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Captain Fantastic

In only his second year at Oxford,Pataudi junior became the first Indian to be named captain of either of the universities.

Since its inception in 1827 as the world’s first-ever official first-class match,the battle of Oxbridge has held a high place in the English cricket calendar and been a affair for the two educational behemoths.

Even then,the arrival of MAK Pataudi at Oxford was keenly awaited before the 1960 season,given that the university had won just twice in the previous decade against arch-rivals Cambridge. As ever,his reputation had preceded him — a young,uber-talented Indian royal,the Nawab of Pataudi junior— and his prospective Oxford teammates,which included Indian opener Abbas Ali Baig,were more than anxious. “We had already heard a lot about this prodigy with illustrious roots. To be honest,we were all a tad apprehensive about his cricketing credentials,despite him having scored tons of runs at college level,and were desperate to see him bat,” recalls Baig,who was then into his second year at Oxford.

Those credentials had been carved thanks to Pataudi’s exploits with the bat for Winchester College in the preceding four years,ending with his leading the side in his last year there and managing to overhaul former England captain Douglas Jardine’s record for most runs in one season for Winchester. They were enhanced when he scored a majestic century in his maiden University Match,though Cambridge escaped with a draw.

In only his second year at Oxford,Pataudi junior became the first Indian to be named captain of either of the universities. But tragedy struck before he could lead Oxford in that season’s University Match.

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“It was after one of our matches and we were driving back. He got into the car driven by our wicketkeeper,a chap called Waters,and I was in the one behind. It wasn’t quite a race,but on our way back,we started fooling around about which car was faster. Suddenly Waters turned right at a junction and crashed head-on with a car,” Baig says. “The enormity of the accident didn’t become clear till the next day,when Pataudi started complaining of trouble with his vision,” adds Baig,“And before we knew it he had to unfortunately lose an eye.”

The Tiger tales

We wore eye patches

He had a good sense of humour and it was evident even in his early days as India captain. I recall one incident,after a practice session Tiger made us all wear eye patches and undergo a fielding drill. Most of us,agile fielders,couldn’t catch cleanly. It was a fun exercise and Tiger was having the heartiest laugh. It was like him saying ‘you guys now know how good a cricketer I could have been’. —Farokh Engineer

Great sense of humour

“On that 1968 tour to Australia there was a late night party and he wanted to play a practical joke (on the Aussie media). He told me to come up to him during the party and ask when was he going back to India for his wife’s birthday and I did so. Next day there was a heading in the newspaper (of my returning back). He was that kind of a man” —Chandu Borde

View from the square

I was lucky to watch Pataudi’s 75 on a lively MCG wicket from square leg,where I stood as his runner . The ball was swinging,and the Indian batsmen ran for cover against Graham McKenzie and Co. He started lifting it over the inner circle. He put doubts in the bowlers’ minds. I still remember how he belted McEnzie on that wet wicket with the injured hamstring. — Ajit wadekar