Pravin Amre © Getty Images
Pravin Amre remains yet another of the many mysterious what-might-have-been tales of Indian cricket © Getty Images

November 15, 1992.With India tottering on 38 for four at Durban, debutant Pravin Amre came in to score a gem of a century that saved the day for the team. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at innings that prompted Clive Lloyd to remark that Amre was another in the long line of great Indian batsmen.

A Test of many firsts

It was a historic Test. An encounter involving of a truckload of firsts.

The match at Durban was the first ever home Test for South Africa after their return from international exile. It was also the first time that India played a Test match on the Protean soil.

The match itself proceeded to reel off a series of pioneering incidents.

Omar Henry was selected as the left-arm spinner, and it made him the first non-white cricketer to play for South Africa. Well, according to many Charlie Llewellyn, the southpaw all-rounder who played in the formative days of South African cricket, had been of mixed race. However, he himself never validated the claim, and after his death, Llewellyn’s daughter vehemently denied it. There was nothing uncertain about Henry, though.

At 40 years and 295 days, Henry was also the oldest debutant for South Africa.

Jimmy Cook’s exploits for Somerset in the county game had heightened expectations of many. And the match got off to a sensational start when he fell off the first ball of the Test to the great Kapil Dev.

And then captain Kepler Wessels guided the side to a decent score of 254, thus becoming the first man to score hundreds for two different countries.

India batted on the second day, and soon it was a prolonged struggle against the four-pronged pace attack of Allan Donald, Brett Schultz, Brian McMillan and Meyrick Pringle.

After 42 minutes of unconvincing strife that brought him just three, debutant Ajay Jadeja snicked Schultz to the bucket hands of McMillan. Sanjay Manjrekar stonewalled painstakingly for 35 minutes and 25 balls before being leg before to McMillan. He did not even manage to open his account.

With the score on 38, history was scripted once again.

Young Sachin Tendulkar tapped McMillan to point and charged down for a single. Johnty Rhodes sprinted to his left and sent in the return. The Indian maestro changed his mind and was rushing back to the crease when Andrew Hudson from short leg received the throw and broke the wicket. Umpire Cyril Mitchleyat square leg was not sure. For the first time in the history of Test cricket, a signal was made with strokes in the air depicting a TV screen. And Karl Lindberg, sitting in the pavilion, hit the green light to signal that the batsman was short of his ground.

Yes, in those days it was the green signal that sent the batsman on his way.

And almost immediately, Indian opening batsman Ravi Shastri, who had batted almost two hours for his 14, fell leg before to Pringle.

The gem on debut

India tottered on 38 for four. And in walked debutant Pravin Amre to join captain Mohammad Azharuddin.

A product of the same Shardashram-Achrekar combination that had given India Sachin Tendulkar and later Vinod Kambli, Amre had also made his ODI debut against the South Africans. It had beenduring their historic comeback encounter at the Eden Gardens in late 1990. On that occasion, he had been solid against pace and had nimbly danced down to the spinners to score an unbeaten fifty in the historic win. However, this was a completely different proposition.

The South African bowlers now smelt blood. They charged in and posed uncomfortable questions for the 24-year-old.

Later, speaking to CricketCountry in an interview, Amre recalled, “The Durban wicket had a lot of bounce and South Africa had a potent bowling attack in Allan Donald, Brett Schultz, Meyrick Pringle and Brian McMillan who were peppering me with bouncers.For a debutant, it was a challenge not just to stand up to them but also to do something for my team.”

The afternoon wore on and unlike wickets in other parts of the world, this deck became more difficult as time passed. The late Malcolm Marshall, who had been playing for Natal at that time, had warned the Indian batsmen that the ball would swing more prodigiously after tea because of the winds that swirled in from the nearby sea. The South African bowlers were using the conditions effectively — especially Pringle who was swinging it both ways. Survival was difficult.

After waging a long battle, Azharuddin was unfortunately run out for 36. And Kapil Dev lasted only two balls. But Amre hung on.When bad light ended play on Day Two, India were on 128 for six, with Amre on 39.

The Indian innings looked in shambles, but there was encouragement from an unexpected quarter. Abu, a South Africa based businessman, had taken on the responsibility of supplying food to the Indian cricketers.This enthusiast had no doubt about what was in store. Abu informed Amre that he was sure that he would get a hundred the following day.

Words of cheer notwithstanding, the going was not easy when play restarted. Donald snapped up Manoj Prabhakar early, and Amre found runs difficult to come by. For a long period he remained scoreless as McMillan sent down maiden after maiden. The bowlers gave nothing away, but perhaps they erred by bowling too many balls that did not need to be played.

However, in Kiran More the debutant found the ideal partner. The diminutive Indian ’keeper put his head down and refused to budge. Slowly the patience of the two batsmen paid off.

Schultz hobbled off with a strained hamstring and the other bowlers started to tire. And now Amre began to unfurl his strokes, driving the balls pitched up and pulling the short ones. Rapidly he made his way towards his hundred.

At 98, he faced Henry. The feet had remained nimble and twinkle-toed even after the long, long battle. Down he waltzed and lofted the left-armer straight back over his head. Umpire Steve Bucknor had to display remarkable reflexes to get his head out of the way and the hundred was brought up in style.

A number of spectators ran out into the ground to congratulate the valiant batsman, among them the delighted Abu. A short interruption ensued before play could be restarted.

Almost immediately after that Amre cut a ball from McMillan to find that indefatigable Rhodes at backward point. He walked back for 103 from 378 minutes and 288 balls. It had been a gem of an innings.

What followed

The 101 run association between Amre and More had ensured a slim first innings lead of 23 runs. But, with the match interestingly poised, bad light forced an early end to the third day. And then rain washed out the fourth.

On the final day, South Africa batted out time without much eagerness or enterprise.

Amre was deservingly named the Man of the Match. Match referee Clive Lloyd remarked that the young man was another in the long line of great Indian batsmen that included Sunil Gavaskar and Gundappa Viswanath.

It is remarkable that this exceptional fighter of a batsman with more than generous share of talent managed to play just 11 Tests in his career.

Most of the seven Tests after his return from South Africa saw him walk in after the top order had piled on enormous amounts of runs, and he had to throw his bat around for some quick scores. He still managed 256 runs in these matches at 51.20with three fifties.

Yet, somehow he was dropped after just nine months at the international level. His career ended with 425 runs at 42.50. He was never given another chance. In other words, he was not even given the opportunity to fail and provide an excuse for axing.

Amre remains yet another of the many mysterious what-might-have-been tales of Indian cricket.

Brief Scores

South Africa 254 (Kepler Wessels 118, Johnty Rhodes 41) and 176 for 3 (Jimmy Cook 43, Andrew Hudson 55) drew with India 277 (Pravin Amre 103, Kiran More 55)

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)