His fabulous batting deed was acknowledged by Sunil Gavaskar on “air” and Kapil Dev in the “dressing room.” What more could Pravin Amre have asked for? “Really,” he reflected, “It was an unforgettable day at Durban.”
Amre’s century on Test debut justified coach Ajit Wadekar’s faith in the Mumbai batsman. Amre had watched 12 Tests from the dressing room before getting to play one. “It was becoming frustrating. I had scored at an average of 87 plus in domestic cricket for more than six years. So this was special,” remembered Amre.
Indian batsmen in numbers ahead of Proteas Tests
Kingsmead was witnessing history – India’s first ever Test in South Africa. The match was marked by the first ball dismissal of Jimmy Cook as the home team batted first and India was tottering at 38 for four when Amre walked in to join skipper Mohammad Azharuddin as he crafted a skilful 103.
“I had come with a tag of a good player of spin only because I played spin well. People doubted if I could face genuine pace (of Allan Donald and Brett Schultz). It was tough. I took so many balls on my body but hung in. I had backed myself to play the pace and bounce. I knew if I failed I would not get another chance. I just hung in on what was then rated the fastest pitch in the world.”
On air, Gavaskar celebrated his century, “Ambi waited and waited and grabbed this opportunity,” and Kapil stood up and applauded, “Very well played Ambi.” As Amre noted, “I had grown up watching them. They were the reasons why I played cricket. To have earned their praise meant the world to me.”
The pitch had bounce and the ball carried well to the wicketkeeper. Few Indians had experienced such playing conditions. “I shed my initial front foot movement and played more back and across. I curtailed the hook and pull, played the cut and drive with restriction, and kept ‘leaving’ the good balls. I succeeded mainly by playing the waiting game.”
Amre was batting on 39 at the end of the second day when Abu, a local fan, brought him vegetarian food for dinner. “He told me that tomorrow you are getting a century and I am going to jump in to hug you. He kept his word the next day and his warm hug is a pleasant memory from that match. Abu was taken away by police but not before that hug,” Amre said. Sadly, Abu died in a road accident two years later.
As a new generation India prepares to play the first Test in Cape Town on Friday, Amre, 49, has a piece of advice. “Batsmen must utilise the loose balls and play as close to the body as possible. That’s the key.”