Watching the India U-19 team play Australia in the four-nation quadrangular at the ACA stadium on Friday,David Andrews must feel hard pressed choosing whom to cheer for. Maharashtra’s U-19 coach for the last four years,Andrews has two of his state players left arm spinner Jagdish Zope and captain Vijay Zol in the India squad.
But the fact that Andrews is sitting in a section of the stands directly above the Australian dressing room reserved for parents of the Australian team members provides a clue as to where the other half of his loyalties lie. Andrews also hopes that his son left arm spinner Thomas,who will bowl much of his spell at Zol does well.
“It’s a bit hard for me,I guess,because I coached all three of them. Vijay has already got a first class century (against New Zealand A),so he is obviously the big name right now,” he says. Thomas Andrews hasn’t done too badly himself. With nine wickets in four games,including a five wicket haul against Zimbabwe,he is the tournament’s joint-highest wicket taker.
While it is the first time that Zol,Zope and Thomas had played each other in an international ODI,the three recognise each other from before. While Zope and Zol are obviously from the state,Thomas was also in Maharashtra for a ten-month period two years ago,when he was 16.
David,who had backpacked across India in the early nineties,had thought nothing of bringing his son,whom he had coached early on,over. “Cricket is all about learning to adapt to different situations. India would have been a great learning experience for him,” he says.
Before he returned to Australia for academic reasons,Thomas played for Pune’s Cadence Cricket Academy. “At that age,I guess there wasn’t any fear about going to a different country. And nobody gave me a hard time I guess because I was the state coach’s son,” he says.
“Thomas never got any special treatment and to his credit he never expected it. He adapted quickly to Indian conditions,” says Harshal Pathak,coach at Cadence Academy. Indian conditions’ however are hardly definitive or standard. While Thomas played most of his cricket in Pune,he travelled with the rest of the squad,often on rickety state transport buses,to the interiors of the state. “Even when I went just 50 kilometers outside Pune,it was like an entirely different world. Of course I attracted a bit of attention because I was probably the only white person they had seen in their life,” recalls Andrews.
Language too was a barrier,initially. “It was a bit funny when people would forget he was an Australian. While batting they would call for a single in Marathi. So they would run while he wouldn’t. But eventually both him and the rest of the team understood each other and got along well,” says Pathak.
Lack of fluency in Marathi also helped out. “I don’t think I was sledged but even if I was,I wouldn’t really have known,” says Thomas,who however manages to deliver in an Aussie twang a couple of choice vernacular cuss words he learned from teammates.
Blessing in disguise
There were cricketing lessons as well. Predominantly a batsman early on,as Zope recalls from the first time he played Andrews in a club game in Jalgaon,the Australian’s spin also improved on helpful wickets. “In Australia,the pitches don’t turn a lot. The pitch at Cadence was like those in Australia,but elsewhere,especially outside the city,there were pitches that probably weren’t ever prepared. So you just had to land the ball and it would turn square,” says Thomas,who says he took an 8-for on one such dustbowl.
Thomas also learned that big turn isn’t everything. “In India,because you can get a lot of turn,you get carried away. But batsmen here aren’t scared of big turn because they use their feet. So I had to develop a lot more variation in my pace,” he says. “I improved as a spinner simply because I got to bowl much more to players who were very good at playing it.”
One of the best was Zol. Towards the end of his stay,Thomas played a few practice matches against the U-19 Maharashtra squad featuring both Zol and Zope. “I didn’t recognise any of the players but my dad would point out Zol and say he was a really good player,” he says.
Thomas didn’t get Zol out then and despite restricting him,isn’t successful in Visakhapatnam either. David has a suggestion that would satisfy both the coach and the father in him. “It was a good tussle between the two,” he says. “Hopefully they can play each other a few more times. Perhaps at the U-19 World Cup and even after that as well.”