Long John Silver : The Legend That Was Pataudi
Down Memory Lane
“Long John Silver’’ they called him. There he was with one good eye and one good leg not just defying everything that the fastest Australian bowlers were hurling at him but also lambasting and hammering away at them.
''If this is how he bats with one eye and one leg how would he bat with two good eyes and two legs’’ murmured many former cricketers gaping in amazement. Delving deep into memory they tried to recall whether they had seen such batting before. But finally even they had to shake their heads and agree that they had not witnessed such batting under similar (handicapped) circumstances.
Who else but the Nawab of Pataudi (later MAK Pataudi) would have been the subject of such praise? Throughout the sixties he was the endearingly heroic figure of Indian cricket – verily Horatio on the tottering bridge. Time and again he had to play the rescue act amidst the ruins around him. As far as courage in adversity is concerned he remains unique for in the 60s Indian batting was at its most brittle. There was hardly any consistency and the bright 30s and 40s provided entertainment but little substance. It was left to Pataudi to provide the substance even if he repeatedly batted under the severest pressure.
During this time Pataudi was not just the best batsman in the side he was also one of the leading cricketing personalities in the game. His pedigree and background, his princely upbringing, his attacking batting style, the car accident in 1961 that left him without vision in his right eye and how he had battled the handicap to become not only a leading batsman but also captain of India at 21 attracted considerable attention. But even by his high standards what he achieved at Melbourne during the second Test on the 1967-68 tour of Australia was straight out of fiction.
Pataudi was captain of the second Indian team to tour Australia and the first for 20 years. As ill-luck would have it he suffered a severe pulled hamstring in the opening game against Western Australia and was ruled out for about five weeks. The Indians had a pretty dismal record in the first class games and then proceeded to lose the first Test at Adelaide by 146 runs, Chandu Borde taking over the captaincy in Pataudi’s absence.
Pataudi was not fully fit for the second Test at Melbourne which commenced a couple of days after the Adelaide game concluded. The doctors reckoned that the hamstring injury would be an impediment to his running but Pataudi decided to play because the beleaguered team could certainly do with his services even if he was not 100 percent fit. He won the toss, opted to bat on a green top and saw Aussie pace spearhead Graham McKenzie decimate the batting. The score was 25 for four when Pataudi virtually limped to the middle. Rusi Surti had retired hurt at the same total and to make matters worse Borde was out within minutes of Pataudi’s arrival at the crease.
Pataudi had seen crises galore and had played the rescue act over and over again but this time it was different as he himself was batting under a serious handicap. His movements at the crease were restricted and his running between wickets was reduced to a gentle jog with three runs being reduced to two and two runs being cut to a single. Still he stuck it out there weathering the McKenzie gale and then dealing with a handy attack that included Alan Connolly, Dave Renneberg, Bob Simpson, Ian Chappell and John Gleeson. Surti who returned when the total was 72 for seven helped Pataudi in adding 74 runs for the eighth wicket. At close of play India were 156 for eight with Pataudi batting on a courageous 70.
Pataudi was out for 75 the following morning as the Indians folded up for 173 with McKenzie finishing with seven for 66. He faced 194 balls and hit eight of them to the ropes. With his movements restricted Pataudi could not field in the covers where he had made a name for himself as the outstanding Indian fielder of his period. He confined himself to directing operations from the unfamiliar position of slip even as the Australian batsmen enjoyed themselves hugely by running up a total of 529, Erapalli Prasanna taking six for 141.
In arrears by 356 runs India were facing a second successive defeat but this time the batting redeemed itself. Farokh Engineer scored a bright 43, Surti continued his good form with 42 while Ajit Wadekar with his silken touch got 99. But again the finest innings was played by Pataudi. Just carrying on from where he left off in the first innings Pataudi just sailed into the Aussie attack leading the critics – among them former Aussie greats like Jack Fingleton and Bill O’Reilly - to run out of superlatives.
This time he came in at 217 for five on the fourth morning and despite the regular fall of wickets at the other end he counter attacked with strokes that took one’s breath away. Fingleton observed ''Pataudi played an innings of character, intelligence and respectability. He showed that he had a cool head despite the crisis. He played a glorious knock taking the Australian bowling by the scruff.’’ Noted cricket writer KN Prabhu said: ''It was an innings played with one leg and eye. Despite his handicap he played in stirring fashion.’’
Finally finding support from Ramakant Desai with whom he added 54 runs for the ninth wicket Pataudi surged to 85 before in playing an attacking stroke of Simpson he gave a catch to Ian Redpath. Attack was the hallmark of Pataudi’s batting for despite the adverse situation his team was in his outlook was never defensive. Prepared to carry the battle into the enemy camp Pataudi played the knock of a lifetime
Pataudi was ninth out at 346 after batting a shade over 2-1/2 hours, facing 157 balls and hitting 12 fours. The innings ended six runs later for India to go down by an innings and four runs. But the talking point for days after the Test ended was all about Pataudi’s gloriously heroic batting. His double of 75 and 85 caught the imagination of the cricket follower like few knocks did given the circumstances they were compiled.
In a losing cause his batting was a many-splendoured thing. It clearly showed his fighting qualities, a disinclination to buckle under pressure and a never-say-die attitude. He carried on gamely making light of a handicap which would have prevented a cricketer with lesser guts and courage from even donning the gloves and pads.
Little wonder then that Pataudi’s courage in adversity at Melbourne in 1967-68 is part of cricketing folklore.