“He has to show all the coaching staff and the think tank that he has got the goods to belong there”
The Mumbai Indians’ leadership has come out in unequivocal endorsement of 21-year-old left-arm medium-pacer Arjun Tendulkar, and backed what they described as a measured decision to pick him up at the IPL 2021 auction.
Arjun, Sachin Tendulkar’s son, was among the Mumbai Indians net bowlers during last year’s IPL – he has bowled in the Indian national team’s nets more than once too – and was the last player to be picked during the accelerated part of the auction on Thursday. He made his senior debut for Mumbai during the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy last month, and picked up two wickets at an economy of 9.57. Minutes after he was selected, Indian Twitter trends around him – and his father, who is part of the Mumbai Indians set-up – took a critical tilt, with murmurs of nepotism.
Head coach Mahela Jayawardene, director of cricket operations Zaheer Khan, and owner Akash Ambani all argued that Arjun’s step-up was nothing more than a young cricketer being given an opportunity, and that he would need to prove himself just like anyone else at one of the world’s most-successful T20 teams.
“We’ve looked at it purely on a skill basis,” Jayawardene said after the auction. “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.
“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. We have to give him time and hopefully not put a lot of pressure on him either. Just let him evolve and work his way up, and that’s what we’re there to help him to do.”
“We are looking at things under a very simple lens – it’s just a youngster coming in the side, he has to prove himself, he has to show all the coaching staff and the think tank of the team that he’s got the goods to belong there”
The Mumbai Indians have done well with raw talent in the past, Jasprit Bumrah and the Pandya brothers foremost among those, and their decisions during Thursday’s auctions revolved around that tenet, they said, and that Arjun, like their other uncapped bowling pick Yudhvir Singh, were earmarked during the last IPL.
“Over the years, you’ve seen with our set-up, we’ve always backed the youngsters,” Khan said. “We have always been scouting hard for talents, give them the opportunities. That has not changed in this auction as well. If you see, we have managed to achieve that nice balance of youth and experience. So that thorough process has been there and we’ll continue to do that.
“We have some exciting young talent this time as well and Arjun, for sure, has been one of them. He was part of this squad when we went to Abu Dhabi last IPL. So he has spent enough time with us.”
The attribute about Arjun that has impressed both Jayawardene and Khan seems to be his work ethic. But his ultimate development, they said, would be up to how he performed. Khan said the pressure of his name was something he would have to learn to live with.
“I have spent a lot of time with him. In the nets, working alongside him, trying to teach him a few tricks of the trade. And that has been going well,” Khan said. “Like Mahela was mentioning, he’s a hard-working kid and is really keen on learning. So that is something which is an exciting part. And look, the added pressure of the name Sachin Tendulkar is always going to be there on him and something which he will have to live by. But we’re very hopeful that the environment we have around the team is definitely going to help him become a better cricketer.
“I think the less said the better – how many times a youngster gets picked in the auction and everyone is talking about it? That is something, which is always going to happen, but we are looking at things under a very simple lens – it’s just a youngster coming in the side. He has to prove himself, he has to show all the coaching staff and the think tank of the team that he’s got the goods to belong there. So what he does there at the highest level is in his hands.”
Ambani stressed on the Mumbai Indians team culture, saying that that would aid Arjun’s development.
“Arjun has a beautiful skillset, he’s a left-arm fast bowler and can bat left-hand. There’re not many of those in world cricket,” Ambani said. “But it’s very important that his process and his progression happens as any other young cricketer’s. Fortunately, at MI, we help individuals reach their potential. It’s all on their hard work but we believe we have the environment to do that.
“Hopefully we can see Arjun reach his potential in the coming years as many youngsters, without taking names, have.”
Varun Shetty is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo