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Lala Amarnath

by Saurabh Sharma Jun 10, 2018 • 08:30 AM
Lala Amarnath Biography

Nanik Amarnath Bhardwaj generally acknowledged as Lala Amarnath was an Indian Test cricketer. He was the first cricketer to score a Test century for the Indian cricket team on debut. He was also independent India's first Test captain, leading the team on a tour of Australia in 1947-1948.

 Amarnath was also the first to kick against the stifling domination of Indian cricket by the local princes and their imperial backers. It severely damaged his career. Amarnath's figures in his 24 Tests are nothing special, but they do no justice to either his spasmodic brilliance or his enduring influence. Amarnath died in New Delhi on August 5, 2000.

Amarnath was born on 11th of September 1911 at Kapurthala (Punjab), and moved along with his family later to Lahore (now in Pakistan). He didn’t have a very affluent background from his family, and created stirs when he scored 109 runs while playing for Southern Punjab against MCC in the year 1933-34.

He had a unique bowling action of finishing a short run-up with the right foot. He played for the Aligarh University before moving over to Lahore and represented southern Punjab in the Ranji Trophy and later the Indian Railways. He had a remarkable bowling analysis of four for two in a Southern Punjab match against Sind in 1938, which he improved to four for zero while playing for the Railways against Patiala in 1958. He scored 2,162 runs averaging 40.79 and collected 182 wickets averaging 14.61 runs per wicket in Ranji Trophy matches from 1935 to 1959.

Amarnath made his debut in Test Cricket with a Test Series that was played against England at Gymkhana Ground, Bombay (now Mumbai) in December 1933. Eventually, it was the first Test match that the Indian Test team was playing at a home-ground. Amarnath scored a staggering 156 runs making him the first Indian Cricket player to score a century in a Test match. He reached the score pretty fast, finishing 83 runs in just 78 minutes, and reached the century within a span of 117 minutes.

Aside from being a tenacious batsman, Lala Amarnath was also a bowler of some repute and was the only bowler to dismiss Donald Bradman hit wicket.

In 1936, he had been in the eye of a storm, following differences with skipper Maharajkumar of Vizianagaram (Vizzy), in England. He was sent back before the first Test at Lord's on charges of indiscipline and defying the captain in the match against Minor Counties. Amarnath, after being asked to pad up, was not sent to bat until about 10 minutes before close. In a fit of anger, he tore his gloves, threw away the pads, and voiced his disappointment to his colleagues. Vizzy reported the incident to General Jones, recommending that the player be sent home.

The 1940s marked the golden phase in Amarnath’s career. Elevated as vice-captain to Vijay Merchant in the 1944 tour of India to Ceylon, Amarnath charmed the spectators with a classic century (100 not out) against the Governor's XI at Chepauk. He flourished again, conquering the attack of the Australian Services team in 1945 with a brilliant 113.

When the Partition of India took place in August 1947, Amarnath and his family had to flee the city to escape a Muslim mob. He lived in Patiala in the Indian state of Punjab till 1957, when he moved to Delhi. Amarnath is widely respected for reaching out to bridge the divide between players and fans of India and Pakistan, caused by political tensions between the two countries

In November 1947, he was made the Captain of the Indian Test Cricket team which visited Australia on a Test Series, hence, making him the first Captain of the Test Cricket team of Independent India. Though India lost 4-0 in the five match series, Amarnath played some memorable knocks and in six innings he aggregated 691 runs including an unbeaten double-century (228).

Amarnath had a brush with authority again when West Indies, under J.D. Goddard, toured India in 1948. Antony de Mello, then Secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), and captain Lala did not see eye to eye on some issues. The differences cost Amarnath his place in the team during subsequent tours by Commonwealth teams. He bounced back during the series against England in 1951-52.

Recalled to captain India against Pakistan, during Pakistan's first tour of India, Amarnath won the series 2-1 and chose the occasion to quit Test cricket in an emotional farewell in Calcutta's Eden Gardens in 1952. The huge gathering at the venue chanted "We want Lala", even though he had not performed as well as expected.

Amarnath as captain was complimented for being straightforward and aggressive, and possessing great tactical acumen. Amarnath was made a selector in the Board for two years from 1952, then he took charge as chairman of the Selection Committee in 1954 and stayed in that position till 1960. He was not afraid to try out young hopefuls and the results were often positive. He formed the Indian colts' team and arranged a tour of Pakistan.

Two of his sons, Surinder and Mohinder, played for India. While Surinder did not come up to the expectations of his father, Mohinder enjoyed a long and eventful stay at the top. The third son, Rajinder, whom Lala regarded the most talented, did not make it to the national level.

He was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1991, and the Board presented him a cash award of Rs.2, 00, 000 and a memento during the Golden Jubilee of the BCCI. In 2011, the BCCI decided to institute an award in Lala Amarnath’s name for the best all-rounder in the Ranji Trophy and the best all-rounder in limited overs domestic competition to commemorate the great man’s centenary.

Abhishek De

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