A dynamic and energetic personality like Lala Amarnath could never
have been happy at just playing the game. Sure, he was one of the
greatest cricketers the country has produced, capable of doing
everything by combining style and substance - batting, bowling,
fielding, captaining and even keeping wickets. But could a multifaceted character like him be totally away from the game once his
playing career was over?
Not on your life. And it was but fitting that Amarnath continued to
don many roles till a few years before his death. He had adorned the
international scene for almost 20 years and his first class career
stretched for over three decades. But for another 30 years or so after
he played his last Test in 1952, Indian cricket was fortunate in
having a very active Amarnath gracing the scene in many `avatars.'
The first such role came just two years after his international career
was over. In 1954-55 he was appointed manager of the first Indian team
to tour Pakistan. From all accounts, he proved to be an excellent
manager. In the first place, he had personal knowledge of the country
since he had frequently played there in pre-independence days. This
included unofficial Test matches at Lahore. Secondly he had played
alongside Pakistan cricketers like Amir Elahi and Abdul Hafeez Kardar
who had represented India. He was affable and diplomatic and if the
tour was a success, a lot of the credit went to Amarnath.
At about the same time, Amarnath was a selector and in 1955 he became
chairman of the selection committee. He had definite ideas of the
future belonging to the youth and took no time in giving youngsters
their big break. In the five Test series against New Zealand in
1955-56, Amarnath gave Test caps to as many as eight new players -
Kripal Singh, VN Swamy, Nari Contractor, RG Nadkarni, SR Patil, Vijay
Mehra, CT Patankar and GR Sundaram. Again in the 1958-59 series
against West Indies, Amarnath tried out eight more new caps - CG
Borde, Ghulam Guard, MS Hardikar, Ramnath Kenny, R Surendranath, VB
Ranjane, AK Sen Gupta and RB Desai. For the tour of England in 1959,
VM Muddiah, ML Jaisimha and Arvind Apte were the new players and the
last two were capped during the series. He continued this youth policy
against Australia in 1959-60 and among those to earn India caps were
Muddiah, BK Kunderan, Salim Durrani, MM Sood and AG Milkha Singh.
Not unexpectedly, his five year tenure as chairman was marked by many
eventful happenings. The seamier side came about when India went down
to three successive defeats to the West Indies in 1958-59 and some of
the selections were criticised. Amarnath defended himself very well
pointing out that merit was the only criteria for picking the players
and he challenged his detractors to prove there were other reasons. It
was a typical Amarnath retort. Of course the masterstroke of his stint
was the playing of Jasu Patel against Australia at Kanpur in 1959-60.
Knowing the Green Park wicket like the back of his hand, Amarnath
picked Patel who had last played against Australia at Bombay more than
three years before. To say that his selection even in the 14 was
unexpected is an understatement. And while general opinion was that
Kripal Singh would be in the final eleven, Amarnath decided on Patel -
and the rest, as the cliche goes, is history. The 35-year-old Gujarat
off spinner bowled India to a famous victory by taking 14 wickets and
Amarnath's tactical genius was freely acknowledged.
His heart still with the young, Amarnath by 1960 became a coach cum
promoter of the game and that year took a team of Indian Starlets to
Pakistan. Amongst those to benefit from the experience were Vijay
Mehra, Kunderan, Milkha Singh, Sood, VV Kumar, Abbas Ali Baig and
Jaisimha. By now he had also became a well known coach in New Delhi
and this was one more role he donned to serve Indian cricket.
To a later generation, who were too young to see him play, Amarnath
was a familiar face and voice in his role of an expert commentator.
For newspapers, over the radio and on TV, Amarnath regaled readers and
audiences with his shrewd analysis and perceptive observations on the
game and the players. He still had an uncanny knowledge of how a pitch
would behave and I remember one occasion vividly. This was during the
first Test of the 1969-70 series against New Zealand at Bombay. New
Zealand, needing 188 runs for victory, were 12 for one at close on the
fourth day. The following day was the rest day. While almost every
writer and analyst went on to predict a New Zealand victory, Amarnath
was the only one to write that India would win and even mentioned the
margin. Well, India did win and by a margin not very far from what
Amarnath had predicted. That symbolised both his vast experience and
cricketing acumen. Throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s, he regaled a new
generation in his last cricketing `avatar' of an expert commentator.