Eighteen-year-old Prithvi Shaw—the 293rd Test player for India—became the fifteenth Indian batsman to score a century on debut when he reached the three-figure mark off just 99 balls in the first Test of the two-match series against the Windies in Rajkot last week.
Like Shaw, former Indian batsman Pravin Amre, too, has the distinction of scoring a debut Test century, which came against Kepler Wessels’ South Africa in Durban in 1992.
A start as brilliant as this carried a lot of promise for Indian cricket, but Fortune had laid out other designs. Opportunities to feature in the first team were scarce and sporadic for the Bombay batsman, and then came the cold moment in his career when he was dropped from the Test team to accommodate an out-of-form Sanjay Manjrekar for the 1993 tour of Sri Lanka.
However, unperturbed by the lack of recognition at the international level, Amre—one of the three pupils of Ramakant Achrekar who went on to represent India (the others being Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli)—continued to score truckloads of runs for Bombay on the Indian domestic circuit and established himself as one of the most prolific domestic batsmen of his generation.
Always a keen student of the game, Amre, after his retirement, was in search of a lucrative opportunity to return something back to it and the best way he could do it, he realized, was by following in the footsteps of his guru, Ramakant Achrekar. The decision to become a full-time coach would reward Indian cricket greatly in the years to follow, for it was under his Supervision and tutelage that some of the current players of the Indian team, namely Ajinkya Rahane and Shreyas Iyer spent their formative years in the game.
Amre has also been the ‘go-to man’ for several players who find themselves out of the national team but aspire to make a comeback before the best years of their careers fizzle out. The likes of Robin Uthappa, Suresh Raina, Dinesh Karthik and Naman Ojha have all benefited immensely from his one-on-one coaching and have credited him for bringing their careers back on track when everything seemed lost.
Indian cricket’s latest sensation Prithvi Shaw has also had the opportunity to receive guidance from Amre since the latter was ten years old. In fact, it was upon Amre’s (now the head of talent hunt at the IPL franchise Delhi Daredevils) insistence that the Delhi-based franchise bought Shaw for Rs. 1.20 crore at the players’ auction earlier this year.
A couple of days before the start of the second Test between India and the Windies in Hyderabad, the former Indian batsman and seasoned coach spoke exclusively to our correspondent Ritam Basu about Shaw’s fairy tale-like journey from Virar to the Indian team, how the DD stint helped bolster his confidence, the unnecessity of incorporating any major change in his technique, his views concerning the comparisons between the teenager and Sachin Tendulkar et cetera in a telephonic conversation.
Q: Hundreds on Ranji debut, Duleep Trophy debut and Test debut. People have now started calling Prithvi Shaw the ‘King of Debuts’…
Amre: I have been following his progress ever since he started coming to the Air India Ground as a ten-year-old with his father. From that time only he was marked out as a prodigy as he had built up quite a reputation in school cricket. Even as a kid he had that spark. By the time he was sixteen, he made his Ranji Trophy debut and went on to lead India in the Under-19 World Cup two years later. Such rapid progress would not have been possible had he not been a quick learner. The boy has tremendous confidence! It’s a good quality to have as a youngster—the ability to hold your nerves and seize the very first opportunity that comes your way.
Q: You, I believe, helped him receive a scholarship from Air India…
Amre: Yes. Air India has a tradition of promoting players from a very young age and I think the quality of practice facilities and the coaching that they provide help a youngster prepare well for the rigours of first-class cricket. Today he might have overcome a lot of financial difficulties, but there was a time when things such as providing the best facilities, giving him an opportunity to practise alongside state-level players and supplying the clothing were necessary and these are the things that we looked after at that time to make sure that there was no impediment to his learning. I think that also helped build his confidence.
Q: Some of the former Indian Test players have opined that Shaw needs to incorporate a few adjustments in his technique. What do you think?
Amre: Tell me the name of anyone batsman who hasn’t had any issue with his technique. The greatness of a player is determined by his ability to cope with these issues and devise a way to keep scoring runs despite such problems. The Mumbai school of cricket allows a player to play his natural game as long as he is consistent. Only when a youngster doesn’t seem confident about his batting do we step forward to advise him and ask him to make the necessary modifications. In Prithvi’s case, we were never required to tinker with his technique because he was middling the ball well and was scoring truckloads of runs. People will say that he must change his bottom-hand grip, but I think you should allow a player to continue with the technique with which he is comfortable.
Q: Like Shaw, you had also scored a hundred on your debut against South Africa in Durban in 1992. What are your memories of that innings?
Amre: Well, it happened thirty years ago, so I cannot give you an exact recollection of that knock. What I do remember is that it took me more than six hours to get to my hundred (laughs). It’s one of the best feelings in a player’s life when he receives the Test cap and is chosen to represent his country and when he scores a century in his very first game, the occasion becomes really special. The conditions in Durban were very challenging and we had lost four wickets when I went out to bat. It was a dream come true for me and I have always relished it.
Q: Has Shaw spoken to you over the phone lately?
Amre: No. We haven’t had many conversations of late.
Q: How has he benefited from his IPL stint with Delhi Daredevils?
Amre: IPL gives you a platform to rub shoulders with stars like Gautam Gambhir and imbibe technical inputs from a legend like Ricky Ponting. You can learn so many things just by way of talking to them. I had insisted on the DD management to bid for Shaw not just because he is from Mumbai, but also because he is someone on whom the franchise can depend to serve them for a long time.
Q: Any advice that you would like to give him for the upcoming Australia tour?
Amre: A lot of people have said that he is not well equipped to play against swing, but the boy is very smart and knows his game well. Let him go to Australia first and acquaint himself with the conditions over there. I never had any former experience of playing in South Africa when I made my debut. We adjusted ourselves when we went there and I am sure he will do the same thing when he goes to Australia.
Q: What has been the excitement in the Mumbai cricketing circles like after Shaw’s debut hundred?
Amre: Not many players from Mumbai have made it to the Test team of late and when somebody gets picked and scores a hundred on debut, the entire state gets excited. It is his journey—from Virar to the Indian team—which has captured everybody’s imagination. Everybody knew that he would make the Test team sooner or later. The talent was always there in the boy, but the courage which he displayed in his very first game has made us all immensely proud!
Q: For a youngster getting off to such a brilliant start in international cricket, what challenges may lurk ahead for him?
Amre: Let him enjoy international cricket first because it’s important for any player to enjoy his game and focus only on the next Test match. He is a level-headed boy, so I don’t think one should fear about him going astray.
Q: How do you view the comparison that people have started making between Shaw and Tendulkar? Could it create additional pressure on the boy?
Amre: I think instead of looking at it as pressure, he should treat it as a compliment. The way people have already started comparing him with Sachin and Sehwag will actually motivate him to do better. Remember, Sachin and Sehwag were not just good stroke-makers but were also equally consistent.
Q: Another pupil of yours, Shreyas Iyer, has been in terrific form in the Vijay Hazare Trophy this season. Is he still in contention for a berth in next year’s World Cup squad?
Amre: A lot of players are competing for the number four slot in the ODI team at the moment, and I am sure Shreyas has bolstered his chances of making a comeback. He has scored hundreds against quality teams like Karnataka and the Railways and the selectors take note of such things. A batsman can speak for himself only by scoring runs and the rest he must leave to the selectors.
Q: Ajinkya Rahane’s lukewarm form in recent times—is it becoming a concern for India?
Amre: Don’t forget that he has over 3,000 Test runs and nine hundreds to his name, so he has evidently proven his credentials at this level. The team management is confident that he will come back to form soon and that’s why he is the vice-captain. He is aware of his responsibilities, he knows his game well and I think he is just one innings away from coming back to form. The 81 which he scored in Nottingham was a masterclass! It’s not that he is not getting runs. He only needs to convert his starts into bigger scores and if he does that, his confidence will automatically boost up.
Q: What would your advice be to the Indian batsmen for the impending Test series in Australia, considering the errors that they made in England?
Amre: The biggest inspiration for the batsmen to do well is there in the team itself—Virat Kohli. He showed such tremendous form in England and the batsmen should try to learn from him and emulate him whenever they embark on any foreign tour. This is not the first time they will be going to Australia. Most of the boys have played there before and hence, the conditions will not be alien to them. The challenge in Australia will be different from what they had encountered in England. It would be good if they play a couple of four-day practice matches in Australia prior to the start of the Test series in order to adapt to the conditions.
Q: With no Steve Smith and David Warner in the opposition, is this India’s best chance of recording a series victory in Australia?
Amre: It would be folly to underestimate Australia, even in the absence of Smith and Warner. If they play good cricket, it wouldn’t matter as to who is playing and who is not. If India play good cricket in Australia, I am sure that the result will be on their side.