Column | Mohinder & Mohit - tough cookies

Gill & Mohit
Mohit Sharma, right, celebrates with Gujarat Titans captain Shubman Gill after picking up a wicket against Punjab Kings in IPL 2024. File photo: AFP/Sajjad Hussain

Gujarat Titans medium-pacer Mohit Sharma had an eminently forgettable outing against Delhi Capitals (DC) in the 40th match of the ongoing Indian Premier League (IPL) 2024. Turning out to bowl the 20th over, Mohit was taken to the cleaners by Rishabh Pant, who hammered him for four sixes in quick succession. The 31 runs conceded in this over saw him return with the unenviable figures of 4 overs, no maidens, 73 runs and no wicket. This is till date the maximum number of runs conceded by a bowler in the history of IPL.

As he walked back to the dugout at the end of the innings, Mohit must have wondered about the vagaries of fate and the unfair hand dealt to him on that day. He was the star of the show for GT last year, picking up 27 wickets at an average of 13.37 and an economy rate of 8.65. Further, he had one five-wicket haul besides claiming four wickets in an innings on two occasions. An acknowledged expert in the art of bowling at the death, he was one of the architects behind the successful run of GT in 2023, which saw them finish as runners-up. He had bowled quite well during the current season as well, with 10 wickets to his credit in 8 games and an economy rate of 9.18, till he ran into a rampaging Pant at the Arun Jaitley Stadium in New Delhi.

Mohit had resurrected his career, which had gone into a tailspin, during the last 12 months. He caught attention for the first time as a raw medium fast bowler from Haryana who picked wickets up with considerable ease in Ranji Trophy. Mahendra Singh Dhoni identified his potential and used him as the lead medium-pacer for Chennai Super Kings in  IPL, where also he made an impact straightaway. His haul of wickets and Dhoni’s support ensured a smooth passage to the national squad in One-Day Internationals (ODIs) in 2013 and to the T20 side a year later. He was purple cap winner in IPL 2014 and a member of the Indian squad for the 2015 World Cup held in Australia. However, a serious back injury, which required surgical correction, led to he losing place in the national side. After this, he could get himself back on the big stage only in 2023, when he made a brilliant comeback under the tutelage of coach Ashish Nehra for Titans.  

It is the lot of sportsmen to go through these cycles of highs and lows, depending on the success and failure attained on the field. Such delights and despairs are an integral part of the life of every professional  cricketer as well. Over a period they learn to take them in their stride, steeling themselves mentally not to rejoice too much while winning and to avoid grieving when things do not go their way. There have even been instances when stars found their houses attacked, team buses subjected to pelting of stones and even their spouses booed and heckled. Such incidents can destroy the poise and confidence of even the strongest of persons but successful sportspersons are made of tougher material and they silence their critics by bouncing back through performances on the field. 

Mohinder & Kapil
Mohinder Amarnath made Kapil Dev's job easier in the 1983 World Cup. File photo: AFP/Frantzesco Kangaris

When one talks of “comebacks” in cricket, the first name that comes to the mind is that of Mohinder Amarnath, one of the most tenacious players of all time. He made his Test debut at Chennai in December, 1969, against an Australian side led by Bill Lawry, as an opening bowler and dismissed Lawry and Ian Chappell in quick succession in the second innings. But, he was not considered for selection to the national squad during the next six years and could get an opportunity only in November, 1975, when India played against New Zealand at Auckland. He promptly established himself in the side and soon made big strides as a batsman, earning a promotion to the prized No. 3 slot by the time the team moved to the West Indies for the next series.

A spell of bad form caused him to lose his place in the playing eleven when England toured India in 1976-77, but he was back in the squad when the national side went to Australia. However, by this time, bowlers had found a chink in his armour when it came to playing the fast short-pitched bowling. He was a brave person and played the hook shot almost by instinct , but also got dismissed attempting this stroke. Disaster struck during the tour to England in 1979, when, in the match against Northamptonshire, a bouncer from Richard Hadlee struck him on the head, leaving a small fracture on his skull.

Mohinder was not in the side when the series against Australia, led by Kim Hughes, started in 1979. He got a chance in the last Test of the series, when he made his way to the middle wearing a solar toppee of the type worn by the batsmen in the 1930s. It later emerged that Mohinder was prevented from wearing a helmet by Lala Amarnath, his father, as the latter felt this would give the bowlers an advantage! Rodney Hogg greeted him with a bouncer, which Mohinder tried to hook but the ball struck him on the toppee, which got dislodged from the head and fell on to the stumps, thus resulting in his dismissal under the category of 'hit wicket'. When a disappointed Mohinder trudged back to the pavilion with the toppee in hand, it appeared that his Test career was indeed over.

The next three years saw Mohinder make tons of runs in the domestic circuit, the sheer weight of which forced the selectors to choose him for the squad to tour Pakistan in 1982-83. He was the only player to emerge from that tour with his reputation intact as he struck three centuries besides 3 fifties. He followed this with another splendid performance during the tour of West Indies immediately thereafter, where he bravely took on the Caribbean speedsters. In 11 Tests during these two series, he scored more than 1,000 runs, and was hailed by both Imran Khan and Viv Richards as the best batsman in the world against fast bowling. He topped off this year by winning the man-of-the-match award in both semifinals and final of the 1983 Prudential World Cup that India famously won.

Mohinder’s subsequent fall from the peak of success to the deep abyss of failure was as sudden as it was shocking. India faced two opponents at home during the 1983-84 season - a weak Pakistan team played a three-Test series and a strong West Indies side that took part in six tests and five ODIs. Mohinder did not do too well against Pakistan, which was surprising but did not raise any concerns as the series was only considered as a trailer before the main battle against the West Indians. But when the second series began, Mohinder’s failure - just one run in 6 innings - was so complete that one wondered whether this was the same batsman who had won plaudits from critics all over the world only a year ago. His plight with the bat was so horrible that he was even nicknamed “Amarnought” and was dropped from the side during the series.

But Mohinder fought back and rose up again, like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes. He was selected for the tour of Pakistan in 1984 and he showed that he had put behind memories of his poor performances in the previous season with a century in the first Test itself. He did not look back after that and remained a permanent fixture in the national side till the last Test of the series against the West Indies in January, 1988. He had to suffer the ignominy of being dropped from the side for the 1987 World Cup, which was one of the reasons behind India’s exit from the championship in the semifinal stage.

Thus, it can be seen that Mohinder came back to the national squad after being out of it on multiple occasions. This w s a tribute to his determination, tenacity, guts, gumption, perseverance and resilience. Few cricketers have demonstrated these traits in such abundance as Mohinder did during his playing days. It is evident from his comeback after being in the oblivion for a few years that Mohit too has taken a leaf out of Mohinder’s book.

Mohit Sharma
Mohit Sharma is a fierce competitor. File photo: PTI/Manvender Vashist Lav

Professional sport is a tough arena where only the best equipped survive. It requires tremendous amount of self confidence to walk back into the field with the held high after being mauled badly on the previous occasion. Sportspersons keep doing this on a regular basis as they know from experience that success and failure are two sides of the same coin. Cricketers from Mohinder to Mohit place this principle close to their hearts and keep working on their game. It is this guiding principle that keeps them going even during their darkest hours and help them bounce back repeatedly. So even as critics pounce on Mohit and statisticians highlight the “most expensive spell”, let us doff our caps and cheer him along as he begins yet another comeback.

Cricket will be poorer without players like Mohit and Mohinder who bring  a distinct character and flavour to the sport.

(The author is a former international cricket umpire and a senior bureaucrat)

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