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Son Jimmy pays tribute on Lala's birth centenary

SUNDAY MiD DAY talks to Mohinder Amarnath on the birth centenary of his father Lala

Lala Amarnath, whose birth centenary is celebrated today, was not called the Stormy Petrel of Indian cricket for nothing. He was a rebel whom administrators loved to hate and if the game's chroniclers are to be believed, the ones he upset tried to get their revenge when Lala's sons Mohinder and Surender played for India.


Mohinder Amarnath with Lala at a function in Mumbai in 1994.
PICS/MiDDAY Archives, Getty Images


Mohinder was the supreme battler if ever there was one and he became as famous for his numerous comebacks as his tenacity. Surender Amarnath got a hundred on Test debut against New Zealand at Auckland on the 1975-76 tour, but ended up playing only 10 Tests. Youngest brother Rajender played first-class cricket.

Lala was India's first Test centurion -- against Douglas Jardine's England at the Bombay Gymkhana. Whenever he passed the Gymkhana, he used to take his cap off in gratitude to India's first Test venue. SUNDAY MiD DAY spoke to Mohinder about Lala to mark the birth centenary of his father, who passed away
in 2000. Excerpts:

What's the side of Lala Amarnath that the cricket fraternity did not see?
I used to hear a lot of stories about his fiery temper, achievements and knowledge of the game, but he was a good father. He believed in discipline, but he was very warm-hearted and emotional too. This is a side of him people probably did not see. He was far sighted where our careers were concerned. He planned it beautifully, making sure we played cricket the right way. He was not only a father to us, but also a coach, mentor and everything else.


Lala Amarnath in 1936

Rajender wrote in a book that the brothers used to be pulled out of their beds in "freezing winter temperature of Delhi" for practice...

For him, cricket came before anything else. As kids, at times we would like to relax, but there was no compromise as far as discipline or cricket was concerned. Studies were secondary.

Were you scared after playing a poor shot?
Not scared, but we knew what to expect at home. He would ask us what went wrong and react in his flowery Punjabi and as kids we got a lot of beating. But it was part and parcel of the game.


Lala (left) with Surender

Did his presence on tour
(as expert columnist and commentator) make you feel uncomfortable?
No. Right from our school days, he would watch us play. It was always an advantage to have him around (on tours) and his expertise helped me throughout my career. In 1982-83, he guided me a lot on how I should play Imran Khan. I got a lot of confidence when he was around. He was there for me all the time. I owe whatever I have achieved to him.

Did you get the feeling that you suffered because of the Amarnath surname?
Yes, I did feel so. I felt rules were different for the Amarnaths than for the rest of the players. But I have no grudges now. I did whatever he wanted me to do. I am following his footsteps.

In the Mumbai Test of the 1979-80 series against Australia, you walked out to bat in his solar hat...
Before that series, I got hit on the head (by Richard Hadlee in an Indians vs Nottinghamshire tour game). Helmets were introduced then, but I found them too heavy. I'd seen photos of my dad wearing a solar hat so I thought there was no harm in trying it out.

You ended up getting hit wicket...
I was a bit off balance. I didn't think much about the dismissal, but people kept talking about it. I just took it in my stride.

What kind of a role did he play in your comebacks?
He would always encourage me. He too suffered a lot in his career. He knew exactly what it was like to be in and out of the team. I remember, he never spoke about failure and he was one person who always encouraged me to play my shots whether I got hit on the head or was dismissed hit wicket. He had a lot of confidence in me and I needed someone like him.

What's the one piece of advice that rings in your mind even today?
There was a time when I was thinking of quitting the game early and he told me, if you run away from reality, you allow more opportunities for people to get at you. Just keep trying and be positive all your life, he used to say.

How should Lala Amarnath be remembered?
He should not only be remembered as a great cricketer, but also an honest man who ate, drank and slept cricket all his life. People should remember him for his work as chairman of selectors too. He would always share his experiences with players. He gave several youngsters a break. I think he should have got more (recognition).
 
Which of your performances pleased him the most?
I got hit (on the mouth off Malcolm Marshall while scoring 80) at Barbados in 1983. He rated that innings as my best and sent me a telegram It was something he did for the first and last time. The telegram said how proud he was of his son.

 

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