India news February 8, 2012

Rohan Gavaskar quits first-class cricket

Rohan Gavaskar, the former India batsman and left-arm spinner, has retired from first-class cricket at the age of 35. Eleven ODIs, 151 runs with one half-century and a solitary wicket in an international career spanning less than a year suggests Gavaskar, son of Sunil Gavaskar, did not quite make it as a cricketer. However, it is easy to forget that Rohan Gavaskar was a Bengal stalwart, and finished as the state's third-highest run-getter in first-class cricket (5073 runs in 75 games at 51.24) behind only Arun Lal and Pankaj Roy.

Now, with a young family back in his native Mumbai and business interests to look after, Gavaskar has decided it is time to shift focus. "I wasn't playing much over the last year so it is not a shock. There is finality about it now, and it is sad," Gavaskar told ESPNcricinfo. "You've been playing the game for the better part of your life and you always want to push it [retirement] back a bit."

It was a phased exit for Gavaskar. He played his last first-class game, for Bengal, in December 2009, and had a stint with the Kolkata Knight Riders in the 2010 IPL before going off the radar.

"I didn't see myself playing as a professional for any other state," Gavaskar said. "I didn't see myself playing club cricket in Bengal because my kids are in Mumbai, and it didn't make sense, having already played first-class cricket for 15 years. I have media commitments and business interests now."

Gavaskar has seen 15 years of ups and downs with Bengal, even taking over the captaincy for a couple of seasons. Despite decent form with the bat in domestic cricket after being dropped from the national side, an India recall was far from certain. Signing up for the rebel Indian Cricket League was his best chance of facing bowlers with international experience. The ICL was banned by the BCCI, and the players contracted to play in it were disallowed from playing domestic cricket in India, which meant Gavaskar did not play for Bengal in the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons.

Was it a wise decision to join the ICL? "In hindsight, it wasn't, especially for someone like me. It was a great decision for the younger cricketers. Some of them weren't even playing first-class cricket when they signed. Many got thrust into big IPL teams. But considering my age, it wasn't a wise decision."

Gavaskar strongly defended his view that young players had nothing to regret about the ICL despite being ostracised till the BCCI offered them amnesty in 2009. "Let me throw this question right back. Was it detrimental to Ambati Rayudu or Stuart Binny or Abu Nechim? No. The ICL didn't benefit the other [older] guys, who lost two-three precious years. Age catches up with them. Someone like R Sathish was clamoured after, but before the ICL he was relatively unknown."

Curiously, Gavaskar signed up with the ICL even while his father held a job with the BCCI and was part of the governing council of the IPL. Did it create an awkward scenario, with both men on either side of the fence?

"Not at all. Why should it be strange? My dad is not the BCCI and he clearly did not see me as a rebel," Gavaskar said with a chuckle. "To be honest, in the ICL we didn't do anything wrong. When I was 18, my Dad said 'all decisions you take are yours'. The decisions to pursue first-class cricket in Bengal, joining the ICL and ultimately retirement were all mine. He's always said 'whenever you need to talk I'm always there to give you the pros and cons.'"

Unlike his father, Rohan Gavaskar never played a single first-class game for Mumbai, although he did turn down an offer from them midway through his career. He wanted to uphold his allegiance to Bengal and said he feels proud to have been part of Bengal's cricketing fraternity.

His biggest regret is not being part of a winning Ranji Trophy side. "We reached the Ranji finals twice on the trot [2005-2006 and 2006-07] and in both cases we came really close to winning. In one of those games the umpires really sold us down the river. That left a bad taste in the mouth."

Of late, commentary stints have been keeping Gavaskar busy. But his bigger interest lies with another sport: football. Gavaskar co-owns the Pune Football Club, which participates in the I-League. Last October, Blackburn Rovers toured the country and played a game against them. Gavaskar says his aim, post retirement, is to take Pune football forward and give the sport a better profile.

Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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