Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi was undoubtedly the most endearingly heroic character of Indian cricket in the sixties.
An adventurous batsman, brilliant fieldsman and inspirational captain, Pataudi cut a dashing figure on the field. He shone like a beacon in an Indian line-up that collapsed time and again.
Maybe his royal lineage had something to do with it or maybe it was the influence of his father, Iftikhar Ali Khan Pataudi, who captained the country in 1946. But then again, Mansur Ali Khan was too young when his father played the sport and was barely 11 when he lost him forever.
Tiger, as Pataudi Jr is famously known, made his international debut in December 1961 against England at New Delhi just a few months after he lost vision in his right eye in a horrific car accident.
It was a time when India was still getting used to its newly gained independence. And Cricket - well, it was but another game.
There were certainly many talented players, but the factions within left the team in utter disarray. After 12 captains in a decade and half, there was a crying need for a stable, unbiased, charismatic captain. Enter Tiger.
With a breath-taking century (103, 2x6, 14x4) at Chennai in the fifth Test of the India-England series against Ted Dexter's formidable English side, he let everyone who cared to know that he was here to dominate Indian cricket. He was automatically picked for the India's next assignment - a series against the West Indies in the Caribbean Islands.
Despite there being only three seniors Vijay Manjrekar, Polly Umrigar and skipper Nari Contractor in the squad, Pataudi, though, had to sit out the first two Tests in which India were handed severe drubbings.
But in a tour match between India and Barbados, Contractor was knocked down by a nasty Charlie Griffith bouncer. Chaos reigned. With the seniors unwilling to take on the responsibility, a 21-year-old Tiger, just three Tests old, suddenly found himself installed as the team's skipper. Though few knew it then, an era in Indian cricket had begun - the Pataudi era.
For many years, Pataudi was not only the best batsman in the country, he was also one of the leading players in the world. Indeed to see him bat was a revelation. He was such a gifted player that he could pull off most ambitious of shots with elan.
Pataudi's batting was based on scientific principles like all good batting is. He was technically authentic and had a style of his own, one that was ahead of its time.
Very few Indian batsmen used to play the pull shot before Pataudi introduced it in Indian cricket.
There was no element of risk what-so-ever in the manner he essayed it. His left leg was quickly forward and then those steely wrists and strong shoulders combined to give the ball an all-powerful heave that saw it land in the stands at deep mid-wicket.
Another shot he perfected was the lofted shot over long on.
If all this gives an impression that Pataudi was only a strong leg-side player, hang on.
He was equally proficient on the off side.
His off-drive and extra cover drive were strokes made with a touch of effrontery. His cuts - both square and late - were a perfect blend of timing and power.
He was an exceptional player of spin bowling too.
Since he learnt his cricket in England, he was well equipped to play pace as well.
Being a man of limited eyesight, it was remarkable that he played pace bowling with so much time to spare. However, flighted leg-spin or tear-away pace created problems occasionally.
Indian fielding had always been a matter of ridicule in international cricket.
Pataudi brought his superb athleticism and agility to the field and set an example to his teammates. Using his remarkable reflexes and anticipation, he grabbed many stunning catches.
Despite his batting heroics and his superb fielding, the over-riding image of Pataudi will always, however, be that of one of the best captains in the history of Indian cricket.
During his long reign at the top, he led India in 40 of the 46 Tests he played.
He came in at a time when Indian cricket was known to be dull, drab and unexciting. Tiger changed all that and gained Indian cricket respect in the international arena. People sat up and took notice of the performances of the team even when they were losing.
Fittingly, it was under his captaincy that India clinched their first Test series win on foreign soil, when they defeated New Zealand 3-1 in 1967-68.
Sixties was the decade when Indian cricket started becoming a force to reckon with. And be it the formation of the famous spin-quartet or the ushering in of a vast improvement in the fielding or the forging of a winning spirit in a disarrayed team, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi was at the head of them all.
Here is saluting the Tiger.
Image: Pataudi batting for Oxford against Surrey in 1961.