One can hardly fault Arjun Tendulkar if he empathises with legendary cricketer Donald Bradman’s son, John. Both have a famous surname that could be a millstone around the neck.
Arjun’s selection into the Indian Under-19 team for the tour of Sri Lanka not only made the front page in most Indian newspapers but also triggered a heated exchange on social media. And why not? His father, Sachin Tendulkar, was arguably India’s finest cricketer whose brand value has not diminished since the heavenly days when he carved up the best bowling attacks in the world.
Sachin had rare charisma which he carried off majestically in his long and successful career. Unfortunately for Arjun his dad’s success and surname are guaranteed to bear down hard on him. Every act of his will from now on be dissected and compared to the incomparable Sachin. And that really is the pity.
Arjun will never be left alone to progress on normal lines like the others in the team. They can win some, lose some; flop sometimes, succeed at other times. But he will be judged at all times — not according to his teammates’ standards, but to the lofty standards set by his illustrious father.
Bradman’s only son John who too lived in a fishbowl, couldn’t take it for long. He changed his surname to Bradsen and lived in utter anonymity till he once again reverted to the Bradman surname after 30 years.
In an interview after he had voluntarily embraced cricket’s most famous surname he said he'd previously changed his name in a bid to escape "the glass cage" which surrounded him due to public adoration of his father — Australia's most celebrated sporting hero. He felt that he was not his own person and people saw him as Don Bradman’s son and this crushed him.
John’s daughter Greta who came to India as part of legendary music conductor Zubin Mehta’s philharmonic orchestra revealed that her dad was deeply affected by the relentless attention paid to him as son of 'The Don'.
"When people would come up to him as a child quite often the first question would be, 'and are you going to be a sportsman like your dad when you grow up?'," she said.
That’s the sort of crushing pressure that will always be Arjun’s to live with.
Sadly, in India, having a famous cricketing dad seldom works to the advantage of the son. Barring three or may be four honourable exceptions, sons have almost always suffered in comparison to illustrious fathers.
In fact apart from Mansur Ali Khan, Mohinder Amarnath, Sanjay Manjrekar and may be Ashok Mankad the son of an India Test cricketer didn't quite do well in the game. A glorious exception was Yuvraj Singh who certainly did far better than his father Yograj.
But so many others (Surinder and Rajinder, sons of Lala Amarnath and brothers of Mohinder; Rohan Gavaskar; Vivek and Vidyut Jaisimha, sons of ML Jaisimha; Udit, son of Brijesh Patel; Stuart, son of Roger Binny; Daivik, son of GR Vishwanath; Arjun, son of Shivlal Yadav; Anirudha, son of Krishnamachari Srikkanth; Sadiq, son of SMH Kirmani) simply did not live up to their father’s name.
Nayan Mongia’s 18 year-old son Mohit is spoken of highly. Unfortunately he has not been selected for the tour of Sri Lanka, even though he scored a double hundred against Kerala, centuries against Rajasthan and Goa and substantial knocks against Mumbai, Haryana and Maharashtra. He is also a left-arm spinner who has tasted success. Hopefully he was dropped because there were better players around rather than any animosity between his dad and selectors!
In this case, it would be apt to ask, where would Arjun fit, say five years from now? Would he be as successful as star sons, Mohinder and Sanjay or a passenger like namesake Arjun Yadav? Why, it is perfectly possible that the young left-arm pacer could improve by leaps and bounds with the right exposure and be a force to reckon with in the coming years.
Still, the nagging question is: Why do so many star kids, despite having the pedigree, fall by the wayside, at least in India?
When I did my groundwork for the biography of Rahul Dravid, his father and Rahul detailed the struggles of the formative years. Rahul would get up very early, take the 5.45 am public bus to get to 6.15 am nets at KSCA Stadium. He would later change into school uniform on the stairs of KSCA, gobble his packed breakfast even as he ran with kit and school bag slung over the shoulder to get to school which was around 1.5 kms away. After school he’d run to the school nets which was another 2 kms in the opposite direction. Late in the evening he’d cling on to the public transport bus with all his paraphernalia to get back home. This relentless grind, day-in and day-out, helped forge him into the toughened cricketer he ultimately became.
All the stars mentioned came through similar toughening out process. Unfortunately their children were pampered; from the choice and proximity of school to nets to holidaying to their mode of transport. Thus they were not a patch on their father when it came to mental and physical toughening.
Yuvraj was lucky that his father sent him to Mumbai in his youth and this shook him out of his comfort zone. But the others who were pampered with luxuries that their father never had in their childhood simply didn’t have the stomach for a tough fight.
Thus the big question at this time is: Does Arjun Tendulkar have the grit and gumption to go through the vicissitudes of an aspiring cricketer? The surname, he’ll soon find out, would be a handle that the opposition will beat him with, again and again. Only the best could come through and make the world their oyster. Time to wake up and smell the coffee, Arjun.