Wednesday, Oct 05, 2022

Tiger's Tale

'In the country of the blind, it had been said, the one-eyed man is king...'

My full name is Mohammad Mansur Ali Khan of Pataudi. To my parents and friends I have always been known as 'Tiger'. I don't really know why, except as an infant it seems I had a tigerish propensity for crawling energetically about the floor on all fours.

I remember coming face to face with my first real tiger at the age of seven or eight. I fired a shot at it, though my instructions before the hunt had been to keep in the background and merely pretend to shoot. When the gun actually went off at finger pressure I was definitely more scared than the animal, that singularly failed to recognize that its life might be in danger...

Tutors at school in England usually called me Mansur. The press from time to time have referred to me as the "The Noob' 'Draccers' (for Dracula) and 'Syd', in the belief that these were nicknames given to me by colleagues at Oxford University...


I hold the title Nawab of Pataudi by right, having succeeded my late father who ruled over some 25,000 inhabitants of a small state in the Punjab, about the size of the English county of Rutland, situated 30 miles south-west of Delhi.

Pataudi was one of some 350 princely states formed by the British in India. It resulted from a rather curious accident of history. About 120 years ago an ancestor of ours, the Dewan of Jhajjar, ruled over a big state in the Punjab, of which Pataudi was a district. During the Indian mutiny of 1857 the Dewan's son and heir (my great-great-great grandfather) was kidnapped by dacoits. The Dewan sat out with his army in an attempt to rescue his son, and met with a British contingent commanded by Lord Lake. Lord Lake and his men helped to rescue the kidnapped boy, and in gratitude the Dewan pledged that he would not fight against the British.

Once the mutiny had ended, and Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India, the Nawab of Jhajjar, brother of the Dewan, was publicly executed. But because the Dewan himself had not actively fought against the British, the District of Pataudi was made into a separate, fully fledged state.


Despite his international fame as a cricketer and all round sportsman, I preserve only two clear memories of my father, and both concern cricket matches in which I took part at the age of seven.

In the first, at an important stage, I was fielding at extra cover, with Father at cover. The ball was skied in my direction and I was waiting under it with hands cupped. Suddenly I saw two other, larger hands appear over my head. My father made the catch instead, saying:

'Well, I can't trust you at this moment.'

In another match I was having some success with the bat, having hit a six and a couple of fours, whereupon a distressed bowler went to my father and complained:

'What can I do? I cannot bowl fast to a boy of seven or I might kill him, but if I bowl slowly, he hits me to the boundary.'

My father had his own way of solving that particular problem. 'You had better get out,' he told me shortly, so I retired with a score of 16 not out.

I was celebrating my eleventh birthday with the elder sister Saleha, and my younger sisters Sabiha and Qudsia when my mother entered the room to tell us: 'Your father is dead.'

Her words did not mean much to us for two or three days, when we began to miss him.

Our fathers died in the saddle from a heart attack suffered during a polo match. He was only forty-one. We Pataudis like to live life to the full, and tend to die young...


The Accident

On July 1, 1961, after a hard day in the field against Sussex at Hove, five members of the Oxford University team, including myself, went out to Brighton for some Chinese food. Having dined, I felt pleasantly relaxed as we travelled back to the hotel in the Morris 1000 car driven by wicket-keeper Robin Waters. It was a beautiful evening. with a soft, salty breeze blowing from the sea so, when about three hundred yards from our hotel, three of the lads decided that they would sooner walk the last lap back home. 'Come with us, Pat, a walk will do you good.'

But I was feeling much too lazy. 'No thanks, I'd rather sooner ride back with Robin,' I decided. The other three got out, and as Robin started up again I clambered over into the front seat beside him. I had just settled down, when a big car suddenly pulled out into the middle of the road and into our path. We hit it straight on.

There was just sufficient time for me to turn my right shoulder to take the impact, and when my shoulder hit the windscreen I must have broken it, because I found it impossible to throw a ball for nearly two years afterwards. I also hurt my hand, but was not at the time aware of any other damage.

It wasn't a serious accident. Robin seemed quite O.K., except for just a few cuts above his forehead, and as we were being carried into the ambulance I can remember saying to him: 'I've broken my hand. I doubt whether I'll be O.K. to play in the Varsity Match.'

I had no idea then that I had injured my eye as well, because I felt no pain.

When I awoke in hospital in Brighton I was told: 'You must have an operation on your right eye.' I was greatly surprised. Apparently a splinter had passed from the windscreen and entered my eye, and this splinter had to be extracted.

Mr David St. Clair Roberts, the surgeon, was summoned from his home to perform an emergency operation. He did a very good job, but afterwards I learnt that I had lost the lens of the eye, it having dissolved through injury, and that there was also a coat across the iris. The pupil of the eye had been stitched up, leaving me practically without vision. The eye was also out of alignment, and a further operation to bring it into line was not possible at the time.

'You will find it better to play cricket using only one eye, as a contact lens would take too long to master,' I was told by Sir Benjamin Rycroft, the distinguished eye specialist. With a contact lens in my injured eye I found I could get about 90 per cent vision. The only trouble was it made me see two of everything.

It took me some time to realize that I virtually lost the use of one eye, but even then, never for an instant did I consider I might not be able to play cricket again. Possibly I refused to let myself believe it could be the finish. Of course, I realized I must miss Oxford's last three games of the season, a fact which incidentally cost me the chance of surpassing my father's aggregate runs in an Oxford season...

In the meantime, three or four weeks after my operation, I was back in the nets, trying to find out what difference the accident had made to my batting, despite the fact that everyday life had proved a bit tricky at first. As any boxer who has had one eye closed by the blows of an opponent will tell you, it causes loss of perspective of judgment and distances. For example, when trying to light a cigarette I found I was missing the end of it by a quarter of an inch. I was also liable to pour water from a jug straight on to the table, instead of into a tumbler as I intended. But gradually I got the trick of performing such actions, finding it quite possible to adjust. Fortunately, I had the help of both my mother and sister who had come over from India to look after me...

At first I couldn't pick the length of the bowling at all. Then I reached a sort of compromise, but I suppose it took five years before I could claim to be completely on terms with my handicap...

I soon found I could no longer hook, because I couldn't follow the ball round, and I had to curb my natural inclination to drive half-volleys because I was so frequently beaten by the yorker...

Having been granted leave of absence from Oxford University for one year, largely because I was told I wouldn't be able to read for some time, I returned with my mother and sister to India in order to recuperate. Back home, people didn't realize to what extent my eye had been injured and I, determined to play as much cricket as possible, did not of course encourage their curiosity. When asked to captain the President's team against the visiting M.C.C. team under Ted Dexter, at Hyderabad, I jumped at the chance.

The match started on a note of comedy. After completing the toss, Ted Dexter and I were strolling together back to the pavilion when he asked me: 'Well, Tiger, what are you going to do?'

'No, Ted, what are you going to do?' I replied, sure that he had called correctly.

'Look here,' he said. 'You won the toss, didn't you?'

Whereupon, I said quickly: 'Fine. If I won it, we'll bat!'

So we batted, and for my own moment of trial I decided to wear a contact lens in my right eye. To my discomfort I found I was seeing two balls, six to seven inches apart. By picking the inner one I managed to score thirty-five runs before tea. Then I removed the contact lens and, keeping the bad eye closed, completed the top score of seventy before being caught by Ken Barrington off the bowling of Tony Brown.

This was my first important match following the accident, and apparently I had done well enough, since I was selected for the Second Test at Kanpur. I doubt whether I would have been considered by the selectors had they known the extent of damage to my right eye. I was unable to play, but this was due to a strained ankle. I wrenched it while playing football in an attempt to get fit!

So my very first Test appearance for India was in the Third at Delhi on December 13, 1961. Thrilled as I was to be picked, I had many doubts, for I was still unsure whether I could still compete at the top international level. The events were far from conclusive. I remember going in at No. 4 after some magnificent batting by Jaisimha and Manjrekar, both of whom hit hundreds, and being caught by Richardson for 13 while slogging out at David Allen. Then the last two days of the match were washed out by rain before I could bat again, the result being a draw for the Third Test in succession.

I was once again picked for the Test at Calcutta, which we won by 187 runs. My contribution? Scores of 64 and 32, which again got me into the team for the Final Test at Madras. My century in the latter game was one of my most memorable, enough to get me picked for the West Indies tour and give me a regular place in India's team ever since...


In the country of the blind, it had been said, the one-eyed man is king. But in the keen-eyed world of cricket a fellow with just one good eye-and-a-bit has to settle for something less than the perfection he once sought. Lucky me, despite this, to have been able to play the game all over the world in the company of the giants.

Photos and Text Rights:Copyright © M.A.K. Pataudi


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