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Pataudi changed India's focus to spin and fielding

In addition to making spin the focal point of India's bowling strategy, Pataudi was also the first Indian captain to emphasise the importance of good fielding.

One of the most heartfelt tributes for Mansur Ali Khan, the ninth Nawab of Pataudi who died on Thursday, came from Jeffrey Archer, the novelist who once based a short story, The Century, on the young man who first led India as a 21 year old.

"Like all stories, it has its fictional elements and I've taken creative liberties to broaden the canvas," said Archer in The Indian Express. "But about 90 per cent of it is true, based solely on the Nawab's college days and the Blues match between Oxford and Cambridge.

"In the story, the protagonist is desperate to score a century at Lord's, just like his famous father once did. I wanted to portray the Nawab as a generous winner and a gracious loser."

In real life, Iftikhar Ali Khan, the father who had played Test cricket for both England and India, passed away on his son's 11th birthday.

The father had made a century on debut at the Sydney Cricket Ground, and then fell out with Douglas Jardine over the Bodyline theory adopted to control Sir Donald Bradman and Australia. "I am told he [Jardine] has his good points," he said at the end of the tour. "In three months I have yet to see them."

The son went to Winchester, Jardine's old school, and broke the batting records that he had set four decades earlier.

During the summer of 1961, the 20-year-old Mansur appeared certain to break his father's Oxford University record, having scored 1,216 runs at an average of 55.

Then came the car crash, and the loss of his right eye.

A lesser man might have given up, but Pataudi came back, making his Test debut at the end of the year against the visiting Englishmen. In just his fourth innings, he made 103 as England were beaten in a series for the first time.

Three months later, with Nari Contractor fighting for his life in Barbados after being struck on the head by a Charlie Griffith bouncer, it was the 21 year old that Indian cricket turned to for leadership.

He could do nothing to prevent a 5-0 drubbing, but two years later, innings of 86 and 53 were instrumental in a series-levelling victory against Bob Simpson's Australians in Mumbai.

Away from home, though, India continued to be a laughing stock. By the time they got to New Zealand in February 1968, they had lost 17 overseas Tests in succession. Overall, they had lost 29 of 43 away, never once tasting success.

With no pace bowlers of quality to fall back on, Pataudi put his faith in spin. Erapalli Prasanna, Bishan Singh Bedi, and Bapu Nadkarni took 54 wickets between them in four Tests as India won 3-1.

Pataudi scored five of his six Test hundreds before the age of 25 and lost the captaincy before he turned 30.

He would return a couple of times, inspiring two wins against Clive Lloyd's West Indies in 1974/75, but by then there was little evidence of the batting that had been touched by greatness in his youth.

In addition to making spin the focal point of India's bowling strategy, Pataudi was also the first Indian captain to emphasise the importance of good fielding.

An outstanding performer in the covers, his years in charge saw India build a close-catching ring that could effectively support the slow bowlers.

He won only nine of the 40 Tests in which he led, but the changes that he initiated bore fruit long after he had retired.

"His faith in the spinners was absolute and we all prospered under his captaincy," said Bedi.

"He guided us so comfortably and serenely. The [spinner] had the highest regard for him. We won't find the likes of him in a long, long time."

But for the loss of that right eye, we might have said the same thing of Pataudi, the batsman.

 

sports@thenational.ae

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