A genial magician

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

Mohinder Amarnath picks up a souvenir after trapping West Indies' last batsman Michael Holding lbw to signal a sensational triumph for India, as team-mates Yashpal Sharma and Roger Binny rush to congratulate him, at Lord's in the 1983 World Cup final.-ALL SPORT

HIS languid movements on the field were so deceptive; ambling up to bowl his lethal away-swingers, luring the batsman into making mistakes; and his relaxed countenance at the crease disguising his resolve to produce a classic with the bat. This man could lay the opposition low without creating a fuss around him — no contrived high fives, running around in circles or jumping on to someone's back.

Mohinder `Jimmy' Amarnath may not have been rated highly by critics at home but he carried enough potential to put India on top of the cricketing world. Mohinder, the most under-rated and most unsung of the Indian heroes of 1983, has remained true to his character, maintaining a low profile even though always in the service of the game. His lazy elegance was acknowledged by many greats of the game who valued Mohinder for his classy cricket.

His success in the 1983 World Cup was a tribute to his cricketing skills. The `Man of the Match' in both the semi-final and the final, Mohinder was the toast of the team as Kapil Dev and his devils pulled off the biggest upset in limited-overs cricket by shocking the mighty West Indies at Lord's.

Alvin Kallicharran once said of Mohinder: "He has such a beautiful relaxed stance and his unique calmness at the crease was his greatest asset. Now for his bowling. He can even get me out with an orange. He could swing the ball, he could seam the ball, zip off, off the wicket..." It seemed Mohinder could work magic with the ball.

When I reminded Jimmy of that remark by Kallicharran, he flashed his famous smile. "Ah, Kalli's a great friend." When I probed Jimmy, he quickly changed the subject, for he just does not like talking about himself.

We have heard of great stories from the past of some gutsy cricketers. One that stands out involved C. K. Nayudu, of how, at age 61, he was swept off the pitch, two of his teeth knocked out from a bouncer, and carried on. And then there were these tales of Jimmy's heroics. How he got hit repeatedly and how he hit back every time.

The great Sunil Gavaskar had no qualms in declaring, "Mohinder has to be the gutsiest cricketer I've seen." Mohinder could not have asked for a greater compliment. Imran Khan, the Pakistani great, praised Jimmy thus: "The first thing that comes to mind when you bowl at him is his courage. The other thing that strikes you about Mohinder is his friendliness."

Well, one can go on, recalling more niceties in praise of Jimmy. These few gems were an introduction to India's `Man of the tournament' in the 1983 World Cup. This introduction was much needed too, because some members of the current Indian team were too young or not even born when Mohinder brought India great laurels in the home of cricket. The poor sense of history among most of the current cricketers is shocking too. How else can one not know of the inspirational role played by Mohinder in India's greatest cricketing triumph?

For many, Mohinder was the surprise packet in the 1983 World Cup. But not for those who had grown up in the north watching this great cricketer flourish into an all-rounder in the shorter version of the game. Mohinder was not exceptionally talented but he possessed an amazing temperament. And he was willing to work hard to overcome the few shortcomings that troubled him in his illustrious career.

Amarnath, with the `Man of the Final' award, on the Lord's balcony.-ALL SPORT

The World Cup was a stage for big men to come good, and Mohinder chose the most important matches to make an impact. He dominated the semi-final against England with a quality knock and an inspiring spell, and repeated the act in the final against the West Indies.

But true to his nature, Mohinder, when remembering those two matches, shared the credit with his mates. "We had the right team for the conditions and the competitive nature of the players helped a lot. The two tough series before the World Cup — against Pakistan and the West Indies — helped us prepare mentally for the tournament. It was a wonderful collective effort."

What then was the clinching factor in India's triumph? Mohinder wasted no time. "I think the fact that nobody gave us a chance. It worked in our favour because the pressure was always on our opponents. We were more or less relaxed right through the tournament. And most importantly, we enjoyed our cricket. It was cricket during the day and fun off the field. The camaraderie was simply infectious and motivated us to play some great cricket."

Elaborating the fun part, Mohinder said, "We had some great guys in the side. They lifted the spirit of the team in difficult times. Sandeep (Patil), Roger (Binny), Dilip (Vengsarkar), Kirti (Azad), Kiri (Kirmani), Ravi (Shastri)... We all shared the responsibility and nothing was left to one individual. And I must tell you that we all got along very well because we all wanted the team to do well."

Mohinder also emphasised the presence of all-rounders as a key factor. "We relied on the pacemen and not spinners. Just see the history. How many times have our spinners won us matches overseas? We had the right combination."

In keeping with his honest nature, Mohinder admitted, "None of us ever thought we would win the Cup. We just took one game at a time and it was to the team's advantage that we had players clicking at the right time. We didn't really have any big plans but took things as they came."

What about his own assessment of his success? Mohinder was brief: "As a player I knew my role and my limitations. I just played according to the situation. The pressures were all left behind in the dressing room, really."

What was Mohinder's lasting memory from the tournament? "Holding the Cup with the others, no doubt, but also the fact that I could contribute in a one-day tournament. Winning the final was my best cricketing feeling. We had done the impossible for the nation. We had beaten the mightiest and that sprint to the dressing room at Lord's shall remain unforgettable for me."

And how did he react to some disgruntled elements at home, a former Board president in particular, being embarrassed by Mohinder's success? "I never had time for such mean characters. I know there were some silly people at home who ridiculed my selection. They thought I was not fit for one-day cricket. I pity them even now," said Mohinder.

For the record, I would like to stress Mohinder's match-winning roles in India's triumphs in the 1985 World Championship of Cricket in Australia and the 1988 Asia Cup in Dhaka when he again excelled in the big matches.

Mohinder's success at these one-day tournaments drove home the point that you could not keep a good guy out. "Talent will show and succeed," concluded the genial Mohinder, who is settled in Mumbai and works with the Cricketers Benefit Fund Series in Morocco.

He will be in South Africa for the World Cup, and available too. It is for the Indian team to make use of his grand cricketing wisdom. History may be repeated if the team discovers another gutsy cricketer like Mohinder `Jimmy' Amarnath.