Teamwork is the beauty of cricket where 11 people work as one unit and put in selfless effort to make their country proud. But one cannot forget the coach who always puts the team ahead…believes, guides and motivates these men to bring out the best for the world to see. A coach is someone who tells you what you don’t want to hear, who has you see what you don’t want to see so that you can be who you have always known you could be.
Pravin Amre is that man who is so passionate about cricket that even today he looks to give back to the game and contribute towards a cricketers career is some way or the other. He is someone who has that unique quality of spotting talent and nurturing them into the finest cricketers. Earlier Pravin Amre represented India and now is one of the most successful coaches in the cricketing arena.
He made his ODI debut against South Africa in 1991 scoring a half-century and then went on to make his Test debut a year later against the Proteas again where he scored a century. CricFit.com author Binaisha M. Surti met him at the Wankhede Stadium where he spoke to her about his guru Ramakant Achrekar, his Ranji Trophy days…memories of his debut century followed by his pupils Ajinkya Rahane, Robin Uthappa, Suresh Raina, Naman Ojha, Shreyas Iyer and lots more.
You are considered a rare gem in the cricketing arena as you have done it all from playing to coaching. How did it all begin for you?
Pravin: Well I am born and brought up in Mumbai, that too from Shivaji Park area. Everything began from there as I played in Shivaji Park and further nothing was decided at that point of time as to whether I wanted to become a cricketer or not. My guru Achrekar sir changed my life…taking some crucial decisions for me like changing schools, changing states like moving from Mumbai to Railways etc. For someone like me, it was very difficult to move away from Mumbai and go to other states and then represent India…and I think that it was one of the toughest journeys that I had. I learned a lot during that particular journey like it was tough to get into the Indian team, but I knew that with 7 years of consistent performance I could make it. For any cricketer, it is a dream to get a Test cap and I was fortunate to get that.
How did your fortune change once you started training under Coach Ramakant Achrekar who has also trained Sachin Tendulkar?
Pravin: My fortune completely changed once he entered my life…he took some important decisions for me like leaving Mumbai when I was 18 years. He always believed that I should be in the playing 11, rather than sitting out. If I played then I would get a chance to perform. What exactly happens as I played for so many states in the playing 11 and I got an opportunity to perform. From there on I could then represent India. As a coach, he was always disciplined and strict but was very knowledgeable. Right now as I have been coaching for the last 10 years…it is then that I understood how great he was. Back then there was no proper infrastructures nor facilities…but right now while we are coaching we get a lot of inputs from the association, from the board…we have courses for coaches and all. While that was an era where nothing was there, in fact, it was just his passion to make someone a great cricketer. What he has achieved, I think that no one else has achieved that.
On a personal level, how was your rapport with him?
Pravin: (Smiles) I was one of his favorites so I was always fortunate to be with him. That is how I learned a lot from him and all those things I am now sharing with this generation.
You have played for 5 teams in Ranji Trophy featuring for Bengal, Mumbai, Railways, Rajasthan and finally Goa. How different was it playing and moving from one stateside to another?
Pravin: The first decision that I took was very difficult for me as I am born and brought up in Mumbai. I got my Mumbai cap when I was 18 years. From there I went to play for Railways as they offered me a good job…that security in life was important. Railways were good enough to give me a quality job. Later Air India came in my life and last 25 years I have been working for Air India. When moving from one side to another it is very important that you feel welcomed by your teammates. As a performer, I had to be there. Every year was an important one for me and when you’re a professional, if you fail then it would be all over. It taught me how to be mentally tough while being a performer. Further, then I did come back to Mumbai after a gap of 12 years and scored a century in Ranji Trophy. When I got a century in Tests, I wanted to score one for Mumbai too… Then the opportunity came to be the first Indian to go and play first-class cricket in South Africa for Boland. I went there, played and we won the championship and that was a great experience there as I played in different conditions…more over it was very challenging.
You waited for a long time before you got your Test cap. Share with us the pleasant memories you have of hitting a century on Test debut?
Pravin: I had to wait from 1986 to 1992 to get my Test cap…those 6 years were very tough. It was always my dream to get a Test cap and when it came, it came in a very historical tour as we were the first team to tour in 1992 and nobody knew as to what the South African conditions were like and more importantly we had to adjust to that kind of pace and bounce. Back then there was no data available, no videos… We only got a couple of practice matches. The start is very important in international cricket and I was aware of that. I knew if I wanted to play for India then I had to start off very well. When I went in to bat we were 38/4. From there as the last specialized batsman, my role was to stick in there and get runs for the side. I realized that it was my duty to give my hundred percent for the team and I enjoyed my innings.
You have guided, mentored and coached India’s finest cricketers like Ajinkya Rahane, Robin Uthappa, Suresh Raina, Naman Ojha and Shreyas Iyer. What aspect did you work with them individually on?
Pravin: As a coach, it is very important to understand their psychology, what are their natural abilities, what skills they have, what is their fitness level like…those are the parameters we have to judge. What are their strong points and what areas we need to work on and further improve… Ajinkya’s beginning was not great against Australia so we worked on the technique and mental aspect. Nowadays if you do well everyone is behind you but if you do not perform then they will bring you down. My role was to give him confidence and moral support. I have known Ajinkya as a person since he was very young so that made a lot of difference. As a coach, you have to back yourself and your instinct. I did just that to help him correct certain things and that helped him develop trust and faith in me. With Robin, it was a different challenge because it was the first time any cricketer had thought of hiring a personal coach and he is the one who started it. He was not in the Indian team as there was something lacking in him. More importantly, he was ready for the change mentally. He believed that whatever I was doing would be good for him. It was difficult as I had to understand what skills he had and what I wanted him to change, further how much time it would take. It was challenging as he was playing domestic cricket too.
Talking about Suresh Raina, I saw him playing during his under 19 days and I recommended him to come to Air India. I felt he needed to get exposure here as he was very talented. That is the role I played as I got him to Mumbai and made him play in the Air India team. I made him play Mumbai’s A division cricket where he scored hundreds and double hundreds as a 19-year-old. That boosted his confidence and made him believe that he could play any bowler. I was always a phone call away from him if he had any technical difficulties. Naman Ojha was again an Air India employee and he too is very talented. We worked more on his mental aspect rather than the cricketing aspect. I worked with Shreyas since he was a kid, seeing him in the nets and now he wears the Mumbai cap. I had to be practical and be tough with him as I did not want him to be in his comfort zone. That is the role I played as I wanted to make him aware what kind of cricket he needs to play at the senior level.