‘Ajinkya has 12 centuries and more than 4,000 runs in Test cricket. So he knows his game and he has gone through such kind of bad phases before as well.’
Pravin Amre fondly remembers his century on debut in South Africa 29 years ago.
For someone, who spent 12 Tests in a row as the 12th man, Amre made sure he grabbed his opportunity with both hands with a splendid innings of 103 in the first Test in Durban in November 1992, against a top quality pace attack including Allan Donald, Brett Schultz, Meyrick Pringle and Brian McMillan.
His ward Shreyas Iyer replicated his feat last month with a century on debut against New Zealand in the first Test in Kanpur.
Coached by the legendary Ramakant Achrekar, Amre, who played just 11 Tests and 37 ODIs, has made his mark as a sought-after batting coach, who has mentored several India players including Iyer, Ajinkya Rahane, Robin Uthappa and Suresh Raina among others.
He is confident that the struggling Rahane will bounce back in South Africa, saying that he has overcome such phases in his career before as well.
In an exclusive conversation with Rediff.com‘s Harish Kotian, Amre, 53, who is in the midst of the talent scouting process for his IPL franchise Delhi Capitals, recalls how he batted his way to a memorable century on debut and how Iyer’s success in Test cricket gives him a lot of satisfaction.
Tell us about your century on debut in South Africa 29 years ago. How fresh is that memory for you?
For any cricketer, his first match for the country is very close to his heart.
There are a lot of nerves when you are playing for the first time for your country, you get more emotional when you get the Test cap from your seniors and you just want to do well.
For me, it was more special because when I got the Test cap, people used to think that I am only a good player of spinners, and maybe that was the reason I was the 12th man for 12 Tests.
And when I got the opportunity to play, it was at Kingsmead which was one of the fastest wickets.
It was a very important game for me because that time when I came into the Indian team, my first class average was the highest among the players in the team. So I just wanted to prove that the runs I got in first class cricket was not a fluke. It was an opportunity for me to show that I can play at the international level.
And before the Test matches, I had got a fifty on my ODI debut (against South Africa) so basically I was confident I could play that level of bowling.
You faced a strong South Africa pace battery of Allan Donald, Brett Schultz, Meyrick Pringle and Brian McMillan. How tough was it because they were constantly peppering you with bouncers?
The Indian batsmen are used to playing on pitches where the ball won’t bounce more than your waist. From there I had to go and play on pitch where the ball was bouncing till the chin level, so that is the adjustment I had to make when I went to South Africa.
To be honest, for the first 15 minutes when I came to the crease I had no clue what was happening. But then I realised I had to find a way to fight it out and it took me six hours to get my hundred.
Do you remember that shot, which got you the century on debut? After defending for nearly six hours, you lofted left-arm spinner Omar Henry straight back over his head for a four when on 98, to get the century on debut.
For five hours, I was struggling. People used to say I was one of the finest batsmen against spin bowling, and my footwork against spinners was very good.
So after five hours, when I finally got over my struggle, and when I saw spinner Omar Henry coming into bowl, I looked to play my natural game. I remember that was one over when I stepped out to every ball, but Jonty Rhodes was stopping them at point.
So I had no choice but to go over the top and get my hundred, and that is what I did.
Having played in South Africa and being a coach for the last so many years, from your experience, what would you say is important for a batsman to get runs in a place like South Africa?
To be honest, 29 years ago I had no data to fall back on nor did I have any experience of playing in South African conditions, so that was about mental toughness I would say. I was keen to succeed in South Africa, so the mental part was more important.
If you see this Indian team that is going to tour South Africa, nearly all of them have played there before, at some level or the other. So they are aware of the conditions, they know how the pitch will play, how much to bounce to expect and all that.
I am very hopeful our batting unit can do a good job in South Africa.
You had told Shreyas Iyer that you will visit his home for dinner after he scores a Test century. Has that dinner happened?
The bio-bubble is there, so I didn’t want to disturb his protocol. Let him get one more century in South Africa and then we will enjoy more.
How happy are you for Shreyas, who has worked hard in the last few years to take his batting to the next level?
There is always a different satisfaction from when you get a century to your student getting a century. I think you get more happiness when your student does well.
I have witnessed his journey from a 12 year old, playing Under-15, Under-19, India ‘A’ and now the Indian team. I have seen his struggles, how he waited for four years to get into the Indian team and he made sure he made most of the opportunity when he got a chance with a hundred on his Test debut.
I would say he has done better than me. I scored only a century on debut, but he got a hundred and a fifty in his debut match.
Do you interact a lot with him during matches or after a game?
I keep it very simple. I am available 24×7, they can call me anytime. If they are doing well, I don’t disturb them.
On the other hand, you have someone like Ajinkya Rahane, whom you have coached since his childhood days. He has struggled for runs in the last couple of years. What would you say has been the major issue?
I would say there is no issue. It is all about mindset.
Ajinkya has 12 centuries and more than 4,000 runs in Test cricket. So he knows his game and he has gone through such kind of bad phases before as well.
I am very confident he will bounce back in South Africa.
Right now for him every Test innings will be important. He will make sure that he gives his best every time he goes out to bat. I have no doubt he will bounce back strongly.
Rohit Sharma has been ruled out of the South Africa Tests with injury. How big a blow is that for India?
Definitely, it is a big blow for India. The way he played in Australia during the Tests, he played his part to perfection and even in England he did well. The way he has been batting for the last 2-3 months, he will be missed because he has been a big part of the Indian team across formats in the last few years.
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