It’s more or less universally acknowledged that Indians, as a nation, are completely fanatical about cricket. We live, eat, breathe, sleep, worship cricket (well, most of us do—some odd ones prefer soccer or tennis or hockey, but by and large, the game of `flannelled fools’ prevails). We go berserk every time the Indian team plays an international match. And, like every other crowd of fans, we adore our heroes—past and present.
And among India’s most famous heroes of the past have been the Nawabs of Pataudi, father and son. Iftikhar Ali Khan Pataudi and Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi were both cricket greats in their days. Captains of the Indian cricket team, dashing young men whom all the boys wanted to emulate and all the girls wanted to woo.
It all began with Iftikhar, the young Nawab of Pataudi, who was educated at Lahore and then at Oxford (he was at Balliol). He made it to the Oxford Hockey Eleven, and more importantly for both English and Indian cricket, to the Oxford Cricket Eleven. He was an excellent batsman, and eventually became one of the star batsmen of the English cricket team—so much so that he played in some of the most controversial matches that England ever played in the early decades of the 20th century. (For those who know their cricket, I’m referring to the infamous Bodyline series between England and Australia, in 1932-33, when under the captaincy of Douglas Jardine, bowlers like Harold Larwood set about deliberately injuring Aussie batsmen. Don Bradman may have been the star batsman for the Australian team, but for England, one of the best men with the willow was undeniably Pataudi).
Iftikhar’s son Mansur followed in his father’s footsteps. He still holds the record of being the youngest ever to captain the Indian team—he became skipper when he was only 21. A fine batsman and an excellent fielder, `Tiger’ Pataudi lost one eye in an accident on the field, but it didn’t stop him from carving out an enviable career for himself.
With such an illustrious pair of ex-owners (or partly ex. Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi still is
owner; the palace is on lease from him), it’s not surprising that the Pataudi Palace is full of delightful memorabilia. There are photographs, trophies and books scattered all across the mansion, and the largest concentration of them is in the billiards room and the corridor that joins it to the banquet hall. These two areas are filled with rare old black and white photographs, of the type you wouldn’t even find in fairly good cricket archives. There are photos of both Pataudis in their respective Oxford Eleven teams; of the England team that toured Australia in 1932; of Iftikhar with other cricket greats such as Benaud and Worrell; and— this was the one I liked the best—the Indian cricket team that toured England in 1946. This last one is a classic team portrait: intense young men, all dressed in spotless whites, looking earnestly into the camera. There are some of India’s all-time stars here, such as Lala Amarnath, Vijay Hazare, Vijay Merchant, and Pataudi himself. It’s more than a little bit of history, since part of the team—including Gul Mohammad and Abdul Hafiz Kardar—moved to Pakistan after the partition of India in 1947. When the Pakistani cricket team toured India a few years later, it was like a family reunion.
There are other equally evocative photos in the billiards room. On the wall next to the door is a shot of Mansur and Mike Smith looking up in the air as a whirling coin—tossed up by Pataudi before the start of the match—descends. On the wall adjacent, there’s a panoramic view of the Sydney Cricket Ground, on December 3, 1932, the first day of the first test match of the `Bodyline’ series. Just below it is a similar, equally awesome photo of the Melbourne Cricket Ground on January 2, 1933—the first day of the second test. The stands are a sea of stolid `gentlemanly’ hats, coats, and jackets—it’s so obviously an old picture.
There are photos of Mansur as part of a school cricket team, and of Iftikhar, as a member of the Viceroy’s Eleven. There’s also a large shield-like trophy gifted by the Municipal Corporation of Bhopal to Mansur, who captained a team that defeated Australia at Bombay. And, last of all, there is—at the far end of the gardens—the white marble tomb of Iftikhar himself.
All in all, there’s a lot for a cricket-crazy loon like me to go starry-eyed about. Also, actually, plenty for anybody with a love of history and of old photographs.