Pravin Amre, born on August 14, 1968, was one of the most prolific batsmen in the Indian domestic circuit. On his Test and One-Day International (ODI) debuts, he gave a glimpse of his talent. However, a long international career was not in his destiny. Today, he is a respected coach who has worked with numerous teams and players. Nishad Pai Vaidya profiles another Sharadashram lad who played for India.
In November 1992, a young Indian batsman took on a mighty South African pace attack to stroke his way to a hundred on Test debut. Facing the likes of Brian McMillan, Allan Donald and Brett Shultz, he rescued India from 38 for four to help them take a small lead. Some said he was a batsman who could only deal with spinners and that the lively tracks in South Africa would find him out. However, Praveen Amre’s grit and determination triumphed as his ton on debut promised a lot for the future. Yet, ten Tests down the line, his international career was over.
Born on August 14, 1968, Amre blossomed under the watchful eyes of Ramakant Achrekar — the man who also tutored Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli. Cricket was accidental. He used to go to the famous Shivaji Park as a child and only fielded until someone introduced him to Achrekar after two long years. Achrekar’s disciplined regime inculcated a determination and the hunger to score big which saw him turn up for the famous Sharadashram school. Coming from the Bombay school of batsmanship, Amre’s game revolved a lot around character and the never say die attitude. It was something that was evident from his younger days as he showed a penchant for big scores.
Amre’s talent was recognised at the national level when he first played for Bombay Under-15s in 1983. In his first game, he scored 114. Two weeks down the line, he scored 54 for West Zone under-15s. That started his tryst with age group cricket and he was prolific right through all the stages. In late 1986, his consistent performances for Bombay Schools and an innings of 254 for West Zone Schools facilitated his selection into the formidable Bombay side.
Establishing oneself into the star-studded Bombay side was no easy task and the 18-year-old Amre looked elsewhere for better opportunities. After only one game for his city, he decided to move to Railways. In an interview with Rediff, Amre said, “Well, it was a very good offer, secure job, it took care of my family, so Achrekar-sir himself advised me to shift. Besides, even Sunil Gavaskar was playing for Mumbai during those days, so one could never be sure of one’s place in the side, and its only when you play that you come into the reckoning for a place in the national squad.”
In his first game for the Railways in the 1987-88 season, Amre smashed 186 not out against Madhya Pradesh. That secured him a spot in the India under-19 squad for the tour to New Zealand and the World Cup that followed. Although, he did not have a very consistent run in those outings, he returned to domestic cricket a prolific batsman. In the next two seasons for the Railways, he plundered 765 runs in 10 games at a fantastic average of 85. His form also spilled into the zonal games and became one of the most consistent players on the domestic circuit. For the 1990-91 season, he moved to Rajasthan. But, in that season, the innings that stood out was his double-hundred (246) for Rest of India in the Irani Trophy game.
With these big scores and phenomenal numbers behind him, international honours were waiting around the corner. The big moment arrived in November 1991 at the home of Indian cricket — Eden Gardens. It was a series that marked the return of South Africa to international cricket and Amre’s entry into One-Day Internationals (ODIs) may have gone almost unnoticed. In an encounter that saw the rookies give the hosts a few scares, Amre soaked the pressure and settled in with an innings of 55 that ensured an Indian victory. On debut, he had shown maturity and had combined well with the other Sharadashram boy — Tendulkar.
On the tour to Australia that followed, he did not feature in any First-class game and his appearances were restricted to ODIs. He was also a part of the Indian team for the 1992 World Cup. But, Amre’s tryst with destiny came in November 1992, with the hundred on Test debut. For an Indian batsman to score a ton against a quality attack in their own den was no mean feat. Speaking to CricketCountry in an interview, he said, “For a debutant, it was a challenge not just to stand up to them but also to do something for my team.”
It was a tour during which India struggled, but Amre had done his reputation no harm. In fact, in the last ODI of that tour (at East London), his knock of 84 not out helped India overhaul South Africa’s total of 203. Coming in at the fall of Tendulkar (43 for three), Amre ensured that he saw it through and helped India seal a consolation victory.
In early 1993, England arrived in India for their toughest sojourn. In a series that saw Tendulkar and Kambli stamp their authority, Amre too contributed with two fifties. The third Test in Mumbai was literally Sharadashram vs England. Kambli smashed his way to 224 and Tendulkar made 78. Amre joined the party with a well-paced 57 and was at the other end when his mate Kambli reached his double ton.
Despite those good knocks at home, two indifferent outings in Sri Lanka cost Amre his place in the Test side. On the other hand, his ODI career wasn’t going too well as he couldn’t score big. A reason for that could be that he batted low in the order. Speaking about the same, he told Rediff, “That is because of my place in the batting order — 6, sometimes 7. And remember, Kapil was in the side too, at the time, so if a wicket fell when there were only 10 or 12 overs left, Kapil would be sent ahead of me, so my chances to bat were even less, and mostly in the slog.”
A look at his scores in ODIs does reveal his predicament. In the famous Hero Cup semi-final, he got a chance to bat earlier because of a collapse and contributed with 48. India sealed the game in a dramatic finish where Tendulkar turned on the magic with the ball. That innings of 48 was crucial to India’s cause in a low-scoring game, but that was to be Amre’s last significant score at the highest level. By 1994, he was relegated to the bench and then never played again.
Post International days
Amre saw himself play for the India A team in 1994. He also represented the Board President’s XI the same year against the touring West Indians, but did not get a look in to the main side. From there on an international return looked less likely and in 1996, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid had arrived to strengthen the Indian batting line-up.
On the domestic front, Amre kept scoring, but he never attained the same numbers he boasted of before his international days. He kept moving from one team to another. For the 1996-97 season, he went to Bengal, only to return to Rajasthan two years later. Fate ultimately called him to his hometown — Mumbai — for the 1998-99 season and he announced his return with 103 in his very first outing.
It was clear that destiny had been unfair to him and most astonishing development occurred during his return to Mumbai. The 29-year-old was named in an ‘India Masters’ squad alongside players from yesteryear such as Ashok Malhotra, Balvinder Singh Sandhu, Sandeep Patil and Yashpal Sharma to name a few. It was a blow for someone who was still hoping to make it to the Indian team.
Even if the Indian selectors had forgotten his performances on the tour to South Africa in 1992, the rewards were to come for him from unexpected quarters. Boland signed him up for the 1999-2000 season. His numbers may not make a very good read, but he did contribute with crucial performances. During his stay, they won the Standard Bank Cup for the first time.
The year 2000 was his last in representative cricket as he finished his career with Goa. He had played for five different teams at the domestic level, which makes him a journeyman of sorts. Given the start to his international career, he could have been handed more opportunities to make something out of it. Looking back, one always wonders.
In total, Amre played in 11 Tests, scoring 425 runs at a lofty average of 42.50. He scored only one century and three half-centuries. He also played in 37 ODIs, scoring 513 runs at a less impressive average of 20.52. He only managed two half-centuries — 55 and 84 not out — and not surprisingly both were against South Africa. In First-Class cricket, he played in 86 matches, scoring 5,815 runs at an average of 48.86. He scored 17 centuries and 25 half-centuries with a highest of 246.
More than two decades after Amre’s Test debut, his love affair with the game continues in a new role. Having taken up coaching after his retirement, he has worked with numerous teams and has been fairly successful. He coached Mumbai for five years and saw them lift a few titles during his tenure. Recently, he was involved with the Pune Warriors India at the Indian Premier League (IPL). On the domestic circuit, he has the respect of the players and batsmen such as Robin Uthappa and Suresh Raina, who have turned to him to correct their anomalies.
Thus, Amre may not have been the luckiest player, but the future beckons as a coach. He can still leave a mark as a teacher and someone who imparts his experience and wisdom. He told CricketCountry, “I’ve no regrets. I did what was in my control — to give my best whenever I got an opportunity to be part of the national team. I feel pretty satisfied to have finished my Test career with a Test average of 42.”