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'The national selectors are a bunch of jokers!'
Perhaps no statement in Indian cricket history has been quoted as often as the one above. Perhaps, too, at no time either before, or since, had a player of international stature so perfectly mirrored the immense frustration of millions of fans of Indian cricket - fans who were tired of the politics of selection, the procession of players picked and dropped for reasons patently non-cricketing...
The maker of that statement was Mohinder Amarnath. The year was 1988. The provocation was his startling omission from the Indian side for the first Test against John Wright's New Zealanders. And the vehicle that carried Jimmy Amarnath's now immortal quote into thousands of Indian homes was the now deceased The Illustrated Weekly of India.
Flashback, to another year. 1982-1983, and Indian skipper Sunil Gavaskar about to lead India to Pakistan for what would be a grudge series after the former had convincingly beaten Pakistan at home 2-0, a year earlier.
Came time for team selection, and Gavaskar insisted that he would not go to Pakistan, to face the pace of Imran Khan and company, without Jimmy Amarnath in the side. At that stage, Amarnath had been out of the national side for 23 Tests spread over three overlong years.
'Jimmy is the best player of pace in the country,' Gavaskar, by then rated the best opening batsman in the world, said then. The Indian skipper was probably remember the tour of the West Indies in 1976 under Bishen Singh Bedi. More importantly, the Sabina Park Test, when Michael Holding launched war on the Indian batsmen, felling Anshuman Gaekwad, Brijesh Patel and even the great Gundappa Vishwanath with bouncers of incredible speed and hostility. In that match, Gavaskar had scored 66 and 2; Amarnath, 39 and 59.
In the event, Amarnath made the 1983 tour Pakistan, and subsequently the West Indies.
His sequence of scores runs thus. Against Pakistan: 109 not out at Lahore; 5 and 3 at Karachi; 22 and 78 at Faisalabad; 61 and 64 at Hyderabad (Sind); 120 at Lahore; 19 and 103 not out at Karachi. Aggregate 584 runs in ten innings, average 73. The next best, in a series in which Imran Khan first unveiled the dreaded reverse swing and knocked over a world record 40 wickets, was Gavaskar's 48.22).
That same year, against the West Indies, Amarnath scored 58 and 117 at Port of Spain; 91 and 80 at Bridgetown and 54 and 116 at Antigua - making those runs against a pace attack of Holding, Garner, Roberts and Marshall.
In the process, he completed 1,000 Test runs before May - a world record.
And then, at Lord's in the final of the Prudential-sponsored World Cup, he scored a battling 26 and then returned figures of 7-0-12-3 to win the Man of the Match award as India under Kapil Dev humbled twice world champions West Indies to lift the World Cup. Wisden saluted that brilliant cricketing run by Amarnath when it named him one of its five cricketers of the year for 1983.
Jimmy Amarnath had, since his debut against Australia in 1969, been the ultimate performer. The quintessential support player, around whom the more talented Gavaskars, Vishwanaths and Vengsarkars built their innings.
He has also the record of having been dropped and recalled more times than the average yo-yo!
The ultimate tragedy of Jimmy Amarnath is that Indian cricket never gave him the consideration of allowing him to announce a graceful retirement. Rather, this large-hearted cricketer was forced to hang around, honing his body through endless hours of exercises, holding himself in readiness for the recall that never came...
Mohinder 'Jimmy' Amarnath. Live on Rediff Chat. December 10, 1996, 1900 hours IST (08930 hours EDT).
It's a date you cannot afford to miss!
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