken would watch with his heart in his mouth but if he got runs which he usually did then that same person would be boasting that it was with his bat that he had got the runs.

The 60s was the glamourous age of Indian cricket. There were these good looking guys like him, Jaisimha, Engineer, Budhi Kunderan, Abbas Ali Baig, Hanumant Singh, Salim Durani to name a few and as budding cricketers we would hear stories about their exploits off the field, how they were dating and wooing great looking women and in turn being wooed by film stars and models. It added to their legend and we were in awe of them for that too. Today’s young cricketers are probably being incentivised by the cars, clothes, watches and houses that Sachin, Dhoni, Yuvraj, Sehwag have.

His fear of flying was known to all and if he could get to the venue by train or road he would prefer that mode of travel but of course to go overseas he had to fly and from the time he checked in he would fortify himself with some stiff ones.

We were once flying back from Kenya and having made a refueling stop in Karachi we encountered some incredibly turbulent weather where the aircraft was like a wild horse bucking up and down. I was nervous too and especially once it dawned on me that it was past midnight and we had entered a new day.

To get over my nervousness I tried to make him even paler than he was already. I asked casually ”Didn’t your father pass away on your birthday ? You know what, it is past midnight so it is Saif’s birthday now and maybe history will repeat itself.’ The look I got was worth preserving.

He was the one who proposed that I should be his vice-captain for the 1974/75 series against the West Indies and on the eve of the first Test he along with Raj Singh came to inform me of that but true to Indian crickets ways I was asked to keep quiet about it.

That’s why when he got injured taking a steepler of a catch and had to leave the field there was confusion for an over till confirmation came in from the selectors that I was to lead the team.

He retired after that series and kept his distance from the game and it was Indian cricket’s loss that he wasn’t brought in to give his vast experience and expertise. He dabbled in the media but his heart really wasn’t in it. Sitting with him in the Governing Council meetings of the IPL once again brought out the one liners as he made observations about the way the meeting was going.

He will be terribly missed for he brought class and panache to anything that he did and even after his retirement there was a mystique about him and nobody apart from his family could perhaps say that they really knew him.

Oh, by the way he did not answer my question but just looked up and then got up, so we never found out how to address him and despite knowing him all these years, I still don’t know what to call him.

R.I.P. Skipper, Captain, Nawabsaab, Pat, Tiger. There will never be another like you.

Pictures taken when Ganga and Raj bhai (from SDCC) got an opportunity to spend an hour with Mr. Pataudi last year.

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