In my lifetime I saw no Indian middle order batsman who was as much an embodiment of determination, will power or who displayed more grit in the depths of despair and above all selflessness. His name was Mohinder Bharadwaj Amarnath or ‘Jimmy’ Amarnath..No batsman illustrated more about cricket being in the mind.
It was not about elegance or statistical records but about a batsman who could crystallize a fight back like an army ressurecting from a grave ,to reach pinnacle of glory.Amarnath took relentlessness to a magnitude few cricketers ever did reminiscent of a boulder resisting a gale. Still he never stopped the scoreboard from moving. Technically he was up there with anyone, with absolute mastery of the cover drive and hook shot. His footwork was as rhythmic as a ballad dancer. At his best Mohinder could even overshadow Gavaskar to bat for your life. I can hardly name any Indian batsman who kept the collective team’s interest so much on his mind and was so unselfish. When batting at the crease his face was simply determination personified, possessing mental tenacity few sportsman ,let alone cricketers did.Amarnath was simply cricket’s equivalent of a soldier. Few batsmen a in that time adapted so well from tests to one day cricket. He was not so attractive, but if there was someone I would back to play the perfect cricket Innings the name of Amarnath would be right up there.
In his very first series in West Indies in 1975-76 Amarnath revealed flashes of brilliance 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 survived a blood bath when the Calypso paceman bombarded the Indians with a continuous barrage of bouncers. One was reminded of bombers attacking an airbase.Mohinder displayed tenacity and death defying courage of a soldier.
He 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. 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. On the fastest pitch at Perth Amarnath revealed technical prowess no Indian middle order batsman did down under.
On the 1978-79 tour of Pakistan he 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 Mohinder Amarnath made one of sport’s let alone cricket’s greatest comebacks. He rose like a phoenix from the Ashes or like ressurecting from the grave. In Pakistan he played the great Imran Khan more fearlessly than any batsman of his time.Imran was the fastest and most lethal bowler in that era and literally ripped the flesh of the Indian batting. I simply can never forget the glorious technique of Mohinder in counter-attacking Imran, particularly in the 1st and fifth tests. He was simply a wall when facing the thunderbolt inswingers of Imran.When India was in dire straits at Lahore in the 1st test he did a magnificient repair job with Gavaskar and Sandeep Patil. 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. Amaranth reminded one of farmer digging or tilling in the gravest circumstances, to save hisl and or a surgeon peforming an operation. He overshadowed even the great Sunil Gavaskar averaging 18 more. In that series he scored 584 runs ata n average of 73.60.Rarely has any batsman carried the mantle of his team on his shoulders like Jimmy did in that series.
In West Indies in 1983. Amarnath played the great West Indies pace quartet better than any batsman ever. Never in the history of the game was express pace played with such prowess . He was simply a manifestation of perfection of cricketing skill and courage. Mental resilience was taken to regions rarely traversed in sport, like a monk meditating.Amarnath simply drove, cut and hooked the West Indies paceman all over the place. One was reminded of a spectacular counter attack of a military batallion, resurrecting from the grave, from being on the verge of unanimous defeat. At Barbados when scoring 91 and 80 in a lost cause,Mohinder took combative spirit to heights of divinity, championing the role of alone crusader. At Trinidad in the 2nd test in the 2nd innings his century saved India from the depths of despair. who were 219 run sin the arears in the 1st innings. Hearing the commentary on radio when Amarnath was at the crease as a schoolboy was like hearing a war commentary.Mohinder’s courage echoed the spirit of Russian soldiers confronting the Nazis in World war 2 or the Vietnamese countering the Americans. He single-handedly carried the fort 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 the 1983 Prudential world cup It was Amarnath’s cavalier bating and 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 great mastery his slow-medium pace penetrated the English defence or beat the batsman to peg them to a score of a mere 213 runs.. Later in a run chase of 214 run s Amarnath’s 46 sowed the seeds in paving the path of an Indian win. I can’t forget his dancing down the wicket to hit a six. It was an innings played in perfect tune with the situation. 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. It was the selfless spirit of Jimmy that crystallised the Indian world cup win. No person was as much cometh the hour cometh the man. I can never forget the ecstasy 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 virtuosity to sublime proportions. 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. One could virtually not recognize Mohinder here. The West Indies paceman time and again penetrated his gate to send the stumps flying or cartwheeling. No better illustration of how in sport the law of averages catches up with you.
In 1984 he showed what mental tenacity 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. It was reminiscent of a surgical operation.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 he wasone of the major architects’ of India’s triumph. He displayed great improvisation and was at his best facing the likes of Imran and Hadlee.Blended defence and attack in perfect proportion.
In1985-86 in Australia he was consistency personified, scoring a classic 138 at Adelaide and averaging 74.33.. His batting all but won India the series.
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 hardly gave touches of his old self when negotiating likes of Imran and Wasim.- apart froma classy 89 .He was past his best in the 1987-88 home series against West Indies or the Reliance World Cup earlier in 1987.
It is remarkable 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. For someone largely considered as one of the best against West Indian pace, he strangely averaged just 38.42 against them, scoring 1076 in 17 matches. However, 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. 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 greatness, 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…However at his best he could join the league of the greatest ever batsman, like in 1982-83.In form he was arguably the best example for any youngster to emulate. and played an innings in tune with the situation as much as any great batsman. No Indian cricketer made such spectacular Muhammad Ali style comebacks like Amarnath. Mohinder is the perfect example of how Indian cricket administration does not do true justice to the potential of a cricketer and induct politics that cripple a cricketer. We glorify individual records or individuals more than contribution to the team cause. 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.
Amarnath hooking and driving Imran Khan and Malcolm Marshall in 1982-83 should be an integral part of any cricketing museum.So fitting that with skipper Kapil Dev he is photographed holding the 1983 Prudential world cup trophy. To me he is an ideal example for youngsters to emulate even today.
Harsh Thakor is a freelance journalist.Toured India,particularly Punjab .Written on Mass movements ,,Massline,Maoism on blogs like Democracy and Class Struggle and frontierweekly .An avid cricket lover too who has posted writings on blogs like Pakpassion Indian Cricket Fans and Sulekha.com