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The Rediff Special/Harish Kotian
'South African attack not threatening enough'
November 15, 2006
On November 15, exactly 14 years ago, a Mumbai youngster defied all odds to score a brilliant century on his debut Test for India.
South Africa's pacers had reduced India to 38 for 4 on a seamer-friendly pitch in Durban, but 24-year-old Pravin Amre stood tall amidst the ruins to smash a classy 103 and help the team escape with a draw in the first Test.
"It was my first Test match and, like any other batsman, I was hoping to make a good debut. At 38 for 4, I was the last recognised batsman; I thought I had to hang around. I didn't plan to score a century, but was only hoping to play it session by session and score some runs. I struggled at the start and there was some pressure too, but once I was over it, I got on the top of the ball and played some shots," Amre told rediff.com, looking back on his first steps in Test cricket.
It was South Africa's first home Test since March 1970, after the country was welcomed back to international cricket. Nobody, recalls Amre, had an idea about the wickets and conditions, since it was the first tour by any team in 25 years.
"When we landed there we knew that the bounce was different. For me it was the sort of wickets I had never played on before," the right-hander said.
"Before the tour, everyone, including the media, said we will not survive against their pace battery, which had the likes of Allan Donald and Brian McMillan, on the seamer-friendly wickets. We got an idea of the pitch and the bounce when we practiced there. We played a practice game there which didn't go well for us, but we were determined to do well in the Test matches."
Amre, who also played a season in South Africa's domestic cricket, for Boland, says the key for batsmen is staying positive. He feels once the initial overs are negotiated, scoring is not much of a problem.
"For batsmen, it is important not to miss any scoring opportunities. The cut and the pull are important scoring shots in South Africa. You must also try and hit shots over the fielders inside the circle and not always look to hit the ball all along the ground. It is advisable because those shots will get you the runs," he said.
"If the batsmen stay positive, then scoring opportunities will arise. You must believe in your abilities and back yourself to chase down any target, as you have seen in that one-day match when South Africa chased more than 400 [against Australia]. Then, Adam Gilchrist scored one of the fastest double centuries in Test cricket."
Indeed, South Africa proved a successful hunting ground for Amre. He also had a fruitful stint with Boland, scoring around 1500 runs during the 1999-00 season.
"On the 1992 tour, I won the man of the match in the Test as well as one ODI match. In 1999, when I played for Boland we won the championship. That time too I played a crucial knock to win the championship for Boland. That season I scored around 1500 runs in one-day matches; so I have done well there," the 38-year-old said with a tinge of pride.
He feels the current South African pace attack is not as formidable as the one the team encountered on the last trip.
"I don't think South Africa has a great bowling attack. Apart from Makhaya Ntini, they don't have another bowler who averages five wickets per Test match. Shaun Pollock just concentrates on bowling line and length. I think Charl Langeveldt will be a handy bowler in those conditions.
"So, apart from Ntini and Langeveldt, I don't think South Africa's bowling is threatening enough," he added.
Asked how the struggling Indian batting line-up can turn things around, he replied: "If they just focus on applying themselves, then runs will come."
Amre, who played 11 Tests, is delighted with Zaheer Khan's return to the Indian team and feels he will be very useful in South African conditions.
"The bowling looks better, maybe much better than last year. I think Ajit [Agarkar] will be an important bowler for India; so will Zaheer [Khan]. These guys can hit the deck. Zaheer and Agarkar's bowling is suited to those wickets. These two bowlers like to hit the deck and generate a bit more bounce on these tracks."
Mumbai opener Wasim Jaffer was a surprise inclusion in the one-day team for South Africa, but Amre believes his presence could turn out to be a blessing.
"Personally, I think Wasim Jaffer's inclusion in the one-dayers will help the team. It is not the subcontinent type of wickets, where you can just go and slog in the first 15 overs. You must have a good foundation at the start and then in the last 10-15 overs you must attack the bowling. This strategy will work more in South Africa," said the Mumbai coach.
He would prefer Jaffer being played as opener since, he feels, the Mumbai batsman could prove a perfect foil for Sachin Tendulkar or Virender Sehwag.
"Wasim has a good technique combined with a good backfoot game, which will help him score runs on the bouncy tracks of South Africa. I feel Jaffer could open, since at the other end you will have Sehwag or Tendulkar who will go after the bowling. Jaffer could hold the other end up, working on singles to try and play a long innings," he said.
India have lost eight of their last 12 one-day matches, out of which two were rained out. But Amre says the team must forget the past and look ahead with a positive frame of mind.
"For any cricketer it is a great feeling of satisfaction to get runs on difficult wickets. The batsmen should just forget the past and look towards the South Africa tour positively," he advises.
India have won just three out of 16 one-dayers against South Africa in South Africa, while they are yet to register a victory in Tests matches played there.
"If you want to win Test matches, then the entire team has to play well. All the three departments of the team -- batting, bowling and fielding -- have to perform well. You don't just need runs, but claiming 20 wickets is also important. That is why it is important to click as a team," he concluded.