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I don't mix things up as a coach, says Pravin Amre

"I tell them (players) they should do their duty and I will do mine. What happens is, if I spot a weakness in them, I tell my team to exploit it," said Amre.

Wisden India Staff |May 26, 2015, 12:18 PM IST
I don't mix things up as a coach, says Pravin Amre

It's not likely to happen anytime soon, but imagine a team with a top seven of Ajinkya Rahane, Robin Uthappa, Shreyas Iyer, Suresh Raina, Dinesh Karthik, Naman Ojha and Abhishek Nayar. It would be a more than handy batting order, one that could be relied on to do the work in a Ranji match or in the IPL.

It would also be a top order that owed much to the guiding hand of Pravin Amre. Each of those seven batsmen has benefitted from one-on-one, personalised coaching stints with the former India middle-order batsman who has acquired a growing reputation as someone who knows the ins and outs of making a piece of wood connect with a piece of leather better than most.

"When you start coaching a state, that is when it is a professional career," Amre told Wisden India during Pepsi IPL 2015, where he was assistant coach at Delhi Daredevils. "Plus, there is always pressure then. It's so important to back your own instincts through ups and downs, doing your own planning and strategy, man management.

"When you talk about managing players, you have to understand their philosophy. Sometimes they have problems in their lives. It could be emotional, it could be technical, it could be so many things. You have to go deeper to study them."

In other words, there's more to being a coach than being able to tell your ward that their back lift isn't coming down at the correct angle.

"Absolutely," nods Amre. "That is more important. You should have real communication with players. It's like going to a doctor - a player has to be able to come and tell you 'This is my problem'. They also need to learn to identify their problems first, and not just play for the sake of it. If they are thinking about their game, it's much easier to get help."

As coach of the Mumbai Ranji side this past season, Amre guided the team to the semifinal after a rocky start. He had less success with the Daredevils in terms of the overall result, but the franchise did take steps towards shaking off the blues of successive wooden-spoon seasons in 2013 and 2014.

But ask Amre about coaching a team versus coaching an individual, and he'll tell you which the tougher job is.

"As a team coach, I have a squad of 15 and there is back-up. If one player fails, I can go to someone else. But when you coach an individual, if they fail also, you have to be with them. You can't drop them," he smiles. "You have to take them to that next level. It is tougher and you are more accountable.

"As a team coach, I am one man looking after everyone. As an individual coach, all my thoughts are channelised towards one person. I can devote a lot more time to them. It's also more challenging because their careers are at stake. They are playing all Ranji matches and IPL matches, so to do that one small correction... it takes months sometimes."

There is also the matter of the men Amre having taken on not being exactly greenhorns. Several of them have been very successful in international cricket. But when they come to Amre, they might have to dismantle and rebuild a technique that's already brought them international success. It takes courage on the part of the batsman to attempt that. It takes courage and enormous belief in his methods on the part of the coach to pursue that.

"I emphasise on drills to eradicate mistakes that creep in. By doing repeated drills, it becomes muscle memory and you do it automatically while batting in a match too," explains Amre. "As a coach, I have to be firm. Sometimes you have three back-to-back failures and the media starts talking, selectors start talking, your teammates start talking - but then to be able to take all that and improve your game is great.

"It depends on the individual players too. If their minds are open, they can benefit. If not, then... But we also have to be practical. And earning their trust is the most important. If they trust you, you can make some difference even in a week."

When it comes to insights and results on batting, Amre gets it right far more often than not. The proof of the pudding is in the growing band of players who have turned to him for help. The tricky part? He sometimes gets caught between team and individual, especially when they are up against each other. As coach of Mumbai, he had to plan against Uthappa in their Ranji semifinal against Karnataka. With the Daredevils, he had to find a way to stop Rahane when they played Rajasthan Royals.

Amre has found the ideal balance. "I don't mix things up as a coach. I tell them they should do their duty and I will do mine. What happens is, if I spot a weakness in them, I tell my team to exploit it."

While you digest that, he elaborates. "As an individual coach, it becomes more work for me, but in the long run, it is helpful because he has to work on his weakness. Like Ajinkya got runs against us (he made 91 not out off 54 in a 14-run win). It's not like we didn't try to get him out, but he has overcome his weaknesses. So that makes me happy too."

The next logical step, it would seem, is a call-up for international duty. If the call comes, Amre knows what his answer will be. "We are doing our work and are there. Like it happened when Mumbai called me, I was ready. It is always a privilege to work with a national team. If I get a call, I'm definitely ready to take it up."

Amre on the work he has done with some of his wards

Suresh Raina: A couple of things. The number he bats is in death overs, so how he can generate more power. Also, how he can maintain his shape. We worked on how he can get his feet position and shoulder position right, and sometimes on the head position too.

Ajinkya Rahane: We have a different bond, because I've seen him since he has been taking baby steps in the Ranji Trophy. It's become a routine now, and we are always connected wherever he is in the world and we talk. For seven to eight years, he has worked really hard on his basics, and now the fruits are coming. He may score a 100, and if I feel that something is not right, I will call him.

Before every tour last year, we have prepared well. While you are batting, you cannot be at 100%. Minor errors will creep in. As a coach, you have to ensure the minor flaw doesn't blow up. He was getting out to Steven Finn's incoming ball, which we worked out. His foot movement, the toe position and the shoulder position were not correct. It is easy to spot that, but rectifying it given busy schedules is not straightforward.

Robin Uthappa: He has been working intensively with me for three years now. From his grip to stance, toe to head. Credit to him for trust and openness. He had played for the country with his previous technique, so to go and make those corrections required openness on his part. He too understood that with the current technique, he can hit a level, but to go further up, tweaks are needed. In fact with him, there was a downturn also because there was so much change. But then the upswing began.

Dinesh Karthik: I worked more on his downswing. He was getting out to outswingers. But he has played 100 international matches and 100 Ranji matches, so obviously something has been going right. It's just one small thing that could be blocking his path to the next level.

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