Cricket Legends Long Read

Sachin Tendulkar: How one man changed cricket

The other day my cricket team was discussing whether there was any one person who had definitively influenced the game of cricket. If you have ever met me or have read this blog, you already know my answer. It was Sachin Tendulkar. Why, they asked? “Sachin Tendulkar made cricket what it is today”, I answered.

The answer got me thinking. Sachin Tendulkar was a fantastic batsman but did he really change cricket? Or was I simply being a nostalgic fan boy? Were there others who influenced it more? W.G. Grace? Bradman? Jardine? Sobers? Lillee? Thomson? Imran Khan? Kerry Packer perhaps?

Now, there is plenty of literature on how Sachin’s meteroic rise coincided with India’s economic resurgence. Shashi Tharoor has written about the “Age of Tendulkar” in Wisden. Ed Smith (who, incidentally, got himself out to me last year for 75 to give me my first and only international calibre wicket) has written about “The Indian Master who symbolised the country’s rise”.

But did Tendulkar change cricket? I think he did. Not in terms of changing the game itself (Tendulkar was relatively orthodox). But the advent of Tendulkar changed how the game within the game was played.

Early 90s – India begins to believe

While India may have won the 1983 World Cup, cricket was still competing with field hockey for primacy in the 1980s. There was also a divide between Indian cricket fans. Much like the street-fighter Javed Miandad and the Oxford-educated Imran Khan divided Pakistanis, the loyalty of Indian fan was owed either to the stoic, dependable Gavasakar or the unpredictably brilliant Haryana hurricane, Kapil Dev.

All that changed with the arrival of the fresh-faced Sachin Tendulkar.

Indian fans were united in their admiration for Tendulkar. He was soft-spoken and middle-class. He could attack like Dev and could defend like Gavaskar. He had his nose smashed in by the Pakistani quicks on his first tour but stood up and carried on. He scored a hundred at the WACA, the quickest pitch in the world. His first test hundred was in England. He was the first overseas player to play for Yorkshire.

Sachin Tendulkar was suddenly India’s largest publicly held entity and every Indian was a shareholder.

Everyone wanted a piece of him and until Ganguly, Dravid and Laxman arrived, he was Indian cricket’s sole superstar.

1996 to 2000 – India’s economic clout grows

Up until the 1990s, world cricket was controlled by England and Australia. Four of out the first five World Cups were held in these countries. The 1996 World Cup was set to be held in England as well.

One entrepreneurial cricket administrator, Jagmohan Dalmiya, identified cricket’s (and more specifically Tendulkar’s) appeal to India’s burgeoning TV audience. He first decided to commercially exploit it, by selling TV rights to the to the highest bidder instead of to Doordarshan, India’s national broadcaster. The BCCI even fought the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in court to be able to sell these rights. He then outmaneuvered England at an ICC meeting to bring the 1996 World Cup to India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

After swiping hosting rights from under England’s nose, India sold rights to the 1996 World Cup for a staggering amount of money. The BCCI had used Sachin Tendulkar’s brand to turn the tables on the old school. The balance of power in world cricket was shifting.

It is telling that the 1996 World Cup TV rights went to World Tel, headed by Mark Mascarenhas. Mark Mascarenhas had signed as Tendulkar’s agent in 1995 and once said “I chose to promote Sachin Tendulkar because I have never seen (Donald) Bradman play; never saw (Garry) Sobers play; I saw Viv (Richards), but he couldn’t figure out (Bhagwat) Chandrashekhar on his debut. And then I saw Sachin. I had never seen anyone like this.”

Sachin Tendulkar was the leading run scorer at the 1996 World Cup with a total of 523 runs. When he got out in the semi-final at Eden Gardens, the nation wept.

After the World Cup, he continued to pile on the runs, taming Shane Warne and others in the process. By the year 2000, he had scored 6416 runs and was, with the exception of Brian Lara, streets ahead of every other batsman playing the game.

Things were about to get very interesting.

2000 to 2008 – India flexes its political muscle

With money flowing into cricket, cricket was no longer a sport in India. It was a commercial enterprise and with every commercial enterprise comes a cost. World cricket was rocked in 2000 by the match-fixing scandal. Big names in cricket were involved. Yet Sachin Tendulkar remained untouched. If anything his reputation was enhanced when the bookies involved admitted that they could not fix games until Tendulkar was out.

Ironically, the first inkling of what was to come was brought on by an attack on Sachin’s reputation. The 2001 tour of South Africa had not gone well for the Indians. They were trailing 2-0 when match referee Englishman Mike Denness handed Sachin Tendulkar a one match (suspended) ban for ball-tampering. India threatened to pull out of the tour if Denness was not replaced. Cricket South Africa were worried about losing out on a lot of money if India pulled out. The South African government got involved. The ICC did not budge as it did not want to be seen as weak. Eventually, the third test match went ahead as an “unofficial test” (EspnCricinfo’s article on “The Denness affair” is a great summary covering both sides of the argument). This was the first time India and the BCCI had ground world cricket to a halt using the threat of loss of revenue. At the centre of the controversy was our main man- Sachin Tendulkar. The BCCI had used the attack on Tendulkar’s pristine reputation to flex its muscle and score a few points against the ICC.

This was repeated in 2008 with the infamous Monkeygate scandal. Tendulkar was the prime witness for Harbhajan Singh who had been banned for racial abuse. The match referee, Mike Procter,  upheld the Australian version of events, effectively calling Tendulkar a liar. The Indian team, backed by the BCCI, threatened to boycott the tour if Harbhajan Singh’s suspension was not lifted. It was eventually lifted on appeal but the BCCI had once again cleverly leveraged an attack on Tendulkar’s reputation to show the ICC who the real boss of world cricket was.

By 2008, it was firmly established that if you had the money you could do whatever you wanted. The BCCI was the richest board in the world and it was not afraid to use it’s economic power to gain political advantage.

In this period, Sachin Tendulkar continued to do what he was good at. Scoring runs. Lots of them. He was the player of the World Cup in 2003, scoring 673 runs (the highest by any player in the tournament). In 2007, he went past 15,000 ODI runs. The year after, Sachin Tendulkar became the highest run scorer in test matches, surpassing Brian Lara.

2008 onwards – T20 is king

With India winning the World T20 in 2007,  the Indian Premier League was born in 2008.

Players from all over the world came to India to play in the two month carnival. Technique and county contracts no longer mattered. Players like Chris Gayle and Kevin Pietersen became T20 mercenaries. Test cricket (and the West Indies test team, in particular) went into rapid decline. India cornered the lion’s share of ICC revenue along with Australia and England (which is the subject of the fantastic documentary “Death of a Gentleman”).

There is no business like show business. The commercialisation of cricket was complete with the IPL. The BCCI was laughing all the way to the bank.

Sachin Tendulkar continued to turn up at work everyday, breaking all sorts of batting records. At the age of 36, he was the first man to score 200 in an ODI game. He went past 50 test centuries. He was the player of the IPL in 2010. India won the World Cup in 2011 in Tendulkar’s hometown.

And then in November 2013, Sachin Tendulkar, having scored a hundred centuries in international cricket, retired from all forms of the game.

Conclusion

It is possible that that the BCCI would have wrested control of world cricket anyway. But Sachin Tendulkar was the catalyst that they needed. His incredible run-scoring, consistency, longevity and solid, middle class values gave the BCCI their poster boy. Tendulkar was the perfect cricketing icon and “Brand Tendulkar” laid the foundation for the BCCI’s current domination of world cricket.

So, do you think Sachin Tendulkar made cricket what it is today?

– DJ

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