SK Flashback: Mohinder Amarnath - A story of courage from Barbados

SK Flashback: Mohinder Amarnath - A story of courage from Barbados

What separated Jimmy from the others, was his great ability to withstand pain. A fast bowler knows when a batsman is in pain. But Jimmy would stand up and continue." - Michael Holding

Rocky III, starring Sylvester Stallone, was released on May 28th, 1982 and became an enormous Box office success, surpassing gross collection of its predecessor. The plot revolved around reclaiming of the title by Rocky Balboa, the World heavyweight champion and how he could overcome his age and grief over loss of his Manager. The theme music of the film, “Eye of the Tiger” was composed by a Chicago-based American Rock band, called Survivor.

Around this time, in India, Mohinder “Jimmy” Amarnath was trying hard to make a comeback to the Indian cricket team after long being in wilderness. The song became his companion and inspiration. He made a habit of listening to the tune over and over again, as he trained and psyched himself before the season started. He would be sculpting a comeback that was no less spectacular than the one made by Rocky Balboa in the third instalment of the series.

'If the line of the ball is over my left shoulder, I will hook. If it is over my right, I will leave. Left, hook. Right, leave....' – Jimmy Amarnath.

During India's tour to West Indies in 1982-83, the 4th Test was scheduled in Kensington Oval, Barbados and, as expected, it was “Fast and Furious”. This was fifth Test match in this venue between these two teams and India managed to draw only once, losing all the others. There was plenty of bounce and encouragement for the fast bowlers in the pitch.

Situation became grimmer for India as Kapil Dev lost his 4th toss in a row. On a murky day, Clive Lloyd had no hesitation to ask India to take the first strike. Hardly any play was possible on the first day and that itself was sufficient for India being on 13 for 2. They lost both the openers.

"Concede didn't seem to be in his vocabulary" - David Boon on Jimmy Amarnath.

The 2nd day pre-lunch session was a battle between Amarnath and West Indies fast bowlers. The Indians were served with a diet of short-pitched bowling and their batting capitulated. However, there was a time when Jimmy was going great guns. He hooked Roberts, Holding and Garner for sixes in the first session.

India were on 172 for 4. However, his dismissal on 91 to Marshall triggered the collapse. Marshall got Kapil Dev out for a duck on the next delivery and India lost last 6 wickets for just 37 runs. They were all out for 209. Apart from Amarnath, no other batsmen could cross 30.

"one of the nicest men to have ever played the game" – Sir Vivian Richards on Jimmy.

The initial part of the West Indies innings was anchored by Desmond Haynes. He added 98 with Gordon Greenidge (57) and further 122 with Viv Richards. Richards scored 80 of that partnership runs. Haynes batted for nearly six hours for his 92.

So, West Indies cruised past Indian score by just losing one wicket. However, Shastri and Venkat, the Indian spinners, did hit back. They dismissed Richards, Gomes and Haynes in quick succession. In fact, they could have limited eventual lead, had Venkat not dropped Logie off Shastri. It was a relatively simple chance at slip when the batsman was on just 7.

Logie, the diminutive Trinidadian, made India pay for this mistake. From being circumspect initially, he grew in confidence. Along with Clive Lloyd, who scored his third successive half century, he remained not out on 72 by end of second day. He reached his hundred on the next day. This was his first Test century in his 4th Test match. He was eventually out on 130 (12 fours and 2 sixes).

He was responsible to a large extent to push the West Indies score to 486 and a huge lead of 277. That meant, effectively, India had to bat out for nine hours and a quarter to save the Test. They had done this in the second Test of the same series. But, there was a difference. This pitch was still hard and fast.

Gus Logie scored his first Test century in this match
Gus Logie scored his first Test century in this match

India started off much better in the second innings. The openers, Sunny Gavaskar and Anshuman Gaekwad (55) added 61 resolutely. Amarnath came to the crease after Sunny was. He took the score to 96 for 1, when Marshall unleashed a flier. He went for the hook again and the ball rammed him in the face. It brought out lakes of blood, and a couple of teeth. He had to retire hurt.

The first thing he did after reaching the dressing room and before proceeding to the hospital, was to wash his bloodied shirt. He wanted to be ready to resume the battle on the next day. He had six stiches in his jaw on that day. While he was in the hospital, India slumped to 138 for 4 by end of 4th day.

Malcolm Marshall - one of his fliers would hit Jimmy on the face on that day
Malcolm Marshall - one of his fliers would hit Jimmy on the face on that day

"In an era replete with fast bowling and unrestricted in use of the bouncer, he never stopped hooking – despite many incentives to do so. He received a hairline fracture of the skull from Richard Hadlee, was knocked unconscious by Imran Khan, had teeth knocked out by Malcolm Marshall and was hit in the jaw so painfully by Jeff Thomson in Perth that he could eat only ice cream for lunch.” - Gideon Haigh

On the next day morning, India lost one more wicket with addition of just one run. To the astonishment of West Indies players and spectators, Amarnath was striding into the middle. The Indian rookie leg spinner and 12th man, Laxman Sivaramakrishnan, ran behind Jimmy and handed over the abdomen guard.

In his enthusiasm to rejoin the fight, Amarnath had left it in the dressing room. Michael Holding was not ready to give him an inch. He steamed in and bowled a bouncer. Most would expect that a batsman in such a situation would do the prudent thing and duck. Instead, Amarnath stood his ground and hooked the ball off his eyebrows for four to the boundary. It was stirring stuff.

“The only way to bat against fast bowlers is to play shots. Holding, Marshall, Roberts and Garner were all dangerous but the only way I stood a chance was to play my shots. And that’s what I did. I survived by playing my shots.” – Amarnath on his experience of playing that awesome West Indies attack.

Jimmy would score 80 on that day. It was one of the most courageous knocks the cricket world has seen. It did not save India. But, he helped India to avoid innings defeat. West Indies had to score just one run for the victory and Syed Kirmani was given the ball. On a lighter vein, he tried to mimic Michael Holding’s run-up and almost succeeded in doing that, except that he overstepped and corresponding no ball was enough for West Indies.

West Indies, thereby, took an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series. But, this Test would be better remembered for Jimmy Amarnath’s battleground. In a match where his team lost by Ten wickets, he was declared Man of the Match. It again proved that this beautiful game has never been only about Stat. It’s been made beautiful by the players for being epitome of courage on the face of adversaries. Jimmy Amarnath was certainly part of that exclusive list.

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