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Death anniversary of Tiger Pataudi: When the Nawab wrote of... the accident

On the occasion of fourth death anniversary of cricket legend Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, here's a chapter from his autobiography, Tiger's Tale, in which he recalls the day when he lost his right eye in a car mishap

On July 1, 1961, after a hard day in the field against Sussex at Hove, five members of the Oxford University team, including myself, went out into Brighton for some Chinese food. Having dined, I felt pleasantly relaxed as we travelled back to the hotel in the Morris 100 car given by wicket-keeper Robin Waters. It was a beautiful evening, with a soft, salty breeze blowing from the sea so the lads decided that they would sooner walk the last lap back home. 'Come with us, Pat, a walk will do you good.'

But I was feeling much too lazy. 'No thanks, I'd sooner ride back with Robin,' I decided. The other three got out, and as Robin started up again I clambered over into the front seat beside him. I had just settled down, when a big car pulled out into the middle of the road and into our path. We hit it straight on. 

Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, former captain of the Indian  cricket team.
Nawabi elegance: Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, former captain of the Indian 
cricket team. PIC/GETTY IMAGES  

There was just sufficient time for me to turn my right shoulder to take the impact and when my shoulder hit the windscreen I must have broken it, because I found it impossible to throw a ball for nearly two years afterwards. I also hurt my hand, but was not at the time aware of any other damage.

It wasn't a serious accident. Robin seemed quite O.K., except for a few cuts above the forehead, and as we were being carried into the ambulance I can remember saying to him: 'I've broken my hand. I doubt whether I'll be O.K. to play in the Varsity Match'. I had no idea then that I had injured my eye as well, because I felt no pain.

When I awoke in hospital in Brighton I was told: 'You must have an operation on your right eye.' I was greatly surprised. Apparently a splinter had passed from the windscreen and entered my eye, and this splinter had to be extracted. 

Pataudi during the Maharaja Jiwaji Rao Scindia Gold Cup  at Jaipur Polo Ground in New Delhi
What royalty! Pataudi during the Maharaja Jiwaji Rao Scindia Gold Cup at Jaipur Polo Ground in New Delhi in 2010

Mr. David St. Clair Roberts, the surgeon, was summoned from his home to perform an emergency operation. He did a very good job, but afterwards I learnt that I had lost the lens of the eye, it having dissolved through injury, and that there was also a coat across the iris. The pupil of the eye had been stitched up, leaving me practically without vision. The eye was also out of alignment, and a further operation to bring it into line was not possible at that time. 

'You will find it better to play cricket using one eye, as a contact lens would take too long to master,' I was told by Sir Benjamin Rycroft, the distinguished eye specialist. With a contact lens in my injured eye I found I could get about 90 per cent vision. The only trouble was it made me see two of everything. 


Rare appearance: Pataudi with wife Sharmila Tagore and cricketer-turned-commentator Geoffrey Boycott at Mohali in 2007 

It took me a long time to realize I had virtually lost the use of one eye, but even then, never for an instant did I consider I might not be able to play cricket again. Possibly, I refused to let myself believe it could be the finish. Of course, I realized I must miss Oxford's last three games of the season, a fact which incidentally cost me the chance of surpassing my father's aggregate runs in an Oxford season. Colin Drybrough took over the captaincy in my absence; and since Robin Waters unfortunately failed to regain his sharp touch behind the stumps, C. A. Fry, grandson of the great C.B. kept wicket in the University match. With play restricted by thunderstorms on the first day, the match tailed off into a disappointing draw.

In the meantime, three of four weeks after my operation, I was back in the nets, trying to find out what difference the accident had made to my batting, despite the fact that everyday life had proved a bit tricky at first. As any boxer who has had one eye closed by the blows of an opponent will tell you, it causes loss of perspective of judgement and distances. For example, when trying to light a cigarette I found I was missing the end of it by a quarter of an inch. I was also liable to pour water from a jug straight on to the table, instead of into a tumbler as I intended. But gradually I got the trick of performing such actions, finding it quite possible to adjust. Fortunately I had the help of both my mother and sister who had come over from India to look after me.

But my batting needed sorting out. For long hours George Cod, the Sussex coach, bowled to me in the net while I worked out what I could still do and what I could not. At first I couldn't pick the length of the bowling at all. Then I reached a sort of compromise, but I suppose it took five years before I could claim to be completely on terms with my handicap. 


An innings well played: Rahul Dravid of India holds the Pataudi trophy as Indian players celebrate their series win against England in 2007. PIC/GETTY IMAGES  

It has been said that I adopted a more open-chested stance. I don't think, in fact, that this is so. I always did favour a position more square on that most text books recommend. I soon found that I could no longer hook, because I couldn't follow the ball round, and I had to curb my natural inclination to drive half-volleys because I was so frequently beaten by the yorker.

On the whole I favoured the quicker stuff, slow spin was so difficult to follow in flight but gradually I learnt to judge pace by the amount of flight and the effort that the bowler was putting into it. 

As far as everyday life was concerned it did not take me long to get adjusted. Mind you, I still find it difficult to drive at night because the headlights bother me. 

For this reason I have stopped driving altogether in England. In India, the worst thing is overtaking when another car is approaching from the other side of the road -- I find it difficult to judge precisely how far away the other car is. 

Mostly I don't bother to try to distinguish colours with my injured eye, but if I close the good one, colours seen from a distance of a few inches are fine. 

Having been granted leave of absence from Oxford University for one year, largely because I was told I wouldn't be able to read for some time, I retuned with my mother and sister to India in order to recuperate. 

Back home people didn't realize to what extent my eye had been injured and I, determined to play as much cricket as possible, did not of course encourage their curiosity. 

When asked to captain the President's team against the visiting M. C. C. team under Ted Dexter, at Hyderabad, I jumped at the chance.. 

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