First published in the Times of India on 24 September 2011
Hyderabad’s cricketers and cricket lovers had the redoubtable Ram Prakash Mehra and his fiefdom, the Delhi and Districts Cricket Association, to thank for MAK Pataudi’s transfer from Delhi to Hyderabad in the Ranji Trophy.
He was already India captain when he fell out with the DDCA administration and his close friendship with ML Jaisimha, the Hyderabad skipper, brought him south, with his sister’s address in Begumpet giving him the necessary residential qualification.
Thus began Tiger’s over-a-decade long love-hate affair with Hyderabad cricket, with most of his new teammates and the local crowds welcoming him with open arms and a lunatic fringe of sons-of-the soil partisans opposing the transplant.
What Tiger’s arrival in the twin cities did to Hyderabad cricket was to double the glamour quotient of the team, which already had Jaisimha—with his matinee idol looks and inimitable swagger--and Abbas Ali Baig with his boyish charm that once induced a pretty young thing to run on to the middle at the Brabourne Stadium, Bombay and kiss him.
There were at times as many as six Test cricketers and almost the entire South Zone eleven in the squad—Tiger, Jai, Abbas, Abid Ali, Jayantilal, Krishnamurti, Govindraj, Mumtaz Hussain, Abdul Hai, Narasimha Rao, Noshir Mehta and so on—who formed as exciting a line-up as anywhere.
The seniors were naturally older and altogether more experienced and polished than the rest of the team, but for all the awe that their stature demanded, we were a remarkably relaxed lot in the dressing room if generally on our best behaviour.
Tiger, who never led Hyderabad, was ever mindful of who the boss was, not once hinting by action or word at his own exalted position in the cricket world.
In fact, some of us were once witness to what came close to a ticking off by the captain, when he pulled up Tiger for going off the field without sufficient cause, suggesting that he had taken a cigarette rather than a toilet break during a painfully long session.
On a personal level, I was his teammate for exactly one season during 1975-76, though we remained in touch afterwards.
My first season for Hyderabad was his last. He had just retired from Test cricket after a thrilling series as captain against Clive Lloyd’s West Indies, though a poor one as batsman.
The rapport between us was instant, and his approval of my cricket did wonders for my morale.
Imagine coming into a team with at least four stars you ahd watched and admired from a distance—in my case at the ripe old age of 28, when I had given up all hope of playing first class cricket!
It was nothing short of a dream, to drink in the special atmosphere of the Hyderabad dressing room, to enjoy the long train journeys to Ranji Trophy matches, the interesting, sometimes electrifying conversations about cricket and cricketers that taught you more about the game than any coaching manual, the card games from bridge and rummy to the most absurd games of pure chance that Tiger invented, the conviviality inspired by Mr. McDowell, in short, the sheer camaraderie of it all, with every member of the team included in all the fun.
Several mental images of that debut season have stayed with me. The first memory is of Jaisimha, Tiger and Abid joining me and my roommate Prahlad in the balcony outside our hotel room just as we were about to turn in, the night before my debut at Trivandrum.
“Nonsense,” Tiger’s and Jai’s voices boomed as I said good night. “Have a drink with us.”
I didn’t realise it then, but it was their way of ensuring that in trying to sleep early, the nervous debutant did not toss and turn all night in anticipation of the morrow.
Next morning, when I took my first wicket, it was Tiger who ran up to me and said, “Wish you many more wickets, but for God’s sake, stop bowling rubbish.” It was just the wake-up call I needed to overcome my nerves and start bowling my normal stuff.
Tiger’s sense of humour and his pranks were well known. During that match at Trivandrum, he quickly sized up as a cricket ignoramus a magazine journalist who sought an interview with him.
What followed was so hilarious it was extremely difficult to keep a straight face.
Poor Mr Pillai! What horror he must have undergone when he filed the story of
Pataudi’s great successes and failures as Test batsman and captain—such as a double century against Belgium, an innings victory over Argentina and defeat at the hands of Netherlands!
V Ramnarayan, former Hyderabad and South Zone off-spinner