Mumbai and Karnataka, all set for a cracker of a match, have more in common than being favoured to win the Ranji Trophy - they are coached by men who would have wanted more of their international careers. Yet Pravin Amre, the Mumbai coach who never got his due as a national player, and Karnataka's Vijay Bharadwaj, who never replicated the dream series he had in Kenya, have taken different paths to their current positions.
Bharadwaj's first-class career was cut short by a laser eye operation that went awfully wrong and he was left with nothing to do. "I never thought I would retire that early [he was 30 then], but, frankly, I was not confident of being able to play consistently well at that level. My eyesight affected my fielding and the laser surgery still has some side effects. Sometimes I cannot keep my eyes open for long."
Like many cricketers, Bharadwaj didn't know what to do once his playing days were over. "That [coaching] was my only way out," he says. "I was missing being a player. Being a coach allows me to be with the team, enjoy the competition, have fun with them and pass on my experience. After a two-year gap I decided to get a degree and start coaching. I finished Level 2 two years ago, and topped it, and finished level 3 last year.
"I wanted to coach only Karnataka, whether Under-22 or Under-19. I don't have the passion to coach any other side. Suddenly, Venkatesh Prasad became the India bowling coach and the other appointee went to the ICL. They gave me the opportunity and here I am."
Bharadwaj has the confidence of Javagal Srinath, who has played with him for Karnataka for a long time and believes Bharadwaj is an astute thinker. "I was sad that he didn't live up to his potential in his international stint," Srinath says. "But there is always a new beginning. Your judgment is far better when you are out of the game. I see him as somebody who can stay in the profession for long."
"That [coaching] was my only way out. I was missing being a player. Being a coach allows me to be with the team
Bharadwaj knows coaching is not easy. "It's very challenging," he says. "It's not a five-minute job, sitting in the dressing room and telling them to do this and that. You have to stay with the boys always. It's about one-to-one interaction. I speak to them every evening, observe how they behave, how they interact."
For Amre, what started as a pastime to enhance his knowledge has now become a full-time profession he loves. He took the coaching exams during his playing days to put his free time to good use. The idea came to him during a lonely stint playing on the domestic circuit in South Africa in 1999; he returned to play first-class cricket in India but reconciled himself to the fact that he would never be able to play at the highest level again. "I knew I was not going to play for India. I then completed the level 3. Even then there was no definite plan."
He started off with coaching the U-13 boys in the Shivaji Gymkhana club for free. He enjoyed the experience, began coaching the Air India team and soon was hooked to coaching. When he was asked to become Mumbai's batting coach, he couldn't refuse. He repaid the faith with a much-cherished Ranji triumph. "I had never been part of a Ranji Trophy-winning team and when this victory was heralded by former Mumbai cricketers as one of the best wins ever, I felt really good."
I had never been part of a Ranji Trophy-winning team and when this victory was heralded by former Mumbai cricketers as one of the best wins ever, I felt really good
Amre, who says he is still learning, prides himself on pushing the case of youngsters and is happy with the result. "When I took up the job, I asked the Mumbai cricket committee, What's your goal in appointing me as a coach? Do you want to win the Ranji Trophy, do you want India players or you want to players to develop consistently? They chose development. The target was right; we were patient and gave exposure to the youngsters. We are fortunate we have young talent; they are not going to deliver in their first game and we have to groom them well."
Bharadwaj, in his first season, doesn't want to look beyond the Karnataka team but success in the Ranji Trophy last season has prompted Amre to look at the India coach job as a logical progression - he had a taste of it as coach of one of the India teams in the recent Challenger Trophy. "I would like to take it [pushing for an India job] step by step," Amre says.
Amre has tasted success, likes the flavour and wants more while Bharadwaj, though he has a recipe in mind, knows he has lots to prove. Time will tell where they end up on their respective journeys.
Sriram Veera is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo