A star is born

Amre played superbly in his first Test innings. He showed a lot of courage, a lot of discipline and an enormous amount of concentration.

Pravin Amre on way to his century on debut, in the first Test against South Africa at Kingsmead, Durban, in November 1992. He became the ninth Indian to score a hundred on debut.   -  V. V. Krishnan

Cricket has been a passion with Pravin Amre, his only love in life. Not surprising, as he comes from Shivaji Park.

Cricket was a part of his family. Amre remembers his father, glued to radio on the days of the Test matches. No one listened to any other programme and the junior Amre gradually began to understand the game, his father being the guide and the encouraging factor for him to play cricket as often as possible, but not at the cost of his education.

 

Amre was a brilliant student at the Sane Guruji School. “I always stood first,” he says proudly. Amre became the first cricketer to score a century on Test debut at the Kingsmead. Every spectator on the ground gave him a standing ovation as he drove Omar Henry to the sightscreen to realise a dream he had nurtured ever since he learnt to hold a bat.

His immediate thoughts went back to his parents, coach Ramakant Achrekar, sister Priya, and all the friends at the Shivaji Park. The Bombay youngster’s first words on his achievement in the first-ever India-South Africa Test were “I dedicate this century to my coach. He deserves singular credit for whatever I am today.” A splendid gesture considering the fact that not many cricketers remember their mentors, once they are established at the top.

Amre played superbly in his first Test innings. He showed a lot of courage, a lot of discipline and an enormous amount of concentration.

Like many cricketers, Amre’s introduction to the game was in the streets of Bhandarwada. His father had this tremendous interest for cricket and that was a good reason for Amre to indulge in cricketing activities once he came back home from school.

Amre had his own team, a combination drawn from the neighbourhood kids. Then one fine day, his team fixed a match with Achrekar’s side. His team lost but Amre, in scoring 20-odd, made an impact on Achrekar. The intelligent coach that he is, Achrekar realised here was a talented kid. Amre’s skill, as a 12-year-old, was impressive and thanks to that match, Amre’s career took its most important turn.

Achrekar invited him to join the Shardashram Vidya Mandir, which had all the facilities a young cricketer would need. Amre got instant approval from his parents and thus began a new chapter in the Amre family.

“That was the most important decision of my life and I owe it to my parents and Mr. Achrekar,” Amre said with gratitude.

His first three years in school cricket were not really encouraging. “Not a single hundred” Amre recalled. The year 1983-1984 brought him into the limelight. He was in 10th and was beginning to get a few hundreds in the inter-school tournaments. He got into the Bombay under-15 side and the same year went for his first National camp in Bangalore.

“It was also the first time that I flew in an aircraft. I was in Bangalore when the inter-school final clashed with the camp. Mr. Achrekar arranged for me to fly down to Bombay for the match. We lost the final but I did well in both the innings,” Amre recalled.

He joined the Mithibai College. A year later, Mithibai College won the inter-college title. In the final, he got a hundred in each innings. He soon got into this habit of scoring hundreds. His exploits in the Chidambaram Trophy, “206 and 157 not out,” paved the way for the Bombay cap in 1986-87.

It was a debut not worth remembering. Against Karnataka, Amre was out for 11 in Bangalore. He knew he had blown his chance for a place in the Bombay side was probably as difficult as a place in the Indian side. On Mr. Achrekar’s advice, he shifted to Railways and three years later to Rajasthan. He is yet to play a knockout match in Ranji Trophy after making his debut in one, six years back.

Leaving Bombay was a painful decision. But Achrekar foresaw that his pupil was India material and to achieve his goal, he had to join a team which would give him as many playing opportunities as possible. Amre remembers his coach’s words: “If you are good, doesn’t matter which team you play for, you will play for the country.” Amre followed the words of his coach, turned up for a weak team in the weakest zone in the country and forced his way into the strong Indian middle-order with sheer hardwork.

What propelled Amre into National reckoning was his glorious run in the Duleep Trophy in 1989-90. He hit three centuries in as many matches — 106 vs East, 240 not out v North and 113 vs South. But this was not enough for the National selectors to consider him for the tours to New Zealand and England. He began the 1990-91 season with a bang. A hundred (103) against North in the Duleep and a record 246 against Bengal in the Irani Trophy earned him a place in the Indian team for the Asia Cup but not a match. Another hundred in the Irani Trophy in Faridabad kept him in the Indian team for the Sharjah trip. But he still did not get to play in a match. His break came against the South Africans when they came to India.

Amre got a fifty in Calcutta, enough to keep him in the Indian team for the tour to Australia. In the WSC, and the World Cup, he always walked in with the situation being too demanding.

“On trial,” that is what Amre thought. He feels the same even now. Without having got a chance, Amre had this feeling that he was on trial in the Irani Trophy match before the current tour. He got a near-century and stayed in the team. But still there was no Test match for him. The Zimbabwe leg saw him play the one-day international and he did well to pull his team out ef a tight spot.

Pravin Amre with captain Mohammed Azharuddin. “He is a great team man. Always willing to give more than 100 per cent,” says Azhar of Amre.   -  V. V. Krishnan

 

Came the South African leg, and Amre still found himself relegated to doing the 12th man duties. He hardly got to play at the “nets” and then he fell ill, out for almost a week. The match against President’s XI at the Centurion Park gave him a feel of competitive cricket and a score of 23 was not too bad. He was prepared to be the 12th man for the Durban Test but the team management gave him the break he was looking for, preferring him to W. V. Raman.

“I am honoured to have been given to chance a play for India. I will give more than 100 per cent. May India win,” he said in his small speech in the dressing room on the day of the Test. He gave more than 100 per cent, scoring more than 100 runs on a dream debut.

Amre’s determination is admirable. He knows his job well and is ever willing to learn. “You can’t be successful each time you bat. I always try my best.” It was this trait that impressed Azharuddin the most. “He is a great team man. Always willing to give more than 100 per cent. I felt very happy for him and I am sure he has a long and successful career ahead of him,” the skipper said.

Amre was aware of what Test cricket was all about, having been on the field many times as the substitute fielder. “I know Test cricket is the real cricket. There is so much pressure on you. In a way, being the 12th man for a long time came in handy for me. I batted as if I was on a trial and it was my last chance,” Amre had to say at the end of his knock.

Amre is a technically sound batsman, with a compact defence and a wide range of shots in front of the wicket. He relishes facing the spinners. He is aware that people talk of his approach when he is up against the quickies. “I know some people say that but I hope they judge me by my performances. I often play long innings in domestic cricket and not all of them come against the spinners. I play my natural game. If a bowler flights the ball I just come out. I do it in local cricket and I did it in the Test match also. That is why I value this hundred the more compared to the ones I got in domestic cricket. It should be proof enough that I can play the quickies too. Those who have played Test cricket would know the worth of a Test hundred. When I went out to bat, the South Africans were on top and I hope I did bat to the satisfaction of my team and my critics. I don’t mind criticism at all. It often helps as long as it is related to one’s cricket.”

Amre misses his family a lot and holds his parents in high esteem. “I am hardly available at home to help them out. I am not at home for most of the festivals and there are so many relatives whom I have never met. I think my parents have played a major role in shaping my career. I salute them.”

Again he makes it a point to compliment Achrekar. “He takes all the decisions for me and I have immense faith in him. As long as I enjoy his confidence, nobody can stop me from achieving greater success.”

In his leisure Amre listens to Hindi film music and reads Marathi novels. His favourite character is “Mritunjay.” His love for Karna stems from his desire to sacrifice everything for a cause.

Indian cricket needs batsmen like Amre. The 24-year-old is a big hit in Bombay, the Shivaji Park in particular. Cricketers at the Shivaji Park would line up to bowl to Amre at “nets” to give him the valuable practice. “I wish Yashwant and Sunil, my good friends, were in Durban to watch me,” he said.

Amre sure has millions of well wishers. His career has indeed taken off on a sweet note.

This article was published in The Sportstar of November 28, 1992