Attack was his credo

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Attack was his credo

Razor sharp: Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi was one of the best captains India has ever had. AFPI hate to say this, but it was a blessing in disguise as far as Indian cricket was concerned. It was a terrible thing to have happened to any cricketer and it was even more so because Nari Contractor was our captain. When he got hurt during the tour of the West Indies, Tiger Pataudi took over as the skipper. The circumstances under which he became captain were unfortunate, but I guess that’s how it was meant to be. Tiger had the support of majority of the team, but there were a couple of players who didn’t like him being elevated to captaincy because he was only 21!

At that moment, though, I didn’t bother about all these power equations. Having been picked to play for the country, I was on a different plane altogether. And I had the company of (ML) Jaisimha and Budhi Kunderan to kill my time without worrying about anything.

Whatever Indian cricket is today, it’s because of Tiger. He was the one who laid the foundation for success and the benefits are being reaped today. He revolutionised Indian cricket ever since he assumed captaincy. There were individual talents, and great ones at that, but there was hardly any concept of playing together. He inculcated the feeling that you are playing for the country and not for some state or city in India. The irony of our team at that point was that 60 per cent of the squad was from one city but those players hardly had any understanding among them.

I am not condescending but I think he saw that distinction in players from the south — he sensed the commitment amongst us. Very rightly and deservedly he won the first overseas tour for India (against New Zealand in 1968). I did take some wickets on that tour, but major credit should go to Tiger for the way he inspired the team.

Tiger’s objective of playing cricket was to win. The idea of drawing a match didn’t find much favour with him. He rather preferred losing gracefully while attempting for victory. I am not making a sweeping statement but having played under different captains and having watched various captains over a period of time, I must say he was the best captain I have ever seen or played with. He firmly believed that cricket was a batsman’s game, but he was also of the view that winning or losing a Test match eventually boiled down to how the bowlers performed.

Soon after the Caribbean tour, where he led by default, he realised that the key (to winning or dominating a Test) was not to allow the opposition to build a big total. Any team’s batting in pursuit of large totals looked brittle. The crucial factor in nine wins in the 40 Tests he captained was bowlers’ exceptional performances. There were not many occasions when we allowed the rival sides to post more than 300 on the board. He was quick to grasp why the big teams were winning. With strong fast bowlers, they used to skittle the opposition for 180 or 200 odd runs and the batting looked so strong because it wasn’t difficult for them to chase down small totals on most occasions.

He applied the same logic in India. He realised two things – first was that by minimising the target you had better chances of winning and secondly, in a Test match, you needed to attack for 80 overs. With not many quality fast bowlers around, Tiger realised that he had to depend on spinners to get the job done. Luckily for him he had a stock of quality spinners who could attack 75-80 overs once the ball lost its shine. He knew that if he had to make a match of it, he needed his bowlers to do well. And he also knew that all our spinners could attack. He was wise enough to make the most of the spin resources and convert it into a very potent attack. Devising such strategies was unique to him. That’s why I rate him the best ever. I haven’t seen any other Indian captain think on those lines. He was a lateral thinker.

It’s sad that the Indian cricket board didn’t make much use of his cricketing expertise. He had a deep knowledge of the game and was a master strategist. He retired in 1975 and we (spinners) retired one after another in the next four-five years. The board should have used his services to scout the talent to retain the same strength. The replacements should come in methodically. You can’t wait until a player retires to start looking for his substitute. The process has to begin well in advance. Given his eye for talent, Tiger would have helped India maintain its stronghold.

Unfortunately, we began to concentrate on fast bowling in a bid to keep pace with other teams. And what’s been the result? How many fast bowlers have we produced so far? Kapil (Dev) was no doubt a great all-rounder, but apart from Javagal Srinath we haven’t had a genuine quick. Zaheer (Khan) is crafty, but not quick though. I am not against developing fast bowlers, but in the bargain we have sacrificed what’s core to Indian cricket.

Like other spinners of my generation, I was fortunate to have played under him. Spinners in cricket are a unique breed in the sense that they need to be handled with extra care and attention and no one handled them as well as Tiger did. Sadly they don’t produce such players any more.

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