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Indian Premier League 2021

Why the reactions to Mumbai Indians’ selection of Arjun Tendulkar are unjustified

Arjun Tendulkar IPL 2021
Rupin Kale by Rupin Kale 5 minute read

Rupin Kale on why it’s unfair to criticise Arjun Tendulkar for his sale in the IPL auction, and why he deserves a fair chance ahead of the 2021 edition.

The 2021 IPL auction was a mega-event that was followed and covered extensively across the cricket ecosystem. Many subplots from the auction made trends on social media, including the recording-breaking bid for Chris Morris, Chennai’s signing of Cheteshwar Pujara and Krishnappa Gowtham’s lucrative deal.

While the last names announced at an IPL auction are usually fringe cricketers and relatively unknown players, that wasn’t the case this time around. The final cricketer to be sold at the 2021 auction was Arjun Tendulkar, son of arguably the greatest player to ever hold a bat. The 21-year-old was bought by Mumbai Indians for his base price of INR 20 lakh.

The sale, as expected, caused a frenzy on social media. While a few reactions, especially from Mumbai fans, were positive and encouraging, Tendulkar’s name soon started trending for the wrong reasons. Words like ‘nepotism’ ‘unfair’ and ‘politics’ were thrown around, as fans associated Arjun’s sale with his surname. Sarcasm, cynicism and in certain cases, hate, were soon spewed towards the young fast bowler.

Zaheer Khan, the head of Cricket Operations at Mumbai Indians, spoke about Arjun in the media conference after the auction. “The added pressure of being Sachin Tendulkar’s son will always be on him,” he said.

“It is something he needs to live with, the environment of the team will help him. It will help him become a good cricketer, how many times a youngster gets picked in the auction and everyone is talking about him, he has to prove himself and he has to show everyone he has the goods.”

While Khan makes a fair point about the pressure on Arjun, the reactions to his sale remain unfair and unjustified. Here’s why.

The reactions to the selection of Arjun Tendulkar are unjustified

One of the most important aspects to consider here is that Arjun Tendulkar is just 21 years old. Like millions of young cricketers across the world, he’s simply focused on the sport he loves and harbours dreams of playing it professionally for the years to come.

While he got into the IPL at 21, a relatively early age, many other players younger than him have been bought in the auction over the years. Four cricketers below 22 were selected in the auction this time around, with just Mujeeb Ur Rahman being an established name.

The two other young players to be bought at this auction were Rajasthan teenager Akash Singh and South African pace bowler Marco Jansen. Singh was picked up by Rajasthan Royals, even as Mumbai Indians bought Jansen along with Tendulkar. While Singh was a part of India’s U-19 Cricket World Cup campaign last year, he too has featured in just two senior games – the same as Arjun.

The 21-year-old is a talented left-arm pace bowler, who has worked his way up through the levels to get where he is now. He has played for India U19, and impressed for MCC Young Cricketers in a 2019 stint. Playing against county second XIs, his list of batsmen dismissed included Chris Dent and Nick Browne, two of the most highly rated county openers going.

He has form in India too. In an impressive fast-bowling display, Arjun had returned figures of 6-70 for Vijay Merchant XI in an U-19 shield competition in 2018. That same year, he also impressed for Mumbai in the U-19 Vinoo Mankad Trophy, finishing as their highest-wicket taker with 15 scalps in eight games.

Recently, he made his debut for the senior side, playing against Haryana in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. The youngster was slammed for 15 runs in his first over, but made a memorable comeback to claim his first wicket.

Mahela Jayawardene, the head coach of Mumbai Indians, stressed that Tendulkar was bought on the basis of his cricketing ability.

“We’ve looked at it purely on a skill basis. I mean, there is going to be a big tag on his head because of Sachin. But, luckily, he’s a bowler, not a batsman. So I think Sachin will be very proud if he could bowl like Arjun,” he told ESPNcricinfo.

“I think it’s going to be a learning process for Arjun. He just started playing for Mumbai, and now the franchise. He will learn the ropes; he will evolve. He’s still young. A very focused young man.”

Many critics on social media argued that no other franchise going for Tendulkar indicated that he wasn’t good enough to make the cut. That take, however, lacks perspective. The youngster has been a part of the Mumbai franchise for the last few months, playing and training as a net bowler with the team. The coaches at the franchise have seen him up close and are likely to know more about his skillset than other franchises.

In a video chat with Trent Boult last year, James Pattinson said that Arjun spent the most time at the gym across the entire Mumbai franchise. His record might not leap off the page, but he has shown he can cut it at the level below, and it is not unheard of for a franchise, having taken a close look at a youngster, to take a low-risk gamble. His surname marks him out, but the list of cricketers with famous relatives is long. Stuart Broad’s father has six Test hundreds. It doesn’t mean his 145 Test caps or 517 wickets are unearned.

While some might debate that the access Tendulkar got in Mumbai Indians is unfair in itself, it’s important to realise that many net bowlers are brought in by all the franchises. There is a debate to be had around privilege and the power of a name in cricket, but Arjun’s surname is not in his control and neither did he choose it for himself.

Additionally, Mumbai Indians is a private franchise and not the national side. Any IPL club has the freedom to go for any player they consider useful, and the tournament is littered with examples of, on paper, strange buys. A case in point is Pravin Tambe, who was brought in by Rajasthan Royals at the age of 41, having not played a single game for his city till then. He went onto become a breakout star of the tournament.

“We have to give him time and hopefully not put a lot of pressure on him either,” said Jayawardene about Tendulkar. “Just let him evolve and work his way up, and that’s what we’re there to help him to do.”

Arjun’s selection can be debated and discussed by fans, of course. However, it’s crucial he’s allowed a fair chance, like everyone else picked at the auction. While nepotism exists in every industry, sport should work as a leveller. If he really isn’t good enough, we’ll see that when Mumbai Indians pick him, or glean it if they don’t. If Arjun fails over the next couple of seasons, he is unlikely to get chances before he proves himself again.

Let us ensure that he gets the space to be and breathe before that though.

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