I have spent a majority of my lifespan being a passionate follower of the game of cricket. It has been a real fulfilling journey, and I do owe a lot to the game. The game has helped me enjoy, overcome my tough times, solve, and survive at various points of time in my life. And when I try to correlate any situation in my life to the great game looking for a solution/ escape or enjoyment, it boils down invariably to the way a particular situation a particular player has reacted to a similar situation in some match, and suddenly answers are available.
As I grew up as a person, the favorite cricket heroes of mine changed, and I feel they were a reflection of the situation I was in my life at that point of time, and how I looked to come out of these situations. However, one name in the list has always been Mohinder (Jimmy) Amarnath. Jimmy doesn’t essentially feature in the list of All Time Greats of world cricket, or even Indian Cricket, but he stood out. His cricketing life was very much like the real life of any average person, who has as many ups as downs, and has had to battle insecurity day in and day out for the whole life. He had to go through constant rejection, had been dropped despite his good performances in favor of much less deserving players, had to bear humiliation and was made a mockery of in spite of his class, abilities, and caliber.
But he stood firm, never stopped being himself, and lived life as he had wanted to. Never compromising himself for being in good books of all and sundry, and still not bearing any bitterness in his mind when he walked in to bat when the team was in dire straits. More often than not, Jimmy was the savior of the team, when everyone else looked scared of genuine fast bowling, and short pitched stuff. And he still was always in and out of the team. If you look at the number of comebacks Jimmy Amarnath has made in his two decade career, you would know how many times he was thrown out, and still with sheer force of performances, he managed to come back.
GRIT, THY NAME IS MOHINDER AMARNATH!!!
It was an irony, that in India, where Gharaneshahi (Dyanastic rules) has been peoples’ choice all the while, Mohinder Amarnath Bhardwaj should suffer this fate. Born as the second son to Lala Amarnath, who scored the first ever test century for India, Jimmy’s family was a truly cricketing family. Lalaji, his father had captained India, Elder brother Surinder, in his debut test match, scored a sparkling 124 overshadowing none other than the Little Master Sunil Gavaskar, and in the process creating a unique record of father and son making centuries on their respective debut in test cricket.. Lil bro Rajinder also played domestic cricket for a long time. However, being in and out of the team has been a curse bestowed on all the Amarnath Clan. Lalajee, despite his all-round talent was never a permenant fixture in the Indian national cricket team, majorly due to his forthright outspokenness, and refusal to bow to the regal patrons of cricket in India, who then ran the entire Indian Cricket. He was called the “most dazzling stroke player I have ever seen” by none other than Don Bradman during the 1946-47 Indian tour of Australia, when only Hazare, and Phadkar could show some mettle against the fearsome pace attach of Lindwall, Miller and Toshack. However, constantly rubbing the local princes and backers of the British Empire the wrong way, incurred a heavy price, which was getting only 24 tests over a career spanning nearly two decades. He also then became a test selector, Official, and a very outspoken, fiery commentator.
Both his sons, Mohinder and Surinder were too Subjected to inexplicable ommissions and overlooking throughout their careers.
Let’s now look at Mohinder Amarnath, the subject matter of this article.
Born on September 24th, 1950, Jimmy had started making the headlines right from his schoolboy cricketing days, scoring heavily in Coochbehar, Vijay Merchant and Vizzy trophies played for youth cricket in India. This heavy scoring followed in the Ranji, Duleep and Irani trophies as well. Indian Cricket had discovered a prolific batsman.
Strangely, Jimmy made his debut as a new ball bowler, thanks to the idiosyncrasies of the Indian Cricket in its early half century of existence. It was against Bill Lawry’s Australians, in 1969 in the torrid Madras (Now Chennai). He bowled 7 wicketless overs in the first innings, but claimed the prized scalps of Kieth Stackpole and Ian Chappel in the second. Batting at 8 in both the innings, he made 16n.o. in the first and a blob in the second innings. Nothing noteworthy, though in the second innings, 11 out of his 24 overs were maidens. A performance much below average.
The next chance came 7 years later, in 1976, in the series against the Kiwis. 238 runs at 59.5, with one score of 64. A performance good enough to earn a place in the side for the 1976 tour of the West Indies. Big challenge, Roberts, Holding, Julien, and Daniel breathing fire down the Indian batsmen’s throat. First three tests, nothing special. A top Score of 26, not enough to justify his place in the team as a batsman. Still, managing to latch on to his place in the side, mainly due to limited batting resources. In the fourth test, West Indies, riding on Viv Richards’ rampant 177, made 359 in their first dig, and wrapped India up for 228, Jimmy contributing 25 coming in at number 3. West Indies, in their second knock, made 271 for 6, Allwyn Kallicharan leading the charge this time with a silken 103 not out. Llyod left India with the challenge to score 404 in the fourth innings, in a day and a half. Sunil Gavaskar and Anshuman Gaekwad, strung a decent partnership of 69, not particularly breezy, but solid. In comes Jimmy, at the fall of Anshuman Gaekwad, and kept good company with Sunil Gavaskar, who went on to score a 102, adding 108 important runs in the process, but more importantly keeping their wickets intact. When Gavaskar eventually fell for a well-made, disciplined 102, India still didn’t look confident enough to even save the match, let alone win it. Still 226 runs in deficit, and two sessions to survive, things looked difficult, with the West Indian quicks fired up from frustration of not getting the wickets. Jimmy’s character was evident for the first time on the international stage. He held fort stoically, batted for 440 long minutes, didn’t get carried away even when Gundappa Vishwanath was setting the Queens Park Oval ablaze with his artistry, and by the time he fell run out, short of 15 runs of his maiden test century, he had definitely bailed out India from a losing situation and provided a launch pad for Vishwanath and Brijesh Patel to launch the killer attack to win the match. Jimmy the immovable workman, had arrived.
This successful Indian Chase had so annoyed Clive Lloyd, that in the subsequent test in Jamaica, Lloyd ordered his pace quartet to launch an all-out bodyline attack on the Indian team, and only three Indians, who were to be later known widely for their grit and courage, were the only ones who could offer some resistance. Anshuman Gaekwad, with a defiant 81, before being knocked unconscious by a lethal bouncer, Mohinder Amarnath, with a two gritty knocks of 39 and 60. Though not making lofty hundreds, Jimmy had made it clear to the Indian Selectors, that if there is any Indian batsman who can stand up against genuine pace other than Gavaskar and Vishwanath, it was him.
He made a couple of fifties in the home series against New Zealand. In spite of a nondescript performance in the home series against England, Jimmy found himself on the flight taking the Indian team to play a Packer depleted Australians. This was probably the only time when he was given a longer rope, and Jimmy made the most of it. He scored 436 runs at an average of 72.66, and though the Australian Side had lost their major stars to the Packer Circus, they still had Jeff Thompson bowling at his fastest. Jimmy also captured 5 Australian wickets in the series while bowling. His deliveries were preceded by a lazy, reluctant run up, and delivered at what Henry Blofield described as “irritating” pace. Looked like Jimmy’s place in the Indian National side had been cemented. Jimmy also notched up his maiden test century (an even 100) in Perth, which had the fastest and bounciest wickets in the world at that time. 1978 gave Jimmy nothing to write home about, apart from a score of 86 against Australia at Adelaide.
In 1979, again against a West Indies Side depleted by Packer Circus, Jimmy made a 101 not out at Kanpur, his second test hundred. But after that began a series of poor performances, and then came a blow, which would have proven to be fatal to any batsman’s career, and no one else with grit and tenacity lesser than Jimmy would have survived. Already under fire for not having scored well for quite a few matches, Jimmy came to the wicket wearing a Sola Felt hat, which is made of a hard material, which was due to his confidence being shaken by the poor run of scores, and a constant criticism that he is “scared” of fast bowling. Strange, how people say this in spite of him making that stoic 85 against the West Indian pace battery in full blow, and making a century at the paciest and the bounciest wicket in the world, facing Jeff Thomson in full cry. However, his confidence was quite low, to say the truth. He had just scored a couple of runs, when Rodney Hogg, smelling Jimmy’s lack of confidence at crease, and having read all the articles about he being vulnerable to fast bowling, promptly bowled a straight bouncer heading for the area between Jimmy’s eyes. Jimmy attempted the hook, missed, and the ball hit his felt hat, which fell on the stumps. Immediately, everyone started calling for Jimmy’s head, and he was axed from the team promptly. Many thought, End of the road for Mr. Mohinder Amarnath…. That’s it!
Here, let me tell you, that I never thought Jimmy was scared of fast bowling. But he refused to duck to bouncers, and employed the hook shot compulsively. It is his compulsiveness to the hook, which is largely a percentage stroke, which got him into trouble. And he had an enormous ability to endure body blows, and still keep batting unflinchingly.
But there is the difference between a good cricketer, and a great one. Jimmy took his domestic cricket very seriously, set up a string of huge scores in the Ranji, Duleep and Irani Trophy matches in the next 3 seasons, and made it impossible for the selectors not to consider including him for the 1982 tour of Pakistan. He also made conscious changes to his batting (he changed his side on stance to a two eyed, square on one), using his alert cricketing brain, and thus started the purplest patch of his playing career. He notched up a string of scores which read 109n.o, 5, 3, 22, 78, 61, 64, 120, 19 and 103 n.o. against a Pakistani attack of Imraan Khan, Sarfaraz Nawaz, and Abdul Qadir. No mean attack that! He followed up this series with another good series against the West Indies, scoring 29, 40, 58, 117, 13, 91, 80, 54 and 116 against the pace battery of Marshall, Holding, Garner and Roberts in the 1982 series against the West Indies. He was at this time, clearly the mainstay of Indian batting, and averaged even more than Sunil Gavaskar. Gavaskar, in his book Idols, added Jimmy at the last moment to the list of his cricketing Idols, and called him ‘The finest batsman in the world”. Jimmy was the best batsman in the world then, representing a very weak side, and holding it together with his will of steel!
Then came the highest point of all Indian Cricketers, Cricket lovers, and everyone associated with Indian Cricket.
THE 1983 WORLD CUP.
India were not even considered as the dark horses, let alone favorites. Underdogs, at the most. And in the first upset in this world cup, India defeated the defending champions and favorites West Indies, Jimmy contributing handsomely with a knock of 80. He did make a lot of useful contributions with the bat and the ball during the tournament, and topped it off with Man of the Match Performances in the finals and Semi Finals. For a 12 year old going through an extremely rough patch with school grades and adolescence, it was an overwhelming sight to see his new hero lifting the champagne magnum which was the customary award for the Man of the Match of the world cup finals. Mohinder Amarnath had reached the peak of his Cricket!
Sadly, a steep downfall was in the immediate offing. West Indies, badly stung with the World Cup final defeat, were on a tour to India in 1983, and had come for revenge! Mohinder’s scores in the 4 tests he played- 0, 1, 0,0,0. He was named as Mohinder Amarnought by his critics, and his followers were dumbfounded. That ended the period of Mohinder Amarnath’s greatness. He did prod on, making no less than 3 comebacks till 1988, and faded away. There were occasional flashes of brilliance and consistency, but they were just flashes in the proverbial pan.
But for those who followed Mohinder Amarnath’s career, it teaches a lot about life.
During his entire career, Jimmy was as fit as a fiddle, and had seldom missed a match due to injury. He was at many points in his playing days, ridiculed, told that he was just not good enough, and discarded by the selectors and Public, but he had come back enough times with sheer grit, application and concentration. It is this what keeps him immovable from my All Time Cricketing Heroes list. He won’t go away.
Jimmy, following you has guided me at very crucial junctures of life, and I owe you a lot!
Take a bow!!!
Special thanks to Sanjeev Sathe , who is an avid cricket fan and a dear friend of ours for contributing this wonderful article.