Praveen Amre made an impressive Test debut, scoring a fighting 103 against a fiery South African bowling attack spearheaded by Allan Donald

 

 

By Shurid Barua

 

Pravin Amre takes Suhrid Barua down memory lane…

 

Test hundreds are always something to cherish, but when it comes on your debut, it is even more satisfying. Pravin Amre experienced that rare high when he scored a fighting 103 in the Durban Test against South Africa in the 1992-93 series – an innings that was largely responsible for India forcing a draw in the match.

 

Eighteen years down the line, Amre recounts the highest point of his Test career. “I walked into bat with India in a spot of bother at 48 for four. 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. I took a lot of blows. For a 21-year-old debutant, it was a challenge not just to stand up to them but also to do something for my team,” Amre recalls.

 

The Durban deck is different from most other wickets as it used to offer prodigious swing towards the latter part of the day. “Before the start of the Test match, the late Malcolm Marshall, who was playing for Natal at that time, told us to be careful about the Durban wicket because it starts to swing in the post-tea session because the ground is near to the sea. I experienced it when the South African bowlers especially Pringle was moving the ball both ways when the survival at the wicket was the only thing on my mind at the start of my innings,” he recalls.

 

The century effort had its share of struggles when runs were difficult to come by with the South African seamers sticking to a probing line. “I clearly remember Day Three of the match when I was struggling to get a single run for an hour as McMillan was reeling of maidens from one end.”

 

Even today, Amre is indebted to wicket-keeper Kiran More for helping him get that coveted hundred. More helped Amre string together 101 runs for the 8th wicket at a time when he look in danger of running out of partners. “I am really thankful to Kiran for the dogged resistance he offered from the other end. Without his support, I don’t think I could have reached my hundred.”

 

The Amre-More partnership also ensured India garnered a slender 23-run first innings lead. He also shared a 87-run fifth-wicket stand with skipper Mohammed Azharuddin after India lost Ravi Shastri, Ajay Jadeja, Sanjay Manjrekar and Sachin Tendulkar cheaply.

 

At stumps on Day Two of the match, Amre was unbeaten on 39 in India’s total of 128 for six. Though things looked very dismal for India, one man was confident that Amre would get to a hundred and boldly predicted it. Amre recalls: “He (Abu) was a South African-based entrepreneur who used to bring food for our cricketers. Abu told me at stumps on Day Two that I would get my century on debut the next day. He said that he could see that happening from the dedication and determination I showed.”

 

Amre got to his hundred when he lofted Omar Henry over the bowler’s head that forced umpire Steve Bucknor to duck as he raced from 98 to 102. “Every time I see that shot, I fondly remember Abu because he was the one who rushed to the ground to hug me as I crossed the milestone,” recalls Amre. Sadly, Abu died in a road accident five years ago.

 

The Durban Test was historical in more ways than one. It was South Africa’s first home Test since March 1970 and the home side included a non-white player for the first time in Omar Henry, who became their oldest Test debutant at 40 years and 295 days.

 

It was a match that featured a number of firsts. The match saw  Tendulkar become the first player in the history of Tests to be given out (run out) after the ground umpire (Cyril Mitchley) referred the matter to the third umpire (Karl Liebenberg) on the second day of the Test.

 

It was also a match in which South African captain Kepler Wessels became the first man to score centuries for two countries – Australia and South Africa. To top it all, South African opener Jimmy Cook made his Test debut at the age of 39 and became the first Test debutant to be dismissed off the first ball.

 

South Africa fielded a very inexperienced team at least at the international stage, though most of them were vastly experienced at the club level or first-class level. As many as five players – opener Jimmy Cook, left-arm spinner Omar Henry, the all-rounder McMillan, the brilliant Jonty Rhodes and fast bowler Schultz were making their Test debuts. “Most of the South African players were richer on experience at club or first-class level, so we had to be wary of them. We knew that they were going to be tough,” he observed.

 

Indian batsmen have traditionally been uncomfortable on wickets that offer pace and bounce and not many have done well in bowler-friendly conditions overseas. Considering that, some would say Amre deserved a longer run in Tests than just the 11 matches he played. But Amre does not wallow in self-pity. “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,” he says matter-of-factly.

 

The 103 at Durban also made the critics questioning his ability to play fast bowling eat a humble pie. “The so-called cricket pundits said before I left for the South Africa tour that I would flounder against genuine fast bowling and that I was only good at playing spinners. This hundred at Kingsmead came under difficult conditions and was a fitting response to what I was capable of,” Amre signed off.

 

(Suhrid Barua is a cricket buff who invariably gets pumped up before every India match)