Couch Talk 161 (Play)
Host: Subash Jayaraman
Subash Jayaraman (SJ)– Hello and welcome to Couch Talk. Today’s guest is former India batsman and currently assistant coach with the Delhi Daredevils – Pravin Amre. He talks about the debut century vs South Africa in Durban, his coaching philosophies, and also coach Ramakant Achrekar, among other things.
Welcome to the show, Coach Amre!
Pravin Amre (PA)– Thanks!
SJ– It is my pleasure having you on.
I want to start with your playing career. What was it like to hit a century on debut abroad, in South Africa, against an attack consisting of Allan Donald, Meyrick Pringle, Brett Shultz and Brian McMillan and that too at Kingsmead?
PA– It is happy to be the only Indian to get a century on that wicket. Also, for every cricketer it is a dream to play for the country. For me, I was fortunate to get the opportunity abroad and get a hundred, especially when we were 38/4.
SJ– When you are walking into that stage, what was your thought process, what was your mindset the day before the Test match? What was it like when you were walking in at 38/4?
PA– I was looking forward to the opportunity. To get that Test cap I had to wait for 4 years. My average was 87 in First Class cricket when I got it. it was not like I had one good season and I got an opportunity, I had played 4 seasons consecutively where I scored heavily when I got this opportunity. The hunger was there to go and do well for Team India.
SJ– Still, the conditions are not typically what you are used to. It is a fast wicket, against very quick bowlers…
PA– Self analysis is very important. When we went there in 1992, we were the first team to go to South Africa, so no data was available about types of wickets there. We knew there was bounce, but not how much. When we went there the couple of practice games were important, particularly for me to get the technical adjustments, to adjust myself on those bouncy wickets. Every player prepares himself, and that was most important for me to prepare there. There wasn’t the facilities, no indoor grounds, no bowling machines. That was a tough time to prepare oneself. You can prepare better these days. That was how we prepared back then. It was more mental preparation, more visualisation. If the ball comes at me at this pace and bounce, how would I react? Rather than going there and trying to adjust… Preparation is very important, with mental make-up.
SJ– Still, going in, you must have been nervous. But once you settle in, when you get the idea of the pace of the wicket and the bounce, what did you feel?
PA– To be honest, at 38/4 I was the last recognised batsman batting. As a batsman my duty was to hang around till the end. That is what I did – I hung around for 6 hours, that was very important to play the hostile fast bowling.
SJ– You only played 13 Test matches, after making a spectacular debut century. Your Test average is more than 40. But, you never played after the 1994 season. What went wrong there?
PA– Sometimes answers are not in your hand. It was destiny that I could not get many opportunities. To be honest, I wasn’t a failure because I was a part of a winning team and I was on the tour to New Zealand where I didn’t play a single game and I was dropped and after that I never played for the country. That is gone. The first couple of years (after that) it was a very difficult to digest, as a cricketer, as you feel like you can play more for the country. But, when you are not there you become more practical. That is the phase when I went into coaching rather than cribbing about that. Right now, I am enjoying more. Whatever I learnt from playing for the country, how I adjusted myself… I did a lot of coaching courses – level 1, 2 . I did level 2 in South Africa in 1999. I was very much interested in coaching so that I can be connected to cricket and share my experience with upcoming cricketers. That second half has helped me because I handled it well. it is not like I went to an extreme. It has happened to so many cricketers who feel the bitter taste for a long time. i realised that that is my destiny. Life moves on, I also moved on.
SJ– You make that wonderful debut and you have a wonderful record for India. of course, the bitter taste is there, the disappointment is huge. How has that helped you in guiding – you are a coach now – modern youngsters?
PA– Hundred on a debut or not on a difficult track – personally you will always feel that you can score ten more hundreds for the country. That is why I felt it as a disappointment, ten to twenty hundreds was my goal. I make sure I share my thoughts with whomever I am working with. If he gets a hundred, I get satisfaction.
SJ– There is a question from a listener, Satish. This is about your ability to play spin – you are an excellent player of spin. You look at younger Indian batsmen –they seem to struggle against spinners like Nathan Lyon, Moeen Ali etc. No disrespect, but they are not (Muttiah) Murali(tharan) or Shane Warne. But, they seem to struggle against just above average spin. What do you think is the problem?
PA– I think there are two reasons. I played in an era where there were quality spinners around. I am talking about (Narendra) Hirwani, Maninder (Singh), Venkatapathy Raju etc. Those quality bowlers were there for us to face. We were used to facing quality bowlers, and to score against them we should have our own plan. To play spin well, footwork is the key. You need to have decisive and quick footwork. That is important at learning time. To play a spinner, you need a lot of practice to play on a bad wicket. You become a better cricketer then. We practiced on a bad wicket, more in Mumbai that time. It helped me when I went to play on a fourth day pitch, on a spinner friendly pitch.
SJ– So, are you saying – when you said Raju, Hirwani, Maninder Singh – the quality of spin bowling in India is not as good as it used to be?
PA– That is the main concern now, isn’t it? We have hardly any quality spinner right now. I meant that helped me to become a good player, your question was about how I was a better batsman against spinner. That was a reason. Also, we played a lot of quality spinners those days and scored against them.
SJ– In terms of coaching, if you look at the national team the team has a coach from abroad – John Wright, Greg Chappell, Duncan Fletcher etc. Do you believe that the time has come when India should have a coach that should come from within India, that has a lot of qualified coaches around?
PA– Definitely, there will be. But I don’t think it is an Indian or abroad argument. The coach [selected] should be one of the best in the business, that is how it should be when Indian team is looking for one. It is an always challenging task for any coach – foreigner or Indian. He should be a person who can deliver, knowledgeable, can deal with those things.
SJ– You have coached Ranji teams, and you have coached in IPL too. Which is harder?
PA– Both are hard. You are talking about different formats. Playing a Test and playing in an ODI or T20 match is different. IPL is just T20 cricket. When we work with BCCI and state associations, we have to take care of 4-day cricket, One Day cricket and T20 cricket. I think the pressure, mindset, planning become different in that.
SJ– But, when you deal with state sides, say Mumbai or Maharashtra, you have the players with you for a long time.
PA– Absolutely. In any team, team bonding is so critical. Sometimes, in IPL it becomes more challenging for coaches as you hardly get one week to make your own strategy and your own combinations and make sure you build your own team bonding and unit in that time.
SJ– Right now, you are with Delhi Daredevils and the head coach is Gary Kirsten. What do you guys focus on? What is the strategy?
PA– First thing is to get the positive outlook on the team members. The head coach should know the positives and the strengths of the players, especially the Indian players, who are not much known. My role comes in to give him the right inputs and feedback about the players so that we can have the right combination.
SJ– When you talk about the pressure of just one week of preparation, what things do you want to do besides the team chemistry? What are the things that you try to work on in that period heading into that tournament?
PA– We want to be clear on the players’ roles. In different situations, what can be our best strengths? Sometimes, we have 25 players, but we have to select the best players. The coaches should know that these are the players are to be chosen for this particular situation, this particular opponent, this particular wicket. That is critical.
SJ– Coaches used to watch the players in nets and then make their decisions. I am assuming because you have such a small time you work a lot more with data that is available from the previous few seasons, right?
PA– Not really. It will be always like we would focus on the cricket, we arrange a couple of practice matches and see their fitness and form because so many times you can’t just go on previous data. It is important to see their current form.
SJ– Having been with Mumbai and Pune franchises, what is the important thing that you have learnt as a coach to be successful in the IPL?
PA– The most important thing is communication. As a coach, it is important to back your own instincts. Whatever your own judgment, you have to share with your head coach or management. That is what I learnt from the IPL when I was working as a coach.
SJ– Let’s talk specifically about Delhi Daredevils. In the 7 years of the IPL, they have not won the trophy. In the last 2 seasons they were quite bad even with some big name players. How do you, Gary and JP Duminy plan on turning this around?
PA– Absolutely. That was the bottom-line when I was roped into this think-tank. The strategy was simple. We are looking to win this year but with an eye on the future also. If the selectors are going for these 25 players, around 7-8 players average age is 19-20-21. We are looking to back these youngsters also. So, next time they would be matured and there would be bonding and would be with us for a long time. We have big stars also, like Yuvi (Yuvraj Singh), Angelo (Mathews) etc. there are quality players. At the same time, we invested in youngsters like Shreyas Iyer, Travis Head, Marcus Stoinis and youngsters from all over the world. That is going to be the key factor. We just can’t go with only star studded team, we have to keep an eye on the future also.
SJ– You have Yuvi and Zaheer – very well experienced cricketers with a lot of success, won a World Cup for India. What is their role, besides playing for Delhi, in terms of mentoring the kids?
PA– They have got a huge role to play. Just now, I talked about youngsters. Many times the coaches are there to guide, but when the senior players are there to guide them, talk to them, discuss cricket with them, they go to the next level. That is their role; that is what they are doing in our camp.
SJ– I want to talk briefly about Mumbai cricket itself. When you were the coach in 2006-07, Mumbai started badly, but went on a good streak of wins. This is a question from a listener, Shrikant, and he wanted to talk about your relationship with the players and captain of the time – (Amol) Muzumdar. What was it that you did that turned the team around?
PA– 2006, the year, was special to me because I was not doing any professional coaching, I was just coaching at Shivaji Park Gymkhana Academy. And then Mumbai picked me as Mumbai Ranji coach. The first three games, we lost. We had zero points. That was the first time in my cricketing career when we lost to Hyderabad, that came after a history of over 60 years of Mumbai not losing to Hyderabad outright. That particular night was sleepless for me. The first thing we did after landing from Hyderabad, we hit the ground nets straight away. We regrouped ourselves, because that time the team’s confidence was very low because we were on the verge of relegation. It was important for e as a coach to play the role of a leader to make them believe in themselves again. We have to win all the matches outright to stay in the elite group, else we would have been relegated. That pressure was very big. In India, the media was after you after the Hyderabad game, asking what is wrong with Mumbai cricket. “It had gone to the dumps, after losing to Hyderabad.” only me and my team were together, nobody was believing – that we can win the trophy – that particular moment. Only the 15 players believed even in that moment that we can come back strong.
We kept it simple, and focused on the next game. That was so important to win outright to get the momentum. Once we got that momentum, we won three games, stayed in the Elite group and managed to qualify. Once we got to the knockouts, as a coach I know that in the Ranji trophy – a long tournament with 45 days, once you come to the knockout, it is anybody’s game. League is a different thing – you can start poorly and recover. Knockout is a different tournament. One bad day and you are out. We did it with quality cricket in 2006/07. The role of every player – Amol Muzumdar, Wasim Jaffer, Ramesh (Powar), Ajit (Agarkar) – they played a big role in that.
The commitment to the team is very important and with a team like Mumbai, we got a rich history, winning 37 titles [at that time]. We were facing a team that had 7, that motivated us. We have won those 37 because great players played great cricket for Mumbai. We wanted to play great cricket. These guys played tremendous cricket to win the championship. One of the best victories that we celebrated was when in the finals Sachin played and got a hundred for us and we beat Bengal. That was one of the most memorable year in coaching experience. Maybe that was the same experience that I shared with the players when we were down and lost against Jammu & Kashmir [in 2014], lost to Railways, but we still managed to qualify. We didn’t reach the finals, but we did reach the semi-finals.
SJ– There is a question from Clayton Murzello of MiD DAY. He asks whether you remember the time when you were a part of the Ranji team when Sunil Gavaskar came to the railway station to wish the Ranji team?
PA– Absolutely! For any Mumbai player to play and win the Mumbai Ranji cap, it is a dream. For me, I was just 18, when I got my first cap. It was a pleasant surprise. That time, Sunil Gavaskar was my hero, we were brought up seeing him. Right now, players worship Sachin Tendulkar. Sunil Gavaskar was my hero. I never met him before, when I was selected I was told the reporting time at 9 in the evening at Bombay Central. I was going away for the first time, and I too was excited to be a part of the Mumbai Ranji team. I was surprised to see Sunil Gavaskar in real life. That shows how much ex-cricketer and a player like Sunil Gavaskar was concerned about Mumbai cricket. He was a mega star for the team, and going for a send-off of the team is a very small for him. But he did that. That really motivated us. So many times, I share as a coach, to show Mumbai’s history, how great cricketers have contributed. Even in this match, when we lost to Jammu & Kashmir, I invited Sachin Tendulkar to come and talk to the boys. He was just one phone call away for the Mumbai team. That is something that drives us. Maybe we are in a transition period, rebuilding. We now have a couple of good players who can take Mumbai further.
SJ– I want to ask you one last question, it is form a listener, Shyam. You mentioned Tendulkar. You, Tendulkar, Kambli, all came from Sharadashram under coach (Ramakant) Achrekar. Are there fond memories from the time you were there? Any stories that you can share with us?
PA– When you talk about Achrekar sir, he was a cricket institution by himself. That one coach made a Sachin Tendulkar. To be honest, what I am teaching today, came from Achrekar sir’s principles. He was a very passionate coach, he just wanted to contribute to cricket and make cricketers. I remember the Mumbai Test, when (Achrekar) sir came and watched, it was in 1992-93 against England. Vinod was at no.3, Sachin was no.4 and I was no. 6. Three students playing in one Test match – that is the biggest success a coach can get, three students playing for the country at a time is a tough task. When I see people talk about my coaching, I had done a lot of personal coaching when I worked with players like Robin (Uthappa), Suresh (Raina), Ajinkya (Rahane); but what [Achrekar] sir has done, we have not reached 10% of that. That is the commitment Achrekar sir had for Mumbai cricket and Indian cricket.
SJ– On that note, thank you so much Coach Amre. It was a pleasure talking to you.
PA– Same here. Thank you.
Episode Transcribed by Bharathram Pattabiraman