Friday, 25 May, 2007


Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar both started as quintessential middle class Maharashtrians. Gavaskar played his early cricket in Chikalwadi and Tendulkar grew up playing at Sahitya Sahawas, the abode of Marathi Saraswats (intelligentsia).

Their cricketing exploits are well documented. But beyond the cricketing field, they have pioneered and abetted in their own way, a process of frenzied commercialization of the game. A legacy which subjects these players to alternate deification and vilification.

When Gavaskar started his career, team India had achieved little noteworthy in the preceding 40 years of international cricket. His advent coincided with two of India’s most famous overseas wins in West Indies and England. Gavaskar, in fact, played a huge part in the former. He was catapulted to stardom overnight. Not that there weren’t many stars before him, but Gavaskar challenged and demolished the stereotypical image of an Indian cricket star. He used his fame to commercially venture into areas that were never tapped by an Indian cricketer before. For some Indians entrenched in a socialist mindset, it was akin to desecration of the sacred game of cricket. After all, was cricket not played for the love of it?

Mihir Bose in his book ‘A Maidan View – The Magic of Indian Cricket’, devotes an entire chapter titled ‘The Besieged Hero’ to Gavaskar. He writes:

Indians respect Gavaskar but they also fear him. He is not for instance, able to invoke the sort of warmth that was accorded to Kapil Dev or his own brother in law, Vishwanath.

Bose quotes MAK Pataudi from the article ‘The decline of Indian cricket’. Writes MAK,

Gavaskar opened up entire new vistas of making money. He had noticed how quickly cricketers once out of the limelight were actually shunned by the same people who had fussed over them, fought for the pleasure of inviting them home and queued to have photographs taken with them. In Bombay only money seemed to matter, and there was more than one way to make it. Gavaskar found them all. Advertising, film producing, writing articles (on the same match, but for different publications), taking fee for organizing matches, writing instant books which were spiced to sell better, appearance money and signing contracts with manufacturers of sports equipment. He became the first millionaire through cricket, rich enough to buy a flat in the centre of Bombay. In a capitalist cricketing country, he would have been considered a genius. In India they began to call him a mercenary, and within the team he became the envy of some of who felt that their contribution to Indian cricket was not much appreciated. Why should Gavaskar hog all the publicity as well as the money? The answer was simple: he had reached those dizzy heights to which no Indian cricketer in his right mind would even dream of aspiring. As importantly, he was articulate where others were dumb, he was controversial where other dared not to be, he could even be witty and this made him ideal material for the media and advertiser.

What Gavaskar started, Tendulkar took to another level. Sachin was fortunate that within two years of making his international debut, India had shed its socialist mindset to become a free economy. Economy, that celebrated entrepreneurial spirit. Sachin was shrewd enough to capitalize on it. He wowed the Indian public, first with his Rs 200 million deal with World Tel in 1995 and then followed up with a mind boggling Rs one billion deal in the year 2000. It helped him no less that in the intervening period, Mark Mascaranhas had made BCCI aware of the gold mine they were sitting on, by successfully bagging the TV rights of 1996 world cup. Ofcourse, Sachin was also riding the crest of his batting form.

And so long as Sachin performed, his money matters remained a part of largely private domain. Tongues started wagging when there was a perceptible decline in his batting post 2002. Initial murmurs gave way to noisy talk. Fans who were previously dazzled by his multi-crore contracts, raised questions on Tendulkar’s attitude, something unthinkable five years ago.

Whereas other Indian sport icons like Sania Mirza, Leander Paes could afford to be erratic - they played an individual sport and largely controlled their own destiny – Sachin could not, for he not only played a team game but was also responsible for India’s fluctuating fortunes.

It seems remarkable therefore that, despite his recent failures, Sachin has managed to bag Rs two billion contract from Iconix, earlier this year. Harsha Bhogle dismisses questions on Tendulkar’s worth as typical ‘middle class’ ish. According to him Sachin still earns only a fraction of what the top international sportsmen and sportswomen do!

Two great cricketers, one huge legacy. Whether it bodes well or otherwise for Indian cricket, only time will tell. You can take your pick too.


Golandaaz said...

I recently read Lala Amarnath's biography. The lifestyle cricket afforded to Lala in a British India is unparalled. A good post but incomplete without comparing Lala.

I understand that you restricted yourslef to Marathi players. But think about comparing this against the popularity of Amarnath

Cricket Guru said...

You were spot on with Lala Amarnath.

In terms of popularity he was at par with Sunny or SRT. And his popularity across the border perhaps exceeded even that of the film stars of his time.

I am yet to read read his biography (I presume you are referring to one written by his son, Rajender) but remember reading about his first century at the Bombay Gymkhana against Douglas Jardine's England team. It was said that some women tore off their jewelry as presents, a millionaire gave him 800 pounds and another presented him with a car, all that in 1933!

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