Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi was the most admired India cricket captain. He led the country in 40 of his 46 Tests he played and most players who played with him insist that he was easily the greatest captain ever. He was a prince among cricketers.
Popularly known as Tiger, Pataudi was the first captain to make players of his generation feel they were no inferior to anyone in the world cricket. His teammates, who were divided and identified on regional lines, were made to realise that they were representing their country and not their linguistic states. He made them speak only in Hindustani, if not English. He drilled into their minds that they could beat any team if they played for each other and that bonding did wonders for Indian cricket. Under his captaincy the first Test victory overseas was achieved in New Zealand in 1967-68.
Captaincy was thrust on him at a tender age of 21 in difficult circumstances when captain Nari Contractor was felled by lethal bouncer on the 1961-62 tour of West Indies. He himself was recovering and getting adjusted to a vision impairment in his right eye after a car accident in England.
He was the first captain to seriously believe that India could take the world on with its mesmerising spinners when you don't have real fast bowlers. For the next decade or so, Indian went into Tests with three spinners and it worked wonderfully well. Bishan Bedi and Erapalli Prasanna are never tired of narrating how well they felt bowling under his captaincy.
A dashing batsman, he made a virtue of hitting even express fast bowlers over the infield. He was a brilliant fielder to boot. He gave a terrific chase if he thought he could retrieve the ball and never bothered to waste energy by escorting a ball to the boundary. All this with one perfect eye and a partial vision in the other. If only he had complete sight he could have been a greater cricketer.
He made his Test debut in 1961 soon after his car mishap and that did not prevent him from scoring a century in his first Test against Australia to emulate his father Nawab Iftikhar Ali Khan Pataudi playing for England. The senior Pataudi captained India on their tour of England in 1946, barely 16 years before his son got into the hot seat.
He made his Ranji Trophy debut for Delhi, but soon realised he had got into a snake pit and soon shifted to Hyderabad, where he was more at home playing in the company of and under the captaincy of M.L. Jaismiha, one of the greatest strategists never to have lead India, fellow-Oxonian Abbas Ali Baig and Syed Abis Ali, who were all his India teammates. He also captained Oxford and English county Sussex.
After his playing days were over, he briefly dabbled in politics, contesting 1971 election to the Lok Sabha, more to protest against the abolition of privy purses. He was also Indian team's cricket manager in 1974-75 and acted as an International Cricket Council (ICC) match referee. He was also on the general council of the Indian Premier League (IPL), but he clearly did not relish these jobs.
He could have easily been a great commentator with his insight, but could not carry on for long. He always spoke his mind out and never minced words when it came to the interest of Indian cricket. He did enough to make his presence felt both on and off the cricket field.