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The Tiger’s lair

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There is the cliché that ‘cricket is an Indian game accidentally discovered by the British’. Perhaps it is also possible to argue that Mansur Ali Khan (‘Tiger’), the erstwhile Nawab of Pataudi, was an Englishman who happened to become the cricket captain of India.

In order to understand what made Tiger tick, it is necessary to go back to the playing fields of Winchester where he learnt his cricket. By the time the summer of 2012 is over, Sharmila Tagore, accompanied by her children, Saif, Saba and Soha — and Kareena Kapoor, too, now practically a member of the family — will have been to the Long Room at Lord’s, Oxford University and Winchester College which will all have held events to commemorate the life and times of Tiger Pataudi.

The English influences on Pataudi are obvious. Born in Bhopal on January 5, 1941, he was sent to an English preparatory school, Lockers Park in Hertfordshire, not long after his father, Ifthikhar, the 8th Nawab of Pataudi (who played for Oxford and England before captaining India briefly) died when his son was only 11.

At Winchester, when he was a boarder between 1954 and 1959, there was only one other Indian boy.

“My first step as a good Muslim was to get leave from attending morning chapel,” he quipped later.

Then he went up to Balliol College, Oxford, where his father had also been an undergraduate (and where in time, Soha would follow him). At Oxford, before he lost his right eye in a motoring accident, he was the first foreigner to be made the cricket captain. At 16, he had made his debut for Sussex, a county he would later captain. Above all, his sense of humour, difficult to define but easy to recognise, was definitely English.

When Pataudi — or the ‘Noob’ as he was nicknamed at Winchester —passed away last year, England mourned one of its own.

Some of the incidents in Pataudi’s life are so bizarre that if they were included in a script for a Bollywood film even Subhash Ghai would reject it as being too far-fetched. At Winchester, there is a wealth of material on Pataudi — photographs, scorecards (he once hit 11 boundaries off 11 consecutive balls in a schools’ match), and his name etched on honours boards.

In 1959, when he was captain, he established a new record, scoring 1,068 runs in the season with an average of 71.20 and a top score of 120. That record still stands to this day. The boy pushed into second place was none other than Douglas Jardine, who had been at Winchester from 1914-19 and scored a record 997 runs in his final year.

Is it a coincidence this was the same Jardine who had insulted Tiger’s father by kicking him out of the England side during the notorious 1932-33 ‘Bodyline’ tour of Australia? This is because the 8th Nawab had protested against his patrician English captain’s ‘unsporting’ targeting of Bradman’s head and body.

Pataudi was “our most famous old boy”, declares Ben Cunningham, the current head of House at Beloe’s, where Tiger had boarded during his time at Winchester.

In 1967, Pataudi returned to Winchester and put down his son for his old school — this is remarkable forward planning because Saif was not yet born. In fact, it would be another two years before Pataudi would persuade Sharmila to marry him.

Dr Ralph Townsend, the current headmaster of Winchester, says: “The name the Nawab of Pataudi lingers on in Winchester memory. ...The fact that he sent his son here in 1984, some 25 years after he had left the School, bears testament to his love of it. He returned in 2004 to be received ‘Ad Portas’ (at the Gates), the greatest honour that Winchester can bestow.”

The speech Pataudi made at the ancient Ad Portas ceremony — probably the best of his life — overturns the notion he was basically an Englishman. He began in Latin but then spoke in Urdu, revealing his dil was always Hindustani.

“50 years ago a friend of mine and I were the first Indians to come to Winchester College,” he recalled. “My five years at Winchester were happy years and I owe much to my old school. Today I am proud that I am remembered with this signal honour.”

Though princely titles were stripped away by Indira Gandhi in 1971, Pataudi still asserted passionately: “My country is a huge and robust democracy committed to the secular ideals of its founding fathers.”

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