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May 20, 2000
Ladha Amar Singh was one of India's finest new ball bowlers ever and with Mohammed Nissar he formed a formidable opening combination for India in the 1930's. He could swing the ball either way but it was his fast movement off the wicket that was lethal. A crowdpuller with both bat and ball, there was never a dull moment when he was in the thick of the action. Tragically he died of pneumonia on this day in 1940 when he was a mere 29 years old.
Growing up in the town of Jamnagar, Amar Singh played for the now defunct Nawanagar in the Ranji Trophy and his abilities were first spotted by the eagle eye of his princely ruler, the Jamsaheb of Nawanagar, Ranjitsinhji himself, in a trial match in Delhi before the 1932 tour of England. Amar Singh finished the tour with a remarkable 111 wickets at 20.78 but his finest exhibition with the ball came at Lord's in 1936 after being released by Colne, for whom he played in the Lancashire League, for the three Test series. He grabbed 6-35 to skittle out England for 134, which was the first time in Test cricket that India led on first innings.
In the 1933-34 series at Madras, deprived of the support of Nissar, he put in another hostile effort that netted figures of 7/86 in a marathon 44.4 overs in England's first innings. With no other strike bowlers in the side apart from Nissar, Amar Singh was often used as a workhorse, being bowled into the ground. At Calcutta in the same series he turned his arm over for a staggering 54.5 overs, taking 4/106.
Lord Tennyson's team which visited India for five unofficial Tests in 1937-38 found Amar Singh a real handful as he repeatedly ran through them to finish with 36 wickets in the series at 16.66. Indeed Joe Hardstaff jnr, a classy bat who came on that tour, rated him as the best bowler in the world at the time after Bill O'Reilly.
Amar Singh was also a strokeful albeit inconsistent late order batsman and to him goes the honour of making India's first Test half century, at Lords in 1932. A sizzling 131 not out batting at No.10 against Lancashire in 1932 was evidence of his dangerous striking ability. A genuine all rounder he was the first player to complete the double of 1000 runs and 100 wickets in the Ranji Trophy. His brother Ladha Ramji also represented India and was even quicker than Amar Singh but without the discipline and control of the latter. Amar was a close friend of Vijay Merchant and both named their sons after each other.
We shall leave the last word to Wally Hammond, whom he bowled for 35 in India's first Test in 1932. According to Hammond, then in the prime of his abilities, Amar Singh was "as dangerous an opening bowler as I have ever seen, coming off the pitch like the crack of doom."
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