Away from the glare, Arjun quietly goes about his business

For years, Arjun Tendulkar has been trying to escape the shadow of his father on a cricket field. When it couldn’t happen in Mumbai, he moved to Goa. Now, he has tasted the feeling of a Ranji Trophy hundred in his debut outing. The journey hasn’t been easy. The surname has had its privileges but it also comes with a burden.

It was a dry monsoon in Mumbai in 2015. Kanga League, traditionally a wet-weather cricket tournament, was being played on the dry, coarse grass in the maidaans in south Mumbai. At one side of a ground, a group of boys sat bantering under a small tent one afternoon. Arjun Tendulkar had just been bowled off an inside edge after swishing around on an under-prepared pitch. Chai bobbled around in white plastic cups, and a teammate turned around to pass it on. “Eh, chai peeyega?” Arjun shook his head, the boy let fly some snark: “Haan, haan, tu toh boost he piyega na?

It was a surreal moment: The star-status of his father and a popular TV ad featuring his father, providing a real-world dig. Arjun looked uncomfortable and stared ahead. He sat alone in the crowd. Most kids, we learnt, weren’t too chuffed that he was parachuted into their midst. Awkwardness was in the air. Like you might have felt as a schoolboy sitting with strangers at a new school in an unfamiliar place. Sometimes, it’s difficult for the kids to hit it off even after a while in that setting. And here, the context of being the son of a famous father had injected more awkwardness. One must add that this was just a slice of life from that summer for Arjun. Maybe, he made some friends or at least enough for the uncomfortableness to fade. The incident is pertinent as much as it captured a real-life experience for Arjun and other boys.

Not that Arjun’s cricketing life hasn’t had its privileges. Standing beyond the boundary that day, under a tree, was Subroto Banerjee, the former India bowler and a bowling coach, who was asked by his friend Sachin Tendulkar to mentor Arjun. In the last couple of years, there have been others who have kept an eye on Arjun. Pravin Amre would check in on his batting.

The general perception during this phase was that Arjun was a boy in love with the game but it wasn’t clear whether he had the skills to grade up. The left-arm medium pace seemed decent enough and the batting would be noticeable on occasions. There was nothing dramatic. The last few months have been far more fruitful: He has grown physically, his bowling action is more fine-tuned, his pace has increased enough to try bouncing regular Test opener Shikhar Dhawan at the Indian team’s nets.

As you would expect, videos of his bowling were initially lapped up. A YouTube video that has snippets of his bowling from 2013 and from the Lord’s nets in 2015 garnered 6,727,616 views at the last count. And now many more will perhaps try to watch him play Ranji trophy.

Arjun’s interest in the game has been visible. On cricketing tours, like in 2012 in Australia, Arjun has rolled his arm over in the India nets. One afternoon, at the MCG, he bowled for a fairly long time to his father’s long-time opening partner Virender Sehwag who didn’t go easy on the kid. Tendulkar was operating the bowling machine, giving focused batting practise to VVS Laxman. He later walked over to have a look at his son bowl, and then joined former Aussie batsman and commentator Dean Jones, who would often come to watch the Indian nets.

As Jones walked back after his chat with Tendulkar, a couple of journalists asked him whether it was a common sight to see players’ kids at the nets. Jones talked about how Geoff Marsh would often bring his sons, Shaun and Mitch, to the nets.

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A year later, in 2013, Arjun was on national television, in cricketing whites as a ball boy at his father’s last Test, and at the end of it all, standing with his mother and sister looking at his father bid farewell to a nation. Arjun was seated with his family in the stands but had on subsequent days got closer to the action. He wanted to be with his teammates from the Mumbai junior circuit, the games’ designated ball boy. Now he is in the thick of the action. Sun is out and there are no shadows.

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