The Nawab of Pataudi

An exceptional talent

Following on from Ranji and Duleep, Mansur Ali Khan was the third member of Indian royalty to captain Sussex. He was born in Bhopal in 1941 and became  the  Nawab of Pataudi in 1952 following the death of his father, also a noted cricketer. By  then, the title was largely honorary although with some privileges which had been  retained under a deal struck with the British upon the creation of the independent Indian state. He was generally called by the nickname Tiger Pataudi.


Getting the better of Truman

Pataudi was sent to school at Winchester where he was soon seen as an exceptional talent. Former Sussex captain, Hubert Doggart was a sports master at  the school and former leading Sussex batsman George Cox was  a cricket coach.

It’s therefore not surprising that his talent was recognised by Sussex for whom he made his debut in1957 at the age of 16, when he still had two full school years  remaining. He first showed his precocious talent in the County Championship match against Yorkshire in the 1959 season when he faced their seasoned Test bowlers, Fred Trueman and Ray Illingworth. In an exciting climax, Sussex chased down 218 with the help of Pataudi, who made his side’s highest score, 55.

A tragic accident

Pataudi entered Oxford University and in 1960 his talent was immediately obvious when he scored three centuries. He truly seemed destined for greatness. In the summer of 1961 he had scored 1,216 runs at an average of 55.27 and was on track to break the university record run total for a season, 1307, which had been made by his own father. Included in these figurers were twin centuries for Oxford University against Yorkshire in the Parks in 1961 against the bowling of Truemand and Illingworth. But then on July 1st tragedy struck. Oxford were playing Sussex at Hove and after a day’s play, he and some others decided to go out for a meal. He had a lift in one of his team mates’ cars and as they were travelling down Grand Parade, near the Queen Victoria statue, another car came out of a side road and hit them. Tiger was injured from flying glass and as a result he lost virtually all  the  sight in his right eye. It was thought that his career would be over, however contrary to predictions and astounding the world of cricket, he was back in flannels within six months. He played in the following Indian season and  was selected for the  Test series against England. In his third match for India, he scored his first Test century – a remarkable comeback from that accident in Hove.   

Hall and Griffith

The following year, he toured West Indies with India and despite his sight limitations, acquitted himself well against Hall and Griffith undoubtedly the fastest pair of bowlers at that time. In the middle of the tour, following a serious injury to the Indian captain Nari Contractor, Tiger took over the captain’s role. At an age of 21 years and 77 days he held the record for the youngest Test captain until he was surpassed by Zimbabwe’s Tatenda Taibu, and later by Afghanistan’s Rashid Khan, also of course a Sussex player.

Tiger Pataudi went on to play 88 times for Sussex up to 1970. He had just two full seasons with the county, the second one in 1966  as captain whilst in India he played for Delhi and Hyderabad. In all first class cricket, Tiger Pataudi scored  15,425 runs at an average of 33.67. For India he scored 2,793 runs in 46 matches at an average of 34.91 leading them in 40 of these. At a time when the Indian team  was rather weak, he was generally their leading batsman despite the challenges of captaincy.  At Delhi in 1964, he scored India’s first double-century against England and in 1967 he hit a glorious 148 in the Headingly Test. Although India were generally the underdogs in these matches, he taught his team that they could win and  indeed he led them to their first overseas series success in  beating New Zealand 3-1 in 1968.

Pataudi’s swagger, his batting and fielding, and sheer presence on the field made him stand out. His accomplishments, despite his handicap inspired the next generation of Indian children to such an extent that some were  known to try and copy him by batting with one eye closed. He was seen as laying the foundation for the great  Indian sides that were to follow. At his peak he was also called the “best fielder in the world” by commentator John Arlott  and by  his fellow Sussex player Ted Dexter.  Another one  of India’s great test cricketers, Vijay Merchant, also recognised his prowess in this respect and wrote “to his batting average should always be added 25 runs per innings, to get a correct estimate of his contribution to the side

For Sussex, his first-class figures of 3054 runs at an average of 22.99 were rather disappointing. Temperamentally, it has often been felt that he wasn’t really suited to the rigours of what was at that time  six days a week cricket. Jim Parks once said  referring to his flamboyant lifestyle . “On the first day of a county match you might get a call saying he was still in Paris”. It was perhaps not surprising that he only had the one season as county captain. But regarding his record at Sussex and even elsewhere  where he was comparatively  more successful, there will  always be a feeling of  what might have been. From  time to time he played an innings of immense dash and quality, but he was perhaps understandably inconsistent, and possibly some of the English pitches were particularly challenging for one with his handicap. Had he decided to walk to the restaurant on that fateful night in Hove, as some of his other teammates did, then this gifted Indian prince may have made an even bigger contribution to Indian and Sussex cricket.

After his retirement in 1975, he served as a match referee between 1993 and 1996, officiating in two Tests and ten ODIs. He also edited a cricket newspaper, did some modelling, and was later a member of the initial IPL council.  Tiger died in 2011 from a lung infection. He was mourned by many including latter day Indian greats such as Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar, who praised him for his outstanding contribution to Indian cricket. Test series between England and India in England are played for the Pataudi Trophy, an appropriate honour to recognise the Nawab of Pataudi, father and son, two exceptional Indian cricketers. If his is impact  on  Sussex was somewhat less than it might have been, it should  surely is a source of pride that  the county is associated with such a special character as Tiger Pataudi. 


By Peter McQuade, May 2023