In a team that had only won a solitary match in World Cup history prior to participating in the marquee event in England in 1983, Mohinder Amarnath was probably India’s most unlikely World Cup hero. Yet it is Amarnath whose name is synonymous with a commitment and hard-working sportsperson long after he has hung up his boots.
He was never an elegant batsman or a threatening speedster yet it was his performance on the biggest stage that helped India achieve what it had not even dreamt of achieving.
Although he is best remembered for his contribution in the final, his all-round performance in the semi-final against England was one of the pivotal reasons why India managed to secure a berth in the finals. He not only dismissed the dangerous duo of Gatting and Gower in his 12 over spell conceding just 27, but also scored vital 46 runs before being run out.
That helped India reach the finals against two-time champions West Indies. West Indies skipper Clive Lloyd elected to bowl first and their bowlers proved why they were such a dangerous side as they bowled out the opposition for just 183 runs on the board.
Two Indian batting performances stood out- Srikkanth’s gritty 38 and Mohinder’s handy 26 lower down the order. Make no mistake, 26 were crucial runs in the context of the game and the eventual result.
When India returned to the field, with a relatively tough task of defending a modest total, a couple of absolute brilliance on the field helped India continue to believe that they could win. While the first one was an absolute ripper of a delivery from Balwinder Singh Sandhu to dismiss Windies opener Gordon Greenidge, Kapil Dev’s catch to dismiss a dangerous-looking Viv Richards off Madan Lal was spectacular and one that tilted the balance of the match in India’s favour.
At one stage, West Indies were reeling at 76 for 6 but then the West Indies tail began to wag and it seemed like the match was not yet over. It was here that Mohinder Amarnath came in handy. Dujon and Marshall had stitched a useful partnership and the West Indies were still in the game but Amarnath removed both batsmen to shatter the West Indian dream of completing a hat-trick of World Cup wins. Mohinder soon fired in the final nail in the coffin by claiming the last wicket of Michael Holding. The mighty West Indies were all out for 140, India had won the World Cup final by 43 runs.
As it turned out, the partnership between Mohinder and Srikkanth was the highest in the match and although Amarnath never really dismissed the big guns in the opposition team, 7 overs, 3 wickets for 12 runs were enough to show how effective he was.
Amarnath played within his limitations and despite not being the biggest hitter of the cricket ball or the fastest bowler or someone who would generate a lot of seam movement off the pitch, he helped India to arguably its greatest sporting glory.
In a country where cricketers go on to become superstars, Amarnath never wore an aura. In Amarnath, the cricketing world finds a modest world champion that is a rare specie in the contemporary cricketing world.