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Indian cricket administration's unjust ways hit Mohinder Amarnath's potential

By Harsh Thakor* 

Mohinder Amarnath, born on 24 September 1950 was the son of late Indian former cricketer, cricket analyst and actor Lala Amarnath (the first post-independence captain of India). His brother Surinder Amarnath was a former test player and Rajinder a first class cricketer. Few batsmen were more reminiscent of an architect or surgeon out in the middle, doing exactly what the doctor ordered as Mohinder or ‘Jimmy’ Amarnath Ultimate man when the tide was swaying against you.
‘Jimmy’ Amarnath took mental resilience to a degree few cricketers ever did. Technically he was a master, achieving perfection as an exponent of the cover drive and hook. His footwork was razor sharp. In the mid 1980’s I can hardly name any Indian batsman was so committed to the interests of his team, above himself or in pursuit personal records. He was not so stylish, but if there was someone I would back to perform the perfect cricket Innings the name of Amarnath would be right up there.
He was also a handy medium pace bowler, bowling swingers and cutters with great skill and control. He had a distinctive run-up where he slowed down as he reached the bowling crease.

Career

Mohinder made his debut against Australia at Chennai in December 1969, as a quick-bowling all rounder. At his peak he was a top order batsman who mainly played at No. 3 for India. He was also a handy medium pace bowler, bowling swingers and cutters with great skill and control. He had a distinctive run-up where he slowed down as he reached the bowling crease.
In his very first series in West Indies in 1975-76 Amarnath gave glimpses of his endowed skill with a measured 85 at Port of Spain which played an important role in shaping India's then record fourth innings run chase. He ably supported Gavaskar and Vishwanath who both made centuries, batting with even more assurance in the middle. When he departed, an Indiana win was virtually sealed. At Kingston in the final test on a wicket with cracks,Amarnath withstood a blood bath when the Calypso paceman bombarded the Indians with a continuous barrage of bouncers.
Jimmy failed in the home series against England in 1976-77 but bounced back spectacularly on the 1977-78 tour of Australia. He scored 445 runs at an average around 50 with 1 century and three fifties. It was a revelation watching Amarnath drive and hook the likes of Jeff Thomson all over the place, scoring a century on the fastest track at Perth. Significantly he played an important part in shaping India's wins in the 3rd and 4th test and in a losing cause in the final test, ensured that India achieved glory even in defeat, making the highest losing fourth innings total ever.
On the 1978-79 tour of Pakistan Mohinder was felled by Imran and relatively unsuccessful. In the home series against West Indies he sculpted a century in the final test at Kanpur, scoring 101.He was again a victim of injury on the 1979 tour of England. It virtually put his career in jeopardy.
In 1982-83 Jimmy Amarnath made a Muhammad Ali style comeback, simply rising like a phoenix from the Ashes. In Pakistan he played the great Imran Khan with more assurance than any batsman of his time.I mran was the fastest and most lethal bowler in that era and literally broke the spin of the Indian batting. I simply can never forget his glorious technique of Mohinder in counter-attacking Imran, particularly in the 1st and fifth tests. No batsmen played as well facing Imran Khan at his best. He was unlucky to be wrongly given out leg before on four occasions, preventing India from restoring pride in Karachi and saving the third test at Faisalabad. He overshadowed even the great Sunil Gavaskar averaging 18 more. In that series he scored 584 runs at an average of 73.60.
In West Indies in 1983.Amarnath was the ultimate exponent of perfection of batting skill and courage. Mental resilience was taken to regions rarely traversed in sport, reminiscent of a surgeon performing an operation. In my lifetime I saw no batsman negotiate the great West Indies pace quartet or express pace bowling as Mohinder or ‘Jimmy ‘Amarnath did 40 years ago in West Indies. He resembled a boulder withstanding the most blazing storm or an army battalion waging combat in the World war in the most perilous conditions. Amarnath was simply grit, determination and technical skill personified. He took tenacity or relentless spirit to heights almost unscaled. Overall Jimmy aggregated 598 runs at an average of 66.83 on this tour. In my view it was the best batting performance against top pace ever in history of test cricket.
Amarnath simply drove, cut and hooked the West Indies paceman all over the place..At Barbados when scoring 91 and 80 although in a losing cause, Mohinder took combative spirit to scales rarely traversed. In the Bridgetown Test during India's tour of the West Indies in 1982–83, Amarnath had to retire for stitches after being hit on the head. On returning to the game, it was presumed that the great West Indies pace quartet would leave no stone unturned in intimidating Amarnath by bowling a bouncer, and indeed they did so. instead of ducking ,Amarnath relentlessly stood like rock and hooked the ball to the boundary.Arguably those innings were the best ever combined counter attacking efforts waged against express pace, in a single test.
At Trinidad in the 2nd test in the 2nd innings his century retrieved India from the depths of despair. who were 219 runs in the arrears in the 1st innings..At Antigua in the final test, he fittingly ended his tour, with match-saving century, executed in characteristic style. He single-handedly held the mantle like no batsman ever, against sustained or express pace. His head and body positioning and straightness of bat was a lesson for every schoolboy cricketer. Overall Jimmy aggregated 598 runs at an average of 66.83 on this tour. In my view it was the best batting performance against top pace ever in history of test cricket.
In the 1983 Prudential world cup It was Amarnath's dour bating and crafty bowling that won India the title, creating one of Sport's greatest upsets.In the semi-final his bowling tightened the screws on the English batting when they were cruising along. With subtle mastery the sideways movement and accuracy of his slow-medium pace rattled the English batsmen to peg them to a score of a mere 213 runs. Later in a run chase of 214 run s Amarnath's 46 laid the foundation of an Indian win. I can't forget his dancing down the wicket to hit a six. It was an innings executed in the most organised fashion, in the manner of an architect.. In the final against West Indies in a low scoring game his 26 was invaluable, and his spell put the final icing on the cake for India to create a miracle. No person was as much cometh the hour cometh the man. I can never forget the jubilation in the crowds after Amarnath trapped last man Michael Holding. Indian cricket was literally taken to a new dimension, with a spiritual renaissance created within it. .Earlier,Amarnath's 80 in a league game at the Oval against West Indies also took batting prowess to heights rarely scaled.. Praiseworthy that he was voted man of the match in the semi-final and final.
Dramatically his form got a 360 degree reversal on the 1983-84 home series against Pakistan and West Indies. The West Indies paceman chalked out a strategy to time and again penetrated his gate to send the stumps cart wheeling. No better illustration of how in sport the law of averages catches up with you.
In 1984 he again came back with a bang was all about returning to form, when saving India in the 1st test from a humiliating defeat in the 1st test in Pakistan ,after following on..He literally played against thirteen players in that game, with most biased umpiring making many Indian batsman fall prey. Jimmy literally looked like farming in a desert when scoring 41 out of 156 and then in the 2nd innings an unbeaten 101.Later Mohinder was an epitome of consistency in a home series against England in 1984-85, scoring 407 runs at an average of above 58, with 95 as his highest score.
In 1985 in the Benson and Hedges World Cricket championship Jimmy played a major role in shaping India’s triumph. He displayed immaculate skill in adjusting and ability to improvise and was at his best facing the likes of Imran and Hadlee. No batsmen played in such a well organised manner, in that tournament.
In1985-86 in Australia Jimmy e was a model of consistency, scoring a classic 138 at Adelaide and averaging 74.33.. His batting all but won India the series. Brilliantly balanced defence with calculated aggression.
In1986 in England he was not at his best but still displayed mastery at supreme depth in the 3rd test at the Ovals scoring 78.In 1986-87 in a home series against Pakistan Mohinder was hardly at his best when negotiating likes of Imran and Wasim.- apart from a classy 89 .He was past his best in the 1987-88 home series against West Indies or the Reliance World Cup earlier in 1987.

Assessment

It is noticeable that Amarnath averages much more overseas or away than at home. Amarnath ended his career with 4378 runs in 69 Tests at 42.50. Incredibly, he scored 3008 abroad at 51.86 with nine hundreds while managing just 1370 at 30.44 with two centuries at home. No middle Indian batsmen of his time averaged more away from home in test cricket .In the Caribbean, his collection of 877 runs at 54.81 in nine Tests remains one of the very best. With 14 hundreds, Allan Lamb is the only batsman to have scored more centuries without ever crossing 150. Ironic that Mohinder never registered a mammoth score like Gavaskar,Vishwanath ,Sehwag or Dravid.His medium pace used less and less with time, got him 32 wickets at 55.68 apiece.
In ODIs, Amarnath scored 1924 runs at 30.53 with a strike rate of a rather unremarkable 57.70. He also claimed 46 wickets at 42.84.
Overall arguably Amarnath fell short of true joining the club of the all-time greats, because of facing several breaks, through being dropped by the selectors.He was also a victim of loss of form at crucial junctures. His highest score was only 143 and averaged less than 44...Still at his best he could have sat on the pedestal with the greatest ever batsman, like in 1982-83.In form played an innings in accordance with the given situation as any great batsman.
Imran Khan regarded Mohinder so highly that in his book "All Round View" he went on record to say that in the 1982–83 season, Mohinder was quite simply the best batsman in the world. Imran further went on to state that Mohinder should have played non-stop for India right from his debut in 1969 to the time he retired. (After his debut series in 1969, he had to wait until 1975 to make it into the team).
Jimmy is the perfect example of how Indian cricket administration did scant justice to the potential of a cricketer, even crippling careers. It is so hard to conceive how cricketer like Amarnath was dropped so many times in his career. Ironic that Amarnath one called the selectors ‘As a bunch of jokers.’ in the mid 1980’s.
In their time Mohinder Amarnath and Mohammad Azharuddin fused together would have comprised the perfect batsmen. What better combination than the tenacity and technique of Jimmy with the artistry and elegance of Azhar.In later days Rahul Dravid duplicated Amarnath in many ways.
It is important for Indian cricket that it resurrects a character like ‘Jimmy’ Amarnath, with his unflinching resilience,a most vital weapon for a side.
---
Harsh Thakor is a Freelance Journalist who has extensively studied Cricket

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