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Great Expectations

Rohan Gavaskar is on a nasty wicket, trying to live up to his surname and live it down at the same time. Will he face it square on?

Great Expectations
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Five years ago, when Rohan Gavaskar played his big match for the Cricket Club of India (CCI), the usual bouncer was hurled at him, off the pitch. "Was it tough having a man who scored 10,122 Test runs as a father?" The southpaw, then 14, had seen it coming. He pointed at a tiny teammate sitting behind him, and ducked deftly. "The pressure was not in being Sunil Gavaskar’s son," he said. "It was in starting as early, if not earlier, than he did."

The ‘he’ was Sachin Tendulkar. Rohan knew he had to not just live up to his legendary surname, but do it in good time as well. Tendulkar made his Ranji debut at 16 and played his first Test at 17.

Admittedly, the teenager has been allowed to do his own things. Says papa Sunil: "All I want him to be is a contented human being." Adds mama Marshneil: "We just want him to do his best and leave the rest to the destiny."

But public expectations are rarely so kind. When Rohan, 19, failed to make it to the Indian school’s team and was not chosen as a probable for the Bombay Ranji squad this year, several cricket buffs wondered if he had missed the bus.

"So what if he has?" counters sports columnist Arvind Lavakare. "The idea that a great sportsman’s son makes a great sportsman is flawed. There’s nothing in the genes to suggest that. It’s the media that gives it a perverse twist."

He has a point. Colin Cowdrey’s sons were big flops. Ashok and Rahul Mankad were but pale shadows of their father Vinoo. And Rajinder Amarnath, considered by the great Lala to be the most talented of his three sons, didn’t even make it to the starting blocks. Says his brother Mohinder Amarnath: "In the end, it’s talent that counts."

By the most accounts, Rohan has that in him to make it big. His Podar College coach VS Patil says he is keen and willing to sweat it out: "He doesn’t miss practice even one day."

Former Rajasthan Ranji star Kailash Gattani, who took Rohan to England as part of his team last year, speaks of his "enormous circketing intelligence". And his uncle and former captain, Hemant Kenkre, says he is level-headed and has no airs of being SMG’s son.

Not that being a Gavaskar necessarily warrants a place for him; he has to translate his talent into results. Rohan may just be getting ready to do that Last year, he scored a double century in a day in the Shatkar Trophy, a selection criterion for the Bombay under-18 team. Besides, he scored a hundred playing for the CCI in the Kanga League.

But Bombay’s competitive cricket world needs more. Says Kenkre: "Here, in five games, you need a couple of hundreds and a couple of 70s and 80s if you want to be in the Ranji team. However, it’s easier if you’re a bowler."

Rohan is a left-handed batsman who can bowl a bit of spin. He started off a defensive player, but journalist Austin Coutinho, who saw him play for Podar College against Rizvi College this year, says he has graduated. "The Rohan I saw was different. He played brilliant strokes all around the wicket and even lofted bowlers over their heads for sixes. And it was an 80-yard boundary." But as Patil says, Rohan has still to learn to pick the right balls to hit – he tends to hit every ball over square leg for a six.

That impetuosity, says former Test batsman Dilip Sardesai, is the essential difference between a good cricketer and a great one. "Rohan is an excellent player," says Sardesai who took debutant Sunil Gavaskar under hi wing in the 1971 West Indies tour. "But he doesn’t have the concentration. Class alone cannot take you to the top in international cricket. When you are born with a silver spoon in your mouth, you tend to get a little lazy."

Says cricket historian Sharad Kotnis: "He’s not outstanding like his father. He’s a good club-level cricketer." Being compared with his father may be a cross Rohan will have to carry all his life. Like Sir Donald Bradman’s son, he can’t drop his surname. But, says Mohnder Amarnath, "He should play as Rohan, not as Gavaskar."

Meanwhile, Sunil is doing his best to shield his son from the blinding flashbulbs. "Why do you want to write about him? He has done nothing," he says. "Let him work hard to earn publicity." And Marshneil says the decision to enrol Rohan in Bombay Scottish School which did not have cricket as an extracurricular activity was "deliberate", even though it meant that he had to start from scratch.

But for now, all eyes are on the Sungrace-Mafatlal 1995-96 season which Rohin is expected to make his mark. The family is prepared to accept the likelihood of Rohan not living up to his father’s name. As marshneil says, it won’t be a calamity if Rohan doesn’t end up playing for India. "The opportunities are enormous in today’s world."

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