For most cricket lovers, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, affectionately called Tiger, was an accomplished batsman, agile fielder and astute captain. But he was much more than that.
Though apparently quiet, Tiger had a way with words. His sense of humour, which some people would fail to grasp, won him many friends, even among those who did not necessarily follow cricket. He was a master of the art of saying much while speaking less.
“Tiger was a wonderful mixture of larrikin and worldliness, with a dry wit thrown in,” said Ian Chappell, who had seen the real Tiger on and off the field and was overwhelmed by his cricketing genius as well as his humour.
“On India’s 1967-68 tour of Australia he played two innings at the MCG that would have been exceptional if he’d had all his faculties and full fitness. As it was he scored 75 and 85 batting on one leg and with only one good eye against some excellent pace bowling. Cyclops couldn’t have done a better job,” recalled the former Australian captain.
“Despite a pulled hamstring he played in the Test because his team was in disarray and needed him. He batted at seven in the first innings with India floundering at 5/25. He couldn’t have a runner and he could only perch on the back foot because his right leg was the good one but the bowlers were misguided if they thought he was batting under a handicap. Under leaden skies and confronted by the fiery fast bowling of Graham McKenzie he propelled India’s total to a more respectable 173.”
Chappell noted that Tiger used five different bats – not a single one of them because of a breakage – each time he resumed his innings after a break in play. When out of curiosity the Aussie asked him in the dressing room why he used a different bat each time, Tiger replied: “I only brought a pair of boots, socks, creams and shirt on tour, so I used someone else’s gear. Each time we went out after a break I just picked up the bat nearest the door.”
The same evening Chappell asked him what he did for a living. “Ian, I’m a prince,” replied Tiger. Not being familiar with the concept, the Australian continued to prod Tiger about what he did between the hours of nine and five. Exasperated, he snapped: “Ian, I’m a f*****g prince!”
But Tiger never behaved like a prince – certainly not when playing cricket, not even when leading the Indian team. “He wasn’t the one to leave the fielding to others in the manner of a maharajah,” emphasised Chappell. And the Aussie is right. Tiger played a pivotal role in lifting the level and standard of India’s fielding. He once said matter-of-factly: “Before I came along, the Indian batsmen used to go into the slips and drop all the catches!”
Chappell once overheard a mobile phone conversation between Tiger and Ravi Shastri, when the former was on the IPL Governing Council. Chappell was doing commentary for the Champions League with Shastri and heard him talking to Tiger about the IPL affairs. He asked Shastri to hand him the phone as he wanted to say something to Tiger. Chappell told Tiger: “Now that sounds like a prince working!”
Now a highly acclaimed television commentator, Chappell revealed another interesting anecdote featuring Tiger. “His quick thinking wasn’t restricted to captaincy and interviews. On the charter flight from Chandigarh to Lahore for the 1996 World Cup final, I was begged by Mark Mascarenhas to grab Shane Warne and sit in first class despite only holding economy tickets. Mark had discovered there were twenty first-class seats on the flight and only sixteen officials. Along with Ravi Shastri, Mark was seated in first class and he figured if Warney was there then he wouldn’t be ushered back into economy,” he recalled.
“Hearing this, Tiger, seated in the first row of economy with his wife, asked the only official, who was seated on the flight at the time, if he could see his boarding pass. After looking at the pass with a red border for a few seconds, Tiger, with the deftness of a card sharp, flipped his economy pass over to hide the green border and handed it to the official. A few seconds later, armed with one valid pass, both Tiger and his wife moved into first-class seats where they remained for the duration of the journey.”
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