Ritesh Misra, Surat, 11 July 2023
I continue my Icons of India series with Mohinder Amarnath, popularly called Jimmy Amarnath, who is one of the most enigmatic and bravest cricketers in the history of Indian cricket. Sunny Gavaskar called him the best batsman in the world. Imran Khan agreed to this and added that Jimmy should have been permanently in the Indian team right from his debut in December 1969 to his last match for India in October 1989.
Jimmy Bhai’s father, Lala Amarnath, was captain of India and had a century on debut. His brother Surinder also played for India and had a ton on debut while another brother Rajinder played first class cricket as well.
Let us go on a nostalgic journey of this great cricketer’s career, and discuss some high points, as well as a low point.
Most Indian batters perform better in home conditions than abroad. Three instances which readily come to mind are Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, and even Virendra Sehwag. Of course, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, and Sunny Gavaskar performed equally well abroad as well as in India.
Jimmy Bhai is a rarity among Indian batsmen who performed far successfully abroad than on Indian pitches. Nine of his 11 test centuries were abroad. His overall test average in 69 Tests was 42.5. However, abroad this increases to 51.8, while it is just over 30 at home. His Test tons abroad were at Australia, Pakistan (versus Imran at his peak), West Indies, and Sri Lanka. In 1982-83, he played 11 tests abroad in Pakistan and West Indies and scored around 1000 runs against deadly attacks. He was the Wisden cricketer of the year in 1984. Most of his test tons were in adverse circumstances and after coming back into the Indian team. He made so many comebacks that he was called the “Comeback man of Indian Cricket”.
His comebacks from injury were also remarkable. Richard Hadlee, Imran Khan, Malcolm Marshall, and Jeff Thomson all gave him frightening injuries. Yet his bravery was unaffected and he was amongst the best ever to play fast bowling. Cricket romantic, Joy Bhattacharya had given a beautiful tweet about his bravery, “Richard Hadlee broke his head, Malcolm Marshall knocked out his teeth, Imran Khan knocked him unconscious, and Michael Holding sent him to hospital. And yet, Mohinder Amarnath got three centuries in Pakistan, two in the west Indies, and one against Thommo in Australia. They don’t come any braver.”
When this brave batsman walked out to bat with his red handkerchief visible in his trouser pocket, his captain, teammates, and fans in the entire country felt secure and stable. All fell reassured when he walked out to bat. Interestingly, his red handkerchief was a carry-over superstition from his father who did the same.
World Cup Success
In 1983, Clive Lloyd’s West Indies team was expected to win their 3rd ODI World Cup in a row. However, much to the surprise of the cricketing world, Kapil’s Devils not only entered the final but shocked the giants to become World Champions. Jimmy Amarnath was man of the match in both the semi-final and the final for his crucial contributions with both bat and ball. Against England in the semi-final, he scored 46 and got the wickets of Mike Gatting and David Gower in a miserly spell of 12 overs for 27 runs. In the low scoring final, he scored 26 and took 3 for 12 in 7 overs. Jimmy Bhai also took the last wicket of Holding, sparking a lifetime memory for millions of Indians.
High Point of Career
Jimmy Amarnath played crucial knocks throughout his career. However, the high point was the Imran Khan dominated 1982-83 test series where Imran took 40 wickets and helped Pakistan to a 3-0 series win. Jimmy scored 3 centuries and crucial 50s as well. This series possibly hastened the end of the great Gundappa Vishwanath’s career. However, for Jimmy it was a great series and he started the series batting at Number 5, and was elevated to Number 3 midway which shows his captain’s trust and faith in him, which he paid off in full.
Low Point of Career
This has to be the West Indies tour of India where inexplicably Jimmy could score just 1 run in 6 test innings. The lethal attack of Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding, Winston Davis, and Wayne Daniel got the better of Jimmy in this particular series.
His Last Test and ODI Series
Fittingly, for someone who had fought so courageously against the dreaded West Indian quicks, Jimmy’s last test series was against West Indies and his last ODI too was against West Indies. His last test match was the one in which Narendra Hirwani, WV Raman and Ajay Sharma made their debuts. Hirwani had a world-record breaking performance in this test match which India won. His last ODI series was the Nehru Cup where India bowed out in the semi-final versus West Indies. In the same tournament, Jimmy was out obstructing the field for 28 vs Sri Lanka. Interestingly, he has also featured as the first batsman to be out “handling the ball” which was versus Australia in the WSC final in 1985-86. He remains till date the first and only Indian to be out in such a manner! Amarnath, after pushing away the Greg Matthews spinning delivery from the stumps with his hand, realised his mistake and walked back to the dressing room with his hands behind his back! The umpire did not even need to signal him out.
Coaching, Selection, Analyst, and Columnist
Jimmy was the coach of the Bangladesh cricket team but after the team failed to qualify for the 1996 World Cup his contract was not renewed. Jimmy himself had once called the Indian selectors a “Bunch of jokers”. He got a chance to be National selector himself but his contract was not renewed when it was speculated that he would become Chairman, Selection Committee. Later, Jimmy said that the Committee had selected 17 players and no captain and the BCCI President, Srinivasan, vetoed the Committee’s decision of sacking Mahendra Singh Dhoni, as captain. Jimmy said that he was not aware of the rule that the President’s approval is required to sack the captain and that no selector knew of such a rule. According to him, the Committee was looking forward to a young player like Virat as the captain.
Earlier, as an analyst and columnist, Jimmy was often seen on national visual and print media with his views very widely followed. Recently, this has not been seen with regularity.
I hope that his rich experience, especially of playing successfully abroad, is utilised by the current team management since in the forthcoming 2 year WTC cycle, India has two tough away tours of England and Australia.
Jimmy Bhai, you are our Icon for your brave and stupendous batting overseas against the most fearsome fast bowlers!!