The Bengal captain Rohan Gavaskar was born on February 20, 1976. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at a man whose career got lost somewhere amidst the heavy burdens of being the son of a legend.
Father-son combinations are rather curious in the history of the sport. There have been cases where a son has outdone his father in the field of sport: despite Walter Hadlee’s stature he was no match for Richard’s status; Fred Tate had played a solitary Test while Maurice went on to become one of the greats; and Micky Stewart, despite his contributions to the sport, did not have a career comparable to Alec’s.
On the other hand, from WG Grace’s son to Richard Hutton, from Ron Headley to Chris Cowdrey, there have been players whose achievements, however commendable, were not in the same league as their father’s. Rohan Gavaskar belonged to this category.
In an interview to DNA, however, Rohan said: “If I could bat like my father, I would’ve ended up with 10,000 Test runs and 34 hundreds. If it wasn’t for him [Sunil Gavaskar], I wouldn’t have had cricketing genes.”
Rohan (it seems very odd to refer to him as “Gavaskar”) did not resemble his father in any way: he was an aggressive left-handed batsman who could be a delight to watch on his day; he also bowled left-arm spin that often resulted in wickets for his adopted domestic side, Bengal.
From 117 First-Class matches Gavaskar had scored 6,938 runs at 44.19 with 18 hundreds; he had also picked up 38 wickets at 50.31. His List A numbers read 3,157 runs at 30.95 and 58 wickets at 35.55. In the 11 One-Day Internationals (ODIs) he played he did not do a good job, scoring 151 runs at 18.87 with a solitary fifty.
Few people are christened after three famous cricketers, but being Sunil Gavaskar’s son came with its own perks: Rohan Jaiviswa Gavaskar was named after three of Gavaskar’s favourite cricketers — Rohan Kanhai, ML Jaisimha, and Gundappa Viswanath.
[Note: Official sources and scorecards generally use Rohan Sunil Gavaskar as the full name; Gavaskar senior himself, however, has confirmed that his son’s middle name is Jaiviswa.]
Despite a 20-day gap (February 13 to March 5, 1976) between the tours of New Zealand and West Indies The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) did not allow Sunil to be present during his son’s birth. Rohan studied in Bombay Scottish School and then at Ramniranjan Anandilal Podar College of Commerce and Economics.
In a rather curious move (presumably on his illustrious father’s advice) Rohan moved to Bengal and played for them throughout his career. He started with 43 and 55 against Orissa at Eden Gardens in 1995-96; there was a crucial 69 against Tamil Nadu at Cheapauk; and a gallant 109 — his maiden First-Class hundred — where he took Bengal to almost sniffing distance against Madhya Pradesh’s 464 at Indore.
A freakish performance happened against Tripura at Agartala in 1997-98: after he scored 80 and Bengal scored 263 Tripura were bowled out for 181 (their last six batsmen all scored ducks) after they were 135 for one. Set 294 to win Tripura finished with 115 for eight in 88 overs, and Rohan finished with figures of 8-6-3-5 — his only First-Class five-for.
Rohan played with success in the shorter version of the sport and made it to the East Zone Deodhar Trophy side. Consistent performances earned him a place in India A’s tour of Pakistan; in a match at Gaddafi Stadium Rohan scored 115 not out against a side consisting of Aaqib Javed and Shahid Afridi, adding an unbroken 227 for the sixth wicket with Sanjay Raul.
The next season Rohan slammed 190 against Bihar at Eden Gardens, helping Devang Gandhi add 354 for the third wicket. The season after that he scored a career-best 212 not out against Tripura at Agartala, adding an unbroken 406 for the third wicket with Shrikant Kalyani: it still remains the highest third-wicket partnership for Bengal.
Consistent performances earned Rohan a chance for Indian Board President’s XI against the visiting Englishmen at Hyderabad. England scored 320, to which the locals responded with 346 for seven; Rohan hit one back to Martyn Ball for 24. Back to domestic cricket, Rohan scored runs on a consistent basis.
Rohan made it to India A’s tour of England in 2003, and set to score 341 in the fourth innings against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge, Rohan walked out at 20 for two to join Satyajit Parab. The 148-run partnership with Parab and the unbeaten 172-run stand with Ambati Rayudu sealed the match for India A.
In the NKP Salve Challenger Trophy that season Rohan top-scored with 79 not out for India A against India Seniors: the attack, consisting of Zaheer Khan, Lakshmipathy Balaji, Harbhajan Singh, and Murali Kartik, was a formidable one, but the innings was enough to beat the Seniors by 27 runs. The innings also helped him earn a place in the Indian squad for the VB series that Australian summer.
Rohan made his debut in the fifth ODI of the series at The Gabba; coming out to bat in the closing stages of the Indian innings he remained unbeaten on two. With Matthew Hayden and Andrew Symonds going strong, Sourav Ganguly brought Rohan on to bowl his apparently innocuous left-arm spin.
Rohan tossed up the fifth ball of his international career: Symonds hit it straight, and the ball went inches above the ground — which was good enough for Rohan. He jumped full stretch to his right and came up with the catch one-handed. It remained his only international wicket.
Rohan did little else of note before coming good at Adelaide. India were down to four for three before Rahul Dravid helped VVS Laxman add 133; Rohan was sent in next, and he biffed his way to a 62-ball 54, helping Laxman add another 118. It remained his only international fifty. India finished with 280 for seven and won by three runs despite hundreds (and a 202-run partnership between Stuart Carlisle and Sean Ervine).
He was omitted from the Pakistan tour but came back for the twin tours of Netherlands and England, scoring 48 runs in three innings. He got another opportunity against Pakistan at Edgbaston in the Champions Trophy match, but he scored 13, India were eliminated, and he was never recalled.
Back to domestic cricket
Rohan’s never got any closer to international cricket. There were sporadic performances (154 against Mumbai at Wankhede, 106 and 80 against Central Zone at Gwalior, and so on). However, there was no serious claim to the helm, and Rohan decided to call it quits at a rather premature age of 33. In his last First-Class match against Uttar Pradesh at Kanpur, he scored 20 and four.
Rohan married his childhood sweetheart Swati Mankar in April 2003. He went on to become a television cricket expert before making a seamless transition to the commentary box. The recently concluded Ranji Trophy saw Rohan commentate alongside his illustrious father — a stint that involved a lot of jibes from the senior man, starting with the fact that Rohan had never been a part of a Ranji Trophy winning side.
“For a change, I could actually pull someone’s legs and get away with it. Generally, when I am doing it at the international level, my fellow commentator can come back at me. Over here, that was the big plus as I could pull his leg and get away,” Sunil later said in an interview with DNA. The two of them were a treat to listen to in unison.
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