Genes and Sneakers

As Arjun Tendulkar takes baby steps in competitive cricket, Rohan Gavaskar talks about the challenges of stepping into a famous dad’s shoes
True Life
Once he became a first-class player, the senior Gavaskar dropped by his son’s matches a little more often.

Different face. Similar walk. The rolling gait made recognisable by his father can be seen in Rohan Gavaskar as he emerges into the lobby of the Peninsula Spenta office complex in Parel, Mumbai. Sunil Gavaskar’s son, now retired and a father himself, wears a bright blue baseball cap, cotton shirt and jeans. He looks somewhat scruffy but in a privileged, businessman’s son or film director sort of way.

About 20 years ago, Rohan was in the same boat that Arjun Tendulkar, Sachin Tendulkar’s son, is in today. He was the sapling of a cricketing ‘Mahavriksha’ and was trying to become a professional cricketer himself. Arjun’s selection for the Mumbai under-14 team recently is a clear sign that he is serious about a career in cricket. With the mammoth legacy of his name, it will be a challenge, just as it was for Rohan.

But Rohan plays down the burden angle.“It’s never been a burden. I’m proud of my name,” he says. “If it wasn’t for him (Sunil Gavaskar), I probably wouldn’t have the talent to play cricket [in the first place]. I might have done something else.”

The boy who would appear in TV commercials with his father is now 37. He played 11 one-day internationals for India and had a respectable domestic career for Bengal. Rohan is the third highest runmaker for the state after Arun Lal and Pankaj Roy. He retired a year ago, and now spends time with the Pune Football Club, of which he is co-owner. Occasionally, he appears on television as a cricket analyst.

Rohan speaks in an unrestrained way. As he talks, he nudges and spins his mobile phones on the table with his fingers, as if putting them through a workout. He says Arjun will have to deal with much more media attention than he did, but agrees that overall their situation is comparable.“I can understand what he’s going through.”

Remembering his first brush with the hyena pack that the Indian press can be, Rohan says, “For me, even for Arjun, [it starts] even before he plays cricket. He goes to watch his dad and he is shown on TV. There are pictures of him and Sachin at the nets. There were pictures of me when I was born... when I would go to the ground.”

Asked if he minded it, he says, “I was too young. By the time I was old enough, I was used to it. When you’re four or five, you see people taking pictures and then you see those pictures. By the time you are 13–14, it’s part of life. The media explosion, I don’t think it’ll affect Arjun, but people need to realise that he is a kid. It’s not so much the pictures but what you write that could affect him.”

Along with the pressures of carrying a name that has dominated headlines, there are also benefits. Rohan says, “One, you have a knowledge bank at home. Two, if you do well, the media really highlight it. But if you do badly, they highlight that too. Three, sounds stupid, but you get the best equipment. Not all bats are equal. Because of who you are, you get a really nice piece of willow.” As a kid, Rohan had a Duncan Fearnley blade, and a Kookaburra at the under-16 level. “After that, it was always SG (Sanspareils Greenlands). SG was kind enough to send me good quality bats. So that’s an advantage.”

Sunil Gavaskar didn’t watch Rohan play much when he was a junior. For Rohan this was a “privilege” because while his father was always there to help, he did not have the pressure of his being at the ground. Once he became a first-class player, the senior Gavaskar dropped by his son’s matches a little more often. Asked for an example of specific tips that he got from his father, Rohan says, “Bengal were playing Baroda in Baroda and he felt my front foot toe wasn’t opening enough. I got runs in that game—70 and a 100, but he still felt that. But he’s always asked me to work more on the mental aspect. Technique is just a way of getting runs. If you master the technique of edging the ball to fine-leg for a four, great. Do it, because the name of the game is scoring runs.”

One wonders whether growing up in a household overwhelmingly defined by one thing makes it impossible for the following generation to think of other careers. “No, it’s not impossible,” Rohan says. “You don’t have a god-given right to become a cricketer. Start playing the game. If you play well, good. If you don’t, do something else. [By the time] you are 17-18, and have gone through age-group cricket, you know whether you have it or not.”

Rohan didn’t have to seriously think of other career options. When the time came to decide what he was going to do with his life, he knew he was good enough to play first-class cricket (domestic cricket, that is).

“I did well in u-16 and u-19. After that I started playing club cricket, the top level of club cricket in Mumbai, and I did really well. I knew I could play first-class cricket. At that point, Mumbai had a very strong side. It had Sanjay Manjrekar, Sachin, Vinod (Kambli), all these guys in the middle-order. I was ready to play first-class cricket then, but there was no slot vacant for me in Mumbai. I didn’t want to waste a couple of years so I made the shift to Bengal.”

One is curious if being in the same profession affects the father-son relationship. Rohan seems a bit annoyed.“Why would it get affected? If the father is a doctor and so is the son, does it affect their relationship?” he counters. Cricket is more in the public eye, you tell him, which brings its own pressures. He doesn’t agree and reiterates what he has said earlier. “If at all, it’s an advantage. [The father] knows what the profession entails.”

As someone who’s been through the experience of trying to fill dad’s big shoes, what advice would he give Arjun other than to ‘enjoy his game’? “I would say that just be the best you can be (irrespective of what your father achieved). Put in the hard work. From what I’ve seen, he doesn’t shy away from [hard work]. You can see his enthusiasm for the game, so that’s a plus. Look, you’ve got to do more than what the other guy is doing. And it applies to everybody, not just him. See, when he’s out there on those 22 yards, the ball doesn’t become slower or faster or turn more or turn less just because his last name is Tendulkar.”

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Rohan Gavaskar is a former Indian cricketer who works with the Pune Football Club, which he partly owns