S. Ram Mahesh
CHENNAI: For P. Amarnath, then 21, sun-burnt and reed-thin, the journey to Chennai was prompted by curiosity. Though he had taken to bowling with a stitched-leather cricket ball only late in his teens, his exploits in and around Vellore with balls made of India rubber and cork had built his legend.
“A lot of people said they had not seen anyone bowl so fast,” says Amarnath. “I was very curious to know how quickly I bowled. When I saw an ad about a hunt for fast bowlers, I wanted to take part.”
Taking part entailed a leave of absence from the construction site he was working in. “I hadn’t been playing regularly after completing my diploma in Civil, so I thought let’s see what happens.”
In Chennai, Amarnath had the first of several career-altering moments. Although he wasn’t the quickest at the tryout — he was, he says, ‘fourth or fifth’ fastest — his action impressed his competitors.
“They were surprised I didn’t play league cricket and said I should.”
When mulling over the decision to quit his job for one that wasn’t nearly as secure, Amarnath didn’t for a moment consider the transition he would eventually make — progressing in four years from bowling in the city’s fourth division to bowling in the Indian Premier League.
“My mother and my uncles supported me,” he says. “And I didn’t want to let them down, that’s all I thought about.” It’s remarkable how well Amarnath, now 25, has adapted in his young career. The simple mechanics of his action — front-on and whippy with the wrist fetching swing — have helped, for he hasn’t had to obsess over them.
Under the direction of his first-division captain J.R. Madanagopal, the former South Zone cricketer, Amarnath has developed further. “Madan anna has taught me everything about playing at the next level, the training, the thinking, the control needed,” he says.
From a shy lad worried last season if his Ranji teammates would censure him for mistakes, Amarnath has grown into believing he can hang with the big boys.
“Bowling (Sachin) Tendulkar (in the inter-State Twenty20 tournament) is something I’ll never forget in my life,” he says. “It gave me lots of confidence. That’s what I thought about in the first (IPL) game (against Kings XI Punjab). After three fours, Dhoni told me not to be scared, to do what I know.”
The wicket of the marauding James Hopes followed. “This is very big for me,” says Amarnath, fast-tracked into the Chennai Super Kings playing eleven in the absence of Makhaya Ntini and Albie Morkel. “Just bowling in the nets to (Matthew) Hayden and (Michael) Hussey and (Jacob) Oram I get an idea of what is needed at that level.”