Alan and Mark Butcher at The Oval

Alan (left) and Mark Butcher at The Oval in 2006

© Getty Images

Feature

What's it like being the cricket-playing son of a famous cricketer?

We spoke to Mark Butcher, Bazid Khan, Rohan Gavaskar and Rajdeep Sardesai to find out

Vishal Dikshit  |  

Stepping into your father's shoes is no easy task. Over the years, cricket has had numerous sons who followed their fathers into the game professionally. What is the experience of these cricketers like? Does the ease of access make their path smoother, or do the expectations weigh them down? What was it like to grow up in the shadow of a father famous for playing the game? We spoke to the sons of a few international cricketers to find out.

What were your earliest cricket memories involving your father?

Mark Butcher, son of Alan Butcher: I just remember being at The Oval a lot from the time I was very, very small. I don't have any early memories that don't somehow recall cricket in some way. I remember having one of those autographed miniature bats and waving that around at a very early age, and just being pretty engrossed with the game.

Rajdeep Sardesai, son of Dilip Sardesai: One of my earliest cricket memories with my father is of going to the Brabourne Stadium for some Ranji match when I was five or six, in 1970-71. I started watching cricket that season because that was the year when Mumbai [then Bombay] won the Ranji Trophy without their Test cricketers, who had all gone to the West Indies. In that same season I used to go with my father to the PJ Hindu Gymkhana to watch club cricket where he would play. I remember that Eknath Solkar used to look after me by giving me Coke all day. He would have bottles of it ready whenever I walked in, and he was my early hero as a cricketer.

I remember when my father scored a double-century against the West Indies - the entire building was treating it as if I had scored the double-century. And I was six!

Bazid Khan:

Bazid Khan: "My father was a great player, and getting compared to him all the time was a little unfair, because you're never actually judged on your own ability. © Getty Images

Another memory I have of 1971 is when India defeated England. It was Ganesh Chaturthi [the Hindu festival] in Mumbai and I had gone to my uncle's house for pooja. I remember my cousins all lifting me on their shoulders and taking me to Chowpatty beach. It was like a celebration of both Ganesh Chaturthi and the victory.

Rohan Gavaskar, son of Sunil Gavaskar: All my childhood memories are about cricket and dad playing. I watched a lot of him play. I was there when he got his ODI hundred in the [1987] World Cup, I was there when he went to Somerset for county. And whenever my school permitted, I would travel with him, not so much to watch cricket but just to be with him and mum.

Bazid Khan, son of Majid Khan: My earliest cricket memory is the 1987 World Cup. My father and my uncle [Javed Burki], my mother's brother, were commentating on that World Cup, so I used to go to the ground with them to watch the Pakistan team. I watched Pakistan v England and then Pakistan v Australia also, the semi-final. In that game, when my uncle got a sense that the match was slipping out of Pakistan's hands, he took me out of the commentary box because I started to lose my temper. He took me out so that I would not create a scene there (laughs).

How big a part of childhood was cricket?

Butcher: From the time I could walk, it was pretty much an obsession. From the time I was six or seven, I'd spend a lot of the summer holidays up at The Oval, playing on the outfield during the breaks. I played at school from the age of five or six. My grandma from my dad's side taught me how to score games off the TV. But it was the same in all sports - it wasn't just cricket, I was football-crazy as well, and then when Wimbledon came around in the summer, it would be tennis for a couple of weeks.

Rajdeep Sardesai on his father:

Rajdeep Sardesai on his father: "Just having him around meant I was always able to soak in what cricket was all about" courtesy Nandini Sardesai

Khan: Right from the beginning I was into cricket, and I wasn't pressurised by anyone. I used to watch a lot of cricket as a kid. I understood the rich history of cricket in my family much later, when I turned 15 or 16. In most of my pictures as a kid, I'm playing cricket - because it was an obsession.

Sardesai: I would listen to commentary as a seven-year old. I would track Ranji Trophy scores. I would play every evening after school. I remember playing Giles Shield [an Under-14 league] as a ten-year-old. I just couldn't get away from it.

How much did cricket figure in your relationship with your father?

Khan: My father and I didn't talk that much about cricket initially. But once I started playing first-class cricket and I had technical doubts, I would always go to him. The real in-depth conversations started only then.

Another thing I remember is, when I was 16 or 17, he would encourage me to go and practise extra or reach early on certain days, or work on a couple of things in my game. He would give me some tips. Current cricket as such wasn't discussed so much - my father didn't watch much. Now, when I analyse the game, we talk more about it, every aspect of cricket.

Mark (far right) and Gary Butcher with their parents. Alan's two brothers, Martin and Ian, were also first-class cricketers

Mark (far right) and Gary Butcher with their parents. Alan's two brothers, Martin and Ian, were also first-class cricketers

Butcher: My dad coached football and PE in sports in the winters at the school I went to. So I didn't see him a great deal during the summers, and then in the winters I'd see him every day because of his work.

It was not about going to cricket matches in the summers and being very proud that my dad was playing and all that. There was a sense of pride but there wasn't a whole relationship centred around cricket. Sport, yes, but cricket, no. It's not like he was throwing balls at me all the time. I had a brother for that. (laughs)

In early 2001, I called Dad and talked about my career. Then we had the kind of relationship that perhaps other fathers and sons have before they become professionals. It kind of happened midway for me. And then it was fantastic - it was everything that I had perhaps hoped might have been when I was younger. I'm very blessed to have had the opportunity at that point to learn from someone who understood the game, understood batting, understood me, and was able to put me on the right path again. Without having a father that played the game, or a father who was as skilled a coach as he was, I certainly wouldn't have played the 40-odd Test matches I played after I was dropped. From 2001 right until the injury that ended things for me at the end of 2004 - none of that would have happened if it hadn't been for the old man.

Sardesai: He retired in 1973, when I was eight, so I never really saw him play. But my father would tell me a lot of stories about cricketers and we had a lot of cricketers coming over. Then we went to the maidan, which he loved, and we'd just watch the game. I would just sit and watch Kanga League, Ranji Trophy - so it was just watching the game every Saturday and Sunday, almost obsessively.

It wasn't as if my father was my hero, but just having him around meant I was always able to soak in what cricket was all about, hear stories about '71, about [Sunil] Gavaskar, before that about [Vijay] Manjrekar and other cricketers he saw. He loved talking about cricketers he had seen in the '50s and '60s, the [Subhash] Guptes and the [Vinoo] Mankads. He enabled me to build this romance for the game.

He could drive outside of a car as well. Sunil and Rohan Gavaskar, besieged by paparazzi in 2013

He could drive outside of a car as well. Sunil and Rohan Gavaskar, besieged by paparazzi in 2013 © India Today Group/Getty Images

Did you play together or against each other professionally ever?

Butcher: Surrey v Glamorgan in a one-dayer in 1991 - that was the only occasion and it was the first time it ever happened in the UK as well. It was a great day, really fabulous day. He had the best of both worlds - he was the captain of Glamorgan and I came in at No. 9 [for Surrey] and smashed 45 off 20 balls or something, but Glamorgan still won.

Sardesai: Unfortunately, I didn't really see him play but we had this great year, 1978 or 1979, when he and I played for the same Kanga League club. And in the first match we played together - I was 14 and he must have been close to 50 - we had a century partnership together. That was the first time I saw him really play. I scored a fifty, he scored a fifty, and I think that was the culmination of all that had been happening through the '70s for a young boy who was obsessively thinking about the game - getting to play with him.

Did you get to meet famous cricketers because of your father?

Butcher: In the Surrey team that my dad played, we'd have people like New Zealand captain Geoff Howarth around the house a lot. "Uncle Kiwi" as we called him.

One of my favourite memories of being a kid was when the West Indies came over in '84, when Larry Gomes made a ton of runs. Dad took me to this testimonial game that he was involved in and I remember I talked to Larry Gomes for about 20 minutes, about batting and stuff. And I met Viv [Richards], Joel Garner, Malcolm Marshall. So I kind of met that West Indian team who were heroes of mine. I also met Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson and Greg Chappell when they came over on an Ashes tour. They played in a warm-up one-day match that my dad was playing. I remember they were wearing the green blazers with the yellow trim. They were wearing those for lunch when I met them, a tradition for teams back in those days.

Gavaskar: I was lucky enough to interact with cricketers up close and personal. If I had to pick two cricketers who were my heroes growing up and who I was very excited to meet, they were Jeff Thomson and Karsan Ghavri.

Rajdeep Sardesai (centre) at a book launch event in Mumbai

Rajdeep Sardesai (centre) at a book launch event in Mumbai © Getty Images

Khan: I remember meeting a lot of England players. I also used to copy players' bowling actions as a kid. Once I bowled like Abdul Qadir in front of him and he was very happy to see that.

Later on, my father became the CEO of the PCB, so a lot of players would visit us at home. Once, the entire South Africa team came home for a meal, which I remember very well. My father would tell me, "You're talking cricket all the time but when someone comes home, you're very shy." It used to take me time to go up to cricketers when they came home. It was only when they were starting to wind up and getting ready to leave that I would start talking to them!

Did people expect a lot of you because of who your father was? Or was it an advantage, opening doors for you?

Gavaskar: It doesn't matter if you're a cricketer's son or not, but you've got to score runs, you've got to take wickets, and that's what you're basically judged on. I remember the first time I played Kanga League in Mumbai, I was a 12-year-old, I didn't get too many runs and the headline was "Like father, unlike son."

In terms of pressure, there was always outside pressure, there was never any internal pressure.

Butcher: I've seen it happen with some people. Imagine being Sachin [Tendulkar]'s son, for example. Crikey! And Rohan Gavaskar said the same thing about being Sunny's son. It's just something you can't really imagine here in England. I don't feel as though I suffered from that at all, but I can imagine it to be very, very difficult to live up to that kind of legendary status. I idolised my dad as a player and wanted to follow in his footsteps, but he wasn't a legend of the game to, kind of, transfer that kind of pressure on to me.

I knew a lot of the senior players who had all played with my dad at Surrey. So people knew me already, I was a familiar face around the place. So it wasn't quite as terrifying it might have been for a 17-year-old in that first year, and they took me in as one of their own immediately. I didn't have to jump through quite so many hoops to prove myself as someone else might have done.

In fact, being the son of somebody who played gives you that perspective to have to deal with it. They have a unique insight into the kinds of do's and don'ts, so if your relationship is a good one, in which you can share stories, then you're perhaps in a better place than people who are without that knowledge.

Khan: I've been asked this many times. I think it happens more in the subcontinent that if you're a player's son or nephew, when you're starting off in cricket, you're already familiar with the set-up and people know you. Whatever team or trial you go for at any level, you're recognised immediately and people say, "This is that guy's son, so let's try him out."

I think initially it's an advantage, but as your career goes on and you start playing professional cricket, I feel that, at least in our part of the world, you're always compared to your father or uncle or whoever. My father was a great player, and getting compared to him all the time was a little unfair, because you're never actually judged on your own ability.

The Khans at home in 2020

The Khans at home in 2020 © Bazid Khan

So even if you get selected on merit, some will always say, "He got selected because he's someone's son." That pressure, it stays for however long you play. I even spoke to Rohan about this once and he agreed.

I'm interested in finding out how such things are handled in countries like England and Australia. Do they face the same kind of pressure, does the tag stay with them forever, or do they go beyond it?

Sardesai: I think it's a double-edged sword. People start looking at you more closely but also more harshly. I got more opportunities as a result of being my father's son. I guess I would get more balls in the nets and I would get picked for sides far more easily. But once you're there, you have to perform. And even if you do reasonably well, you are expected to do better. That sort of held me back a bit. And every time you failed, the criticism was perhaps a little bit harsher.

I remember the Under-15 Vijay Merchant Trophy in 1980. I got a 94 against Gujarat and then another 70 or 80. And I think I was the highest scorer in that tournament. But the expectation was such that people felt it was not good enough. In Bombay in particular, the critics looked at emerging cricketers very closely.

I keep reading about [Rahul] Dravid's son and I just hope we allow or give him the space to be who he is rather than every time he scores some runs or doesn't score runs, he's compared to his dad.

My father would often tell me that he came from a small town in Goa. But he didn't put pressure on me the way as I did myself at times. He didn't say, "You've got to be a cricketer" or "You've got to play for Mumbai or India." He would have liked it, but it wasn't as if it was the be-all and end-all. He had no cricketing legacy to fall back on, while I had everything. I had the best bats, the best gloves, the best equipment, the best coaching. But I just didn't have the talent, so I think at some stage I had to come to terms with the fact that I was never going to be as good as him.

Vishal Dikshit is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

 

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