“Just because he is Sachin’s son, please don’t focus too much of your camera on him,” former South African captain Shaun Pollock admonished our cameraman on a cloudy afternoon in Durban, circa April 2009, when South Africa was hosting the second edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL).
That, of course, is easier said than done. It was difficult to resist the temptation when 10-year-old Arjun Tendulkar was bowling in the nets with the Mumbai Indians (MI) squad then.
It was, in fact, occasion enough for seeking the great man’s permission to interview his son Arjun, as it was the ‘big breaking news’ of that time. Typically, Tendulkar politely declined the request and in fact urged that “Arjun should be left alone as he was just a normal kid and should not be scrutinized by the media from such an early stage”.
Since then, this writer never chased Arjun, but over the last one decade, it is virtually impossible for Tendulkar’s son to escape the attention and the concentrated obsession of the national media.
From making it to the Mumbai Under-19 team in 2017 to India Under-19 in 2018, Arjun was gradually coming into national reckoning. And when he made his debut for Mumbai in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy in January this year, there was a sense of inevitability about his much-awaited IPL contract. It was only a question of time.
“Arjun’s passion is the same as Sachin’s for cricket and that is the only thing we can compare with his father, otherwise both are completely different types of players and individuals. He should get to play in at least a couple of games this season,” says former Indian pacer Subroto Banerjee, a close friend of Sachin and Arjun’s first official coach during his formative years.
Comparisons can be odious, and no one knows it better than former Mumbai Indians’ coach, Lalchand Rajput, who has seen the journey of young Tendulkar and his son Arjun from the closest quarters. “No comparison with Sachin can be made since he was a very, very special cricketer at that age. He used to score big hundreds and double hundreds while Arjun is a fast bowler,” he points out.
Rajput’s son Akhil also plays first class cricket and he is acutely aware of the father-son comparison a young player has to go through. However, Rajput believes that Arjun will feel at home in the MI dressing room. “The good thing for Arjun is that he is familiar with the set-up of Mumbai Indians. He has been bowling in the Mumbai nets for the last so many years, so he won’t be over-awed with the atmosphere of the IPL. It is like a familiar place for him,” he said, speaking over the phone from Zimbabwe.
Arjun was the last player to be picked during the IPL auction in February this year. Unsurprisingly, he was among the trending news on the social media that day, which obviously had a lot to do with his very famous surname.
However, Mumbai Indians are convinced that Arjun’s time has come. “We’ve looked at it purely on a skill basis,” head coach Mahela Jayawardene said after the auction. “I mean, there is going to be a big tag on his head because of Sachin. But, luckily, he's a bowler, not a batsman,” added the former Sri Lankan batsman and captain.
Over the years, Sachin has guided MI captain Rohit Sharma during some of his toughest phases, and Zaheer Khan has always spoken highly about the counsel and mentoring he has received from Sachin.
Now, it is Arjun’s turn to learn from Rohit and Zaheer from the MI dressing room. “He will learn the ropes; he will evolve. He’s still young. A very focused young man. We have to give him time and hopefully not put a lot of pressure on him either. Just let him evolve and work his way up, and that's what we're there to help him to do,” said Zaheer Khan after Arjun’s selection in the squad.
Subroto Banerjee recounts a very interesting Arjun Tendulkar story from 2015. There was an exhibition match in England where some of the biggest names like Brian Lara, Shane Warne and Wasim Akram were playing. Arjun somehow persuaded his father to give him an opportunity to play in that match. “He wasn’t overawed by the big names and hit Warne for two sixes as a 16-year-old and scored a fifty. He also got the wicket of Lara. Even though that was an exhibition match, the way he approached the game spoke volumes about his amazing mindset,” he recalls.
Of course, IPL won’t be an easy exhibition game for Arjun – there are no easy entry level games for any player since stakes are so high in the world’s biggest and most prestigious cricket tournament.
Arjun perhaps knows that the toughest part of his journey begins now at IPL 2021. “We are looking at things under a very simple lens - it's just a youngster coming into the side. He has to prove himself; he has to show all the coaching staff and the think tank of the team that he's got the goods to belong there,” said Zaheer Khan.
Arjun may have had a privileged cricketing upbringing, but that is hardly likely to get him any preferential treatment. Like the others, he will be fighting for a place in the IPL or the Mumbai team.