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By Suresh Menon
While the echo of the cry most often repeated in Indian cricket – “Where are the fast bowlers?” – is heard everywhere, let us pay a tribute to the men who remain the country’s most potent fast bowling combination - Mohammed Nissar and Amar Singh, whose centenary year this is.
Their performances at Lord’s in 1932 brought instant respectability to a nation making its Test debut. Nissar and Amar Singh were 22 then, and with better support might have run England close. England won despite Nissar’s dream spell on the opening day which reduced them to 19 for three within 20 minutes of play.
According to C B Fry, Nissar was faster than Harold Larwood who, in six months’ time was to run through Australia in the bodyline series. Amar Singh “came off the pitch like the crack of doom,” in Walter Hammond’s evocative words. Nissar clean bowled the openers Percy Holmes and Herbert Sutcliffe – who only a few days earlier had set the world record of 555 runs for the first wicket – in his second over, but then Hammond (35) was dropped, Les Ames (65) escaped a stumping before he had scored, and helped skipper Douglas Jardine (79) push the score to 259. India lost six wickets for 39 in their 189. They reduced England to 67 for four in the second innings before Eddie Paynter (54) helped Jardine (85 not out) take the score to 275. Amar Singh’s 51 was the highest score in the defeat.
While Nissar headed the bowling averages for the tour, Amar Singh had the most wickets, 111. Wisden’s judgement was, “Amar Singh was the best bowler seen in England since the War.”
When England played the first-ever series in India, Nissar had five wickets in the inaugural Test to become the first Indian to claim five both at home and away. Amar Singh’s seven for 86 at Chennai stood as a record for an Indian opening bowler till Kapil Dev went past it half a century later.
The late Sujit Mukherjee has left us delightful word-pictures of India’s pioneers. Nissar, he says, “ran to bowl like a bull at a gate. His immense shoulders heaved like billows, his feet in outsize boots pounded at the ground harder and harder, his right hand pistoned up and down purposefully. There was no inhibition in his movements, no holding anything back, no husbanding of resources. From the first ball he strained nerve and tendon and sinew to achieve his sole purpose – that of bowling fast. He did not leap to a climax, but depended on a dragging right boot to offer him the brake behind the crease. His left arm shot out and up straight as a mast, his small head nearly vanished behind bulging biceps as his right hand came over in a muscle-stretching sweep… whenever he reclaimed his cap from the umpire, tension visibly slackened all over the field.”
Of Amar Singh, he wrote, “Physically built like a whip, Amar Singh’s bowling was like the cracking of one. His right arm bent at an angle to his body during the run up, straightened behind his back during delivery stride, swept up and down with a whiplash movement. A loose wrist tightened only at the moment of releasing the ball so that he was able to introduce that last-minute snap which put the fly into the flier. When he withheld the wrist-snap, he bowled a slower ball without the slightest change in action. He moved to the crease in a tangle of arms and legs, his chest pointed squarely at the batsman; he seemed to lose balance and almost fall over as he bowled the ball. Everything looked wrong about his bowling except the results.”
In 1936, after India made 147 at Lord’s, Nissar’s 3 for 36 and Amar Singh’s 6 for 35 dismissed England for 134. In the third Test, Nissar claimed five again, but Hammond’s double century settled the issue.
Amar Singh, who played as a professional in the Lancashire league was beginning to be seen as an all rounder now. Soon he completed the double of 1000 runs and 100 wickets in the national championship. Playing for Nawanagar against Sind he scored 103 and 55 and claimed ten wickets for 83 runs. Next season, it was against Sind that Nissar (playing for Southern Punjab) bagged six for 17 in seven overs to dismiss them for 23.
Amar Singh had not yet turned 30 when he died of pneumonia. Nissar died at 52. Indian cricket has not seen such a pair since.