It is perhaps Arjun Tendulkar’s misfortune — though, he may not consider it so — that he will forever be judged by a yardstick set aside for geniuses.
He is the son of Sachin Tendulkar, the inheritor of genes that are the cricketing world’s envy and at the age of 12, he has made it to the probables list of Mumbai’s under-14 squad and the front page of the national newspaper, The Indian Express.
At the same age, his dad was smashing records in school cricket... left, right and center. Everyone in Mumbai cricket circles knew him. Almost everyone who mattered had dropped in to watch him play. By the time Sachin was 13, he had made it to the Cricket Club of India (CCI) club side. By the time he was 15, he had smashed 326* in a Harris Shield game and been part of a world record unbroken 664-run partnership. In the same year, he also scored a century on his Ranji Trophy debut for Mumbai. At 16, he made his debut for India. At 39, he holds almost all the major batting records.
Fascinating story and Arjun probably knows it by heart. He would have heard it so many times — maybe not from his dad — but from others. And with every century he scores or wicket he takes, the young lad takes a step towards the land where his dad is revered by many as god.
Imagine the weight of expectations that is resting on the young shoulders of Arjun. And also imagine what that pressure does to him. It almost seems unfair.
For those who came in late, Sachin's son is a left-hander, an allrounder who bowls medium-pace. His call-up was the result of making 263 runs in five matches in the under-14 tournament this year and a match-winning 124 for Khar Gymkhana in the U-14 summer camp tourney. Sachin has even set up an indoor net with a bowling machine in the backyard of his new mansion at Bandra to help the kid practice as much as he wants.
Rohan Gavaskar is probably one cricketer who knows what it is like to be in this situation. Few cricketers in Indian cricket are as revered as Sunil Gavaskar and when Rohan started taking the first steps in cricket, he received a fair bit of attention.
“Yes, there was some attention but I think it will be much harder for Arjun given the media boom that India has experienced in recent years. The only thing that should really matter to him is to know that he really cares about the game,” Rohan told Firstpost.
“For the moment, it seems like the passion is there. You see him at Mumbai Indians games, you see him at India matches, he practices hard and he wants to play cricket. And that is important,” added Rohan.
Indeed, it’s vital that Arjun plays the game for the right reasons and not because he is his father’s son. Sooner, rather than later, he will start hearing the whispers; whispers that will suggest that he made it to the team simply because he is Sachin’s son. And it is then that his love for the game will be tested.
“I guess you will hear stuff like that all the time and not just in sport. But if Arjun can prove to his teammates that he really deserves to be there, he should be okay. Because in reality, the only ones who matter are the guys on the same team as you,” said Rohan.
“He should not be trying to measure up to someone. It should be about trying to be the best player you can be. It means that if you don’t break records, it’s okay. It means if you are not the best player in the team, it's okay. If that means you won’t play for India, it's okay. Of course, Tendulkar and Anjali will do their best to keep him grounded. Having good values imbibed into you early in life also helps a lot.”
Sanjay Manjrekar, son of the great Vijay Manjrekar, feels that having a role model can also help youngsters realise their true potential.
“Role models are really important. In cricket now, we talk a lot about the structure, system and format of how the young talent come through the ranks. I think what works wonders for a younger player is when they have a role model they can look up to as they are trying to represent their nation. I’ve always idolised Gavaskar and I wanted to be half as good as him,” said Manjrekar in an interview last year.
But how does a 12-year-old deal with all the attention? It’s not uncommon to see media photographers walk on to the ground during a match to get a close shot of the batsman or the bowler. And it’s not entirely uncommon to see the player in question lose his focus either.
“I guess that’s one area Arjun is probably used to handling by now. He must have been photographed thousands of times and must have seen his photo in the newspapers a lot too. So I feel he probably would not get distracted by the limelight,” said Rohan. “There’ll be good stuff written and there will be some bad stuff too but it's all part and parcel of who you are.”
Everything that happens from this point has to have a natural progression. In the case of Rohan, it was coming through age group cricket, not making it to the Mumbai Ranji squad and making the move to Bengal at the age of 20. It took him another eight years to break into the Indian team and the stint didn’t last long. He played 11 ODIs for India, made 151 runs @ 18.87. His first-class average was a decent 44.19.
What will it be in Arjun’s case? He’s still young, too young to be weighed down by expectations; too young to build on Tendulkar’s legacy. So it might be too soon to start saying that he is a chip off the old block or that his shots have the look of Tendulkar in them. Indeed, it might be too soon to start saying anything.
But perhaps everyone wants to be the guy who saw Tendulkar Jr take his first step in the promised land. Now, whether the dream — a nation’s dream — is realised or not is all down to the boy himself.
See... that’s the pressure we are talking about.