Abhay Poyarekar never imagined that Ajinkya Rahane would seek his help to be a better batsman. The 58-year-old retired assistant commissioner of Customs & Central Excise had donned the gloves for his college, but he wasn’t equipped to give batting tips to the cricketer.
His only connection with top-level cricket was friend Pravin Amre, the former Test batsman who is now Rahane’s batting mentor. It was Amre who wanted Rahane to meet Poyarekar. Amre wanted his student to learn a few things from the former Customs officer’s inspiring story, before he left on a crucial away assignment with the Indian team.
After Rahane’s maiden Test ton at Wellington on Saturday, Amre said the meeting proved fruitful. “Sometimes such small things make a big difference…. maybe, this is what has happened,” he said.
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On September 29, 1993, a few months after the Mumbai serial blasts, Poyarekar seized 18 detonators from a ship during a raid at the Mumbai docks. The action reportedly thwarted a plot to carry out blasts during Ganpati Visarjan.
Poyarekar’s efforts won him a bravery award from the President. But with the recognition came threats, to him and his family. And later, even an alleged attempt to bribe him with Rs 5 crore.
“Pravin wanted me to share my experience with the cricketer. I asked him, ‘are you sure?’ He said, ‘yes, you talk and he will listen’,” recalled Poyarekar. He said Amre also coerced him to divulge details of his encounters with the underworld.
“It’s a mental thing, you can call it confidence building. After that ’93 incident, the next eight years were about overcoming fears. I used to get threatening calls daily, warning that my children would be killed. We were chased daily by unknown people,” said Poyarekar.
“He (Poyarekar) faced a real life and death situation and still didn’t get distracted from his goals. Cricketers have to take quick decisions instinctively. They have so many distractions these days and the key behind such talks is to ascertain how crucial it is to not lose focus. It can have a lasting experience, like it did with Ajinkya,” said Amre.
“It had a very positive effect on me,” Rahane had said before leaving for New Zealand. Batting against pacers in New Zealand is always a challenge. But Rahane held firm and made his mark, just like Poyarekar.