Lala Amarnath Biography
Few Indians have been as talented, controversial, and authoritative as Lala Amarnath. Hard-hitting with the bat, Amarnath became the first Indian to score a Test hundred — that too on debut; as he returned to the pavilion, women showered jewellery on him, and more prizes followed. Amarnath became an overnight hero.
Two seasons later he played what many regard his finest innings, against Jack Ryder’s Australians on a wretched pitch at Eden Gardens. India were bowled out for 48, Australia for 99, and when India batted, Amarnath was hit on the jaw by Thomas Leather. He resumed his innings (his son Mohinder would make a habit of this), top-scoring with 39.
He was a bowler who could bowl a nagging line and length to frustrate batsmen. When an exasperated Harold Gimblett asked in 1946 whether Amarnath ever bowled a half-volley, the response was spontaneous: “Oh yes, I bowled one in 1940.” On the same series he bowled a tremendous spell in the Lord’s Test, removing Len Hutton, Denis Compton, Cyril Washbrook, and Wally Hammond, reducing England to 52 for 4.
But there was more to Amarnath than that: he dared to challenge a system dominated by the royal families and BCCI. He paid for it when he was sent home midway during the 1936 tour, and ran into another tiff with Anthony de Mello in 1950.
Amarnath consolidated his position after World War II. He led India in Australia in 1947-48, lost a hard-fought series (at home against West Indies), and led India to their first series win, against Pakistan at home. The last stint happened after the fight with de Mello: the committee of selectors who chose Amarnath as captain was led by Vizzy.
His sporting skills were honed in Lahore: apart from his all-round cricket skills, he was also proficient in hockey and athletics. He had to leave Lahore amidst political riots (just before he left for Australia), but his love for the city and Pakistan never ceased. When he took his sons to the house where he grew up in Lahore, he made sure they paid respect to the soil.
In a First-Class career spanning over three decades, Amarnath scored 10,426 runs at 41.37 and picked up 463 wickets at 22.98. His Test numbers were modest — 878 runs at 24.38 and 45 wickets at 32.91 from 14 matches. However, his competitive, combative approach to the sport made him a tough opposition.
Amarnath moved into cricket administration following his retirement. He accompanied the Indian team to Pakistan in several roles, and was a respected figure on either side of the border for his efforts to keep India-Pakistan cricket relations alive.
His eldest son Surinder emulated him by scoring a hundred on Test debut (they are the only father-son pair to achieve this). Mohinder, the next son, was gutsy, brave, but unfortunate, and perhaps the greatest cricketer of the family. Rajinder, the youngest son, played First-Class cricket — as has Surinder’s son Digvijay.
Lala played significant roles in the development of their careers, often attending matches that featured one or more of the brothers. On one occasion he marched into the dressing-room and slapped one of his sons in public after the latter played an irresponsible stroke.
Amarnath went on to become a journalist, commentator, national selector, and administrator — but most importantly, left behind a legacy; he taught Indian cricketers to stand up to their causes.