The audacious straight drive.
My first introduction to this game was when I was in the fourth standard at the convent. The neighborhood friend of mine who was doing his 6 th standard in the then famous school in the town revealed one evening a new game. A strange game in which you hold a stick with broad blade and was called bat (the makeshift bat was the coconut palm leaf stem). And another fellow throws a tennis ball from his hand held high and involves a bit of twist, turn and dancing motion. The fellow with the “bat” swings it violently and sends the ball to distant corners, more often to the compound of the neighbor. He does this to avoid the ball hitting three thin bamboo sticks behind him. He hits the ball and runs to the far end as if his life was depending on his reaching there as quick as he can. Then some arithmetic was involved and bingo, after exchanging swinging of bat and throwing the ball the winner is declared. Again based on some weird arithmetic calculations. A subject that was my bête noire.
I was not at all fascinated with the introduction to this new game. And was angry with my friend more because I could not figure out the strange acts and then math that is vital part of playing that game. I could not imagine and understand the raison d'être in involving math in fun and while at play. Ridiculous!
One year down the line I was sent to the very same school my friend was in. I was into the middle school and in the 5 th standard. New environs, bigger boys, no girls, strange angry words exchanged when boys fought, and menacing looking men as teachers. And most of all the strange game of three sticks a bat, ball, excited players and onlookers. The game was seen played in a many groups at the same time on all the play grounds, strips and corners. My first hand initiation into cricket. A fascination that stayed in me for the next many years as an avid player and follower of the game. Until belligerent opposition and disapproval from home muffled out that life from me.
Fascination metamorphosed into obsession and in a short while I began to play and listen to the running commentary on AIR, read avidly the Sports page in The Hindu. Often I cornered clandestinely a few paise from home to by sports magazines, Sport & Pastimes” and the “Sports Week’. My father used to buy the "Illustrated Weekly" regularly and those days it was “the news magazine”. And they brought out great articles on cricket and with beautiful colour photos of action. The little breaks in school and any available daylight time, I was playing the game.
And then India won the first ever test match and series overseas in New Zealand. Along with that I heard for the first time the name Pataudi. My father was an avid follower of the game and he had with him cricket books and coaching manuals written by Sir Len Hutton, Ted Dexter and so on. He used to listen to the commentary on AIR. And strange indeed, he did not frown upon me following the game.
Later that year sitting in the sidelines of the cricket matches to decide the best House before the annual Day celebrations, I heard of Pataudi who was the school captain. He was a senior in the final class. And strangely except for the darker complexion he was Nawab Pataudi’s look alike- be it appearance, hair-styling, gaze or swagger. And he was a good batsman. He was mobbed by the rest of the school. And because of him being the name sake of the Nawab, he was an icon.
My father in some rare moments of interaction that we ever had, used to tell me about how he and a few of his colleagues ferried Pataudi from Hyderabad to Madras once in the Air Force aircraft and then the Test matches that he witnessed Pataudi in action. He also told me why Pataudi was a Tiger. He was not named Tiger Pataudi, he said for his ferocity, (he in fact was a decent man), but for the tenacity and spirit of never say die. It was then I understood that Pataudi lost an eye in a road accident and was handicapped that way. My father told me that he had great difficulty in sighting and he always saw a ball being bowled as two. And because of his impaired vision he had to use his senses to know which was illusion and which was real. No ordinary man can adjust like he did and mock illusion and fate.
There were two means of conveying the period and time in films that had the plot taking place in the 1960’s. One was the signing on theme music of the AIR and the other was the running commentary on a cricket Test match on the AIR. And the commentator can be heard saying animatedly and in excitement that Pataudi has executed another glamorous stroke.
I met the prince at close quarters, that I could almost touch him. That was sometime in the early 1970’s during the three day Hyderabad-Kerala ,Ranji Trophy match at the University stadium in Trivandrum. M.L.Jaisimha was the captain. And there was besides Pataudi, another handsome player, his cousin Abas Ali Baig, Abid Ali and many others.
I must say that I have never met another handsome, charming and captivating person. He was absolutely gold like in pallor and had the elegance of the lineage, education and stature. Unfortunately he was bruised all over his elbows after some fascinating fielding. I do not remember taking his autograph, for I was bewitched and amazed at having got to see the man himself.
There were college girls in plenty shouting, shrieking and howling. They were kept at bay by the police, for they would have shred him. He was, at that time already married to Sharmila Tagore. The gossip went around that a boisterous college lass who was obsessed with him, gate crashed into the Mascot hotel where the team stayed. And she pleaded that she wanted to sleep with Pataudi. Pataudi was irritated by the lass and her tantrums that he closed himself in his room and got her evicted from the hotel. The grape vine has it that another player Mumtazr Hussain dated her during the duration of the match.
“No, don’t call me sir, call me tiger”. This was Pataudi himself when another player of later years tried to pick up a conversation with him.
In the 1960’s there were a few Indians who provoked ones imagination, they were Mrs. Indira Gandhi, Vikram Sarabhai and the other was Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi.