Two sons catch the eye in Mumbai Maidans
As if the pressure of making his debut in the Kanga League, a prestigious club tournament in Mumbai, wasn't enough, Arjun Tendulkar - the son of Sachin Tendulkar, who'll soon be 14 - was sent in to open the batting for his foster club, the Young Parsees Cricket Club. It was a short innings. His only run came off a medium-pacer called Sachin before he was stumped. The posse of television cameras that arrived a few minutes late after wading through a labyrinth of matches at the Azad Maidan had already missed out.
On a day that Sachin Tendulkar would make an impassioned plea to let his son enjoy his cricket without undue pressure, this brief innings' analysis had already reached saturation level. "There were no nerves and he looked very good," Rajesh Sanil, the Young Parsees coach, said. "I asked the umpires as well and they too said that he looked confident."
When the cameras arrived and threatened to get close to Arjun Tendulkar, a portly man in a steel grey safari suit shooed them away. Another man in cricket whites was the only one Tendulkar was talking to, apart from his coach. The coach seemed to be discussing a few finer points with him, speaking in English in a tone reserved for peers. While the rest of his team-mates joked and egged their batsmen from the other side of the pavilion, Tendulkar quietly kept his gaze focused on the action, and only talked with the two men who were also shielding him from the cameras. At lunch, while the rest dug into the buffet, Tendulkar ate from his home-packed lunch box, in the company of his two friends.
The Young Parsees and the United Club of India were playing the first match of division G - the seventh, and lowest, division - of the Kanga League, an annual Mumbai fixture whose start was deferred to the first week of September to avoid monsoon-related disruptions. The top divisions usually feature Mumbai's Ranji cricketers who take to the field for early-season match practice. For Tendulkar, who was part of MCA's Under-14 squad last year but was not picked this year, Kanga League is being seen as an important step in his development.
A kilometre away from the hustle-bustle of Azad Maidan, the Oval, next to Churchgate station, hosted a number of League matches too. On one of the pitches on the south side of the ground, another young cricketer was inviting media attention. Mushir Khan, at eight, is the youngest player to feature in the Kanga League. He broke the record of his brother, Sarfaraz Khan - who recently broke into the India Under-19 team - by two years. Unlike Tendulkar, Mushir was embracing all the attention.
Mushir, captained by his father Naushad Khan, is in the team as a left-arm spinner, but batted at No. 5. He scored only 4, but he stuck around for almost an hour, helping his team, Sportsfield Cricket Club, recover from a bad start. He spent a few minutes posing for a local newspaper photographer before moving on to do a byte for a TV channel. The cameraman asked his reporter to sit level with the lens so that Mushir would look straight into the camera, but when the interviewer started, Mushir already knew what to do. He spoke uncluttered and confident Hindi.
"I feel very good to be a part of the league," he said. "My brother started at 10, and now I have done this at eight. It's the most difficult cricket I have ever played, but I did okay with the bat. The bowlers kept bowling fast at me, and I had some problems with the shorter deliveries, but I managed it okay. One problem with playing in this league is that the outfields are lush, so the ball doesn't travel. I am also learning from my father on how games are planned and saved."
Soon, Mushir, just like an eight-year-old, got distracted by a tablet computer. "Is that a big phone," he asked before flicking through the pages to identify his favourite gaming apps. "Do you have Subway Surfer? No? I like this Temple Run."
Back at Azad Maidan, the Young Parsees were busy with their fielding drills at the changeover. Tendulkar checked the wind direction with a dab of grass, then asked the captain about the end he should bowl from and started warming up. Soon, he opened the bowling.
His run-up was longish, and he bowled left-arm seam a bit gingerly, just like a 14-year-old would. Taller and leaner from what he was a year ago in the MCA Under-14 tournament, Tendulkar followed through a bit like Zaheer Khan and unlike any other bowler around, jogging halfway down the pitch. He had the opening batsman edge to second slip just before tea.
Tendulkar was on his own during tea while the rest of his team-mates dispersed for snacks or for light catching drills. When asked if this was the toughest cricket he has played, he nodded his head in disagreement, saying he had played in England before. He made a couple of calls to friends and family before cutting off the phone as the cameramen approached. "The press people are here," he said before being called back into the team huddle by his "friend" in whites, not by his team-mates.
At the Oval, Mushir had a good first day. He picked up three wickets with his slow loopy spin. He laughed and chatted with his team-mates as he walked back, clearly enjoying his big day out. "Kids of my age don't even last one ball against me. This is better," he said.
Naushad, Mushir's father, told ESPNcricinfo at the end of the day that he is not pressurising his son in search of fame. "You saw it was a tricky situation today. He came in and played 40-odd balls in a low-scoring match. I think he is ready and he enjoys it. The clubs have a lot at stake, so I won't push my son if I felt he wasn't going to contribute," he said.
Sachin Tendulkar was not seen at the Azad Maidan. Speaking at a felicitation by the Sports Journalists Association of Mumbai later in the day, he said, "My son has just played his first Kanga League game. And today, I am going to play a protective father. Even though my father was an author, not once was I asked in my childhood to follow in his footsteps. I would request everyone to treat Arjun as just another 14-year-old kid. I would request you to leave him alone and (let him) be himself."
Devashish Fuloria is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo