The word 'masquerade' has suddenly risen to prominence, thanks to an exchange between a high-profile television journalist and a flamboyant writer-politician. The journalist in question raised certain inconvenient questions about the actions of the politician with regard to the death of the latter's wife. The politician, better known for his literary skills, was justifiably angry and countered this by alleging that the person who asked questions was 'an unprincipled showman masquerading as a journalist.' One has not since heard from this journalist in this regard but can be reasonably certain that the last word has not yet been spoken on this episode.
However, this exchange brought to my mind the first time I encountered the word 'masquerade,' which, according to the dictionary, means 'disguise,' with the curious synonym 'frolic.' And, like in many other things in life, my memory with this word concerns cricket and the performance of the Indian side. Since this is an episode that brought pride and happiness to cricket lovers in the country, this is a tale worth being retold.
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The year was 1967 and an Indian team led by Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi was touring England during the first half of the English summer. This series was taking place after a tour by the formidable West Indies side, captained by Gary Sobers, to India, where the hosts had performed creditably. So, expectations amongst the cricket lovers in India were high when the national side reached the shores of England. However, the side was plagued with injury problems and rain too played spoilsport, thus denying them adequate match practice in the run-up to the Test matches, which commenced at Headingley, Leeds, on June 8.
England, under Brian Close, won the toss and batted first. Though India got an early wicket, it soon became evident that the Indian attack would not be able to create much of an impact on the English batsmen. India suffered a setback when Rusi Surti, who had opened the bowling with Subrata Guha, got injured, fielding close to the wicket. Things got worse soon after as Bishen Bedi, who had impressed the English cricket critics with his classic and flawless left arm spin bowling, suffered a sprain on the leg muscle. This left the Indian skipper with the services of just three bowlers - the debutant Guha, the unpredictable Chandrasekhar, and Prasanna. English batsmen, and in particular Geoff Boycott, took advantage of the depleted resources available with the Indian captain and ground the bowling to dust. England piled up 550 runs for the loss of four wickets, with Boycott remaining unbeaten on 246.
While it was understandable that India bled runs while bowling, there were no excuses for the batting collapse that followed. The Indian top order collapsed like a pack of cards in the face of none too hostile bowling by an English attack, that boasted of no big names other than John Snow and Ray Illingworth. To make matters worse, the pitch had rolled out into a batting strip that did not offer any undue advantage to the bowlers. Indians were laid low by the casual approach of their batsmen who perished due to the tendency to play their shots before settling down and gauging the pace and bounce of the wicket. India ended the second day’s play at a pitiable score of 86 runs for the loss of six wickets. The only saving grace was that Pataudi, who looked in excellent form, was still at the crease with 14 runs to his credit.
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The spineless performance by Indian batsmen, following on the heels of poor show by their bowlers, invited criticism from all quarters. But particularly scathing was Fred Trueman, the former Yorkshire and England fast bowler, who had, after retirement from the game, taken up position in the press box and started wielding the pen with the same venom with which he used to hurl the cricket ball. Writing in a popular tabloid, he called the Indian team a 'ragtag bobtail outfit, masquerading itself as a Test side.' Trueman’s comments attracted considerable attention and understandably caused a deep sense of angst and consternation in the Indian camp.
When play resumed on the third day, India looked like a side transformed. Pataudi, in the company of Surti, took India to 164 before he became the last batsman to be dismissed. Following on, Indian batsmen came into their own as Farokh Engineer and Ajit Wadekar lit up the ground with some brilliant stroke play. This was followed by a short innings by Chandu Borde. But the magnum opus was still to follow and it started on the fourth day, when play resumed after a day’s rest.
Pataudi joined Hanumant Singh at the wicket during the first session on the fourth day, following the dismissal of Borde with the Indian total at 228. The pair put on 134 runs for the fifth wicket before Hanumant Singh was dismissed. This was followed in quick succession by the wickets of Saxena and Guha before Pataudi found a reliable partner in Prasanna, who stuck around giving his captain valuable company. Pataudi completed his century and then proceeded to tear the English attack to shreds displaying strokes that were breathtaking for their sheer daring as much for their grace and beauty. He remained unbeaten with 129 when stumps were drawn at the close of play on day four, but more importantly, India had ensured that England would have to bat again.
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Indian innings folded at 510, within an hour after play commenced on the last day, and minutes after Pataudi was bowled by Illingworth for 148. The entire crowd at Headingley rose to a man to applaud him as he trudged back to the pavilion with an amused look on his handsome face. For the record, England won the match by reaching the target of 126 runs, losing four wickets in the process, with two hours of play remaining. India lost the Test match but Pataudi’s performances ensured that they were not disgraced and came out of the contest with their heads held high.
Pataudi's performance lauded
English media went into raptures over the performance of Pataudi. 'His Highness the Nawab of Pataudi and Headingly,' screamed the headlines of one newspaper. More importantly, for the nation, this put an end to the propensity of English critics to ridicule Indian outfit as a lesser entity, not worthy of playing Test cricket. Fred Truman never ever used the words 'ragtag bobtail outfit' to describe an Indian side again and the word masquerade faded from use so far as cricket was concerned.
Public discourse in any civilized society needs to be tempered by the norms of sobriety and decency. Fred Trueman hailed from a background different from that of the other English cricketers of his generation; further, he possessed an acerbic tongue that spewed vitriol and added to his well-cultivated persona of an outspoken rebel. However, when he exceeded the limit of scorn and ridicule, Pataudi silenced him with a befitting reply, given not with the pen or using words, but with the bat.
This canon that one's actions and performances speak louder than words holds true in all walks of life. One hopes that, as in cricket, in public life too, this edict would be honored by all those in the arena.
(The author is a former international umpire and a senior bureaucrat)