From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.34 :: NO.41 :: Oct. 13, 2011

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COLUMN / LONDON CALLING

We will miss his spirit

Tiger Pataudi was one of India's better captains at a time when the Test team was regarded without much respect. He understood the game at every level. Ted Corbett pays his tributes.

THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

M.A.K. Pataudi was an aristocrat with time on his hands, power over everything he surveyed and the expectation that he could act as he wanted.

We have lost two cricketers — really warriors is the only word that fits these two stars — and, even in this time of glory, high pay and blaring trumpets their loss will be felt by everyone.

The worst departure was that of Tiger Pataudi, who died too young at 70 after a life in which he brought the game nothing but good. He played most of his career with almost no sight at all in his right eye and you have to be a knight in shining armour to carry on batting if you have only 50 per cent vision.

Dominic Cork, swing bowler, hard-hitting batsman and aggressor wherever and whenever he played, announced his retirement. I have no doubt there is still cricket in the man, even at 40, but like every sporting hero, he wanted to go at the top.

Pataudi was one of India's better captains at a time when the Test team was regarded without much respect. He understood the game at every level and he might have been an even greater captain of Sussex if six days a week did not strike him as something close to slavery.

Why should he have seen cricket in any other way? He came from a great Indian family, with money in every pocket, a magnificent house and the sort of life ordinary folk like you and I can hardly dream about. He was an aristocrat with time on his hands, power over everything he surveyed and the expectation that he could act as he wanted.

Luckily for cricket he chose to put some of his money, his skills as an administrator and his enthusiasm into this game right to the end. Late in a busy life he got involved with the IPL which shows that he was still young in spirit. T20 cricket is not meant for everyone and in my country those who support county cricket, for instance, want little to do with the hurly burly of the shortest form of the game.

They prefer 100 overs a day, clapping maiden overs and the long hard slot of completing a cryptic crossword puzzle, a leisurely lunch after a couple of hours of cricket, a cup of tea and a bun later in the day and a retreat just before the close of play.

“Let's go now, dear,” they say to their wives as the time creeps round to six o'clock. “Then we can beat the traffic.” Off they go, just as their parents did before them, traditional cricket lovers who regard 50-over cricket as the work of the devil, love to listen to the (often silly) jokes on the BBC's Test Match Special and would no more dip their toes in the waters of T20 than try to swim the Atlantic.

The Nawab of Pataudi never cared about the traffic. He was still mixing it with the crowds, despite an unpleasant illness, right to the end and so long as he was involved in cricket nothing else mattered. He loved the game, he played it as heartily as Henry XIII jousted in the lists, and he cared nothing for convention.

Bless him, we will miss his spirit.

Cork was still in his teens when I first saw him, playing for Derbyshire as if he would run through a wall for his mates, hitting, bowling flat out, fielding like a demon. Later he turned to captaincy and led shrewdly but with an often harsh word in the ear of every opponent. Cork wanted to be a winner but most of all he wanted to play.

He had the misfortune to reach his peak at the time England cricket was at a low level. I will never forget him after his first Test at Lord's against West Indies. Not so much on the ground even though he was the main instrument in England's win but afterwards in the press conference where he described, with relish, how his mother had been baby-sitting his young son and tossing him in the air with joy each time his father took a wicket.

One of those wickets was Brian Lara, caught magnificently by Alec Stewart who was made captain, opening bat and wicket-keeper by the chairman of selectors Ray Illingworth — a One-Man Committee as his account of those years describes him, better known as The Supremo — and a great moment for both of them.

It was engineered by Cork with a beautiful late outswinger and celebrated by his mum and his little boy, one out of the joy at seeing her lad succeed and one, not doubt, feeling distinctly queasy from all the launching into the air.

Sometime later he was injured and out of the quarterfinal of the World Cup against Sri Lanka in Faisalabad. The manager of the team said we could not speak to Cork. “He is not in a fit state of mind,” he said.

I caught Cork's eye. “Do you want to say how you feel?” I asked. “Of course I do,” he said. “Just come here and listen.”

So we did and learned not just that he was bitterly disappointed to miss the match but that he felt he might have played. The perceptive among us learnt that day that Cork was a red-blooded sportsman prepared to sweat blood and suffer any amount of pain to be a winner.

We all miss warriors — Freddie Andrew Flintoff, Richard the Lionheart, Ian Botham, — but we don't realise how much until they are gone.



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