India’s new caste system defines success in cricket

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In a land in which offspring of politicians become politicians and sons and daughters of film stars seem ready to enter the cinema field even as they are born, it should surprise no one if sons follow their father’s footsteps into cricket. In a country obsessed with power, money, films and cricket, it is only natural that succeeding generations gravitate towards established professions that meld fame and fortune with popularity. In a not-so-undesirable way, this is India’s new caste system.

Their paths already eased by familiarity with the territory, GenNext slip comfortably into their predestined roles. Arjun Tendulkar’s passage into cricket was probably written into his genes although it comes with the hype and hoopla of an age in which every move and every gesture is captured for display. It’s the media hype that gives these innocent enough forays into the parents’ professions a larger than life imagery.

With a cricket-obsessed lifestyle like that of his father showing the way it would have been a miracle for young Arjun to try out anything other than willow game to begin with. The pressures he would have to bear will constitute a Herculean task because, simply put, he is a creature of the age.

He will be suffering far more of the media spotlight than some other famous father-son combinations in Indian cricket. Hardly 13, Arjun Tendulkar is probably already feeling the stress of constant media attention. He is talked about if he so much as practices with the Indian team although that is a privilege very few enjoy.

His maiden century in a local match was hailed as a landmark event with almost the same fervour for Sachin’s 100th international century. Unusually, he is a left-handed all-rounder, which might, however, be explained genetically since Sachin does many things left-handed with equal felicity, including writing.

The top hand wrapped further around the handle than the purists would permit is a dead giveaway that his dad is already the biggest influence on his budding cricket career. Considering he needs little coaching other than listening to dad and watching his doting team mates from the Indian team play should give him such a huge advantage that his selection should hardly cause ripples. The media did, however, go to town when he was so much as picked for the Mumbai Under-14 team probables.

In Indian cricket history, it had not been as rosy a passage for the offspring of other cricketers. The Amaranth brothers, Surirnder, Mohinder and Rajinder, may have faced sterner tests in establishing themselves in the game. The obvious talent of the first two was to vault them into the Indian team in quick time since they dominated junior cricket. But to lock down a place in Team India was never easy. This is where the surname sometimes became a handicap rather than an advantage.

There were vitriolic comments whenever Mohinder failed as he often did in a couple of horror runs in Test cricket. But there was no braver player of fast bowling and with sheer persistence he ultimately made his name for just that quality. His dad, the irrepressible Lala, would promote him only subtly, dropping a word or two to the press to help in bringing his son back but would not speak to selectors directly on the issue. Those were different times.

The most curious case was that of the Gavaskars. Rohan, son of Sunil, should have experienced as much frenzy as Arjun Tendulkar at a time when the media was waking up to the overkill of sport as a subject to capture the public imagination.

A young left-hander was, however, deliberately kept out of the spotlight by his dad who was quite sensitive to being seen to actively promote him as a cricketer. He simply refused to play the doting father, leaving it to his son to find his own feet in the game.

This might seem such a contrast to the image of personal acquisitiveness that Sunil may otherwise have conveyed.

I know for a fact that he was never guilty of promoting his son who, thus suffering from the other extreme of having a surname but not the advantages that went with it, took a long time to slower as a batsman.

By the time he made it to international cricket via a route Jagmohan Dalmiya may have plotted for him in his usual Machiavellian cricket politics it was rather late. And Rohan faded out soon after one good performance in ODI cricket in Australia.

Famous surnames do cut both ways as we saw in the case of the Gavakars. In most other cases, sons were tied down by their father’s legacy. In Arjun’s case, we are bound to see what damage riveting public attention can cause. However, what will never stop is the phenomenon of sons and daughters going on to shine in the very professions of their famous parents. India’s neo caste system will see to it.

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