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We often talk of the millions Sachin Tendulkar made for himself. We even talk about the money he made for the brands he endorsed and the money he raked in for the boards with his magnetic appeal. Yet, one has never heard or read of how he changed the personal fortunes of the cricket journalists in the country. H Natarajan writes how Tendulkar’s rising stature indirectly benefited Indian journalists.
Gratitude is the sign of noble souls - Aesop.
One of the most enduring images on a cricket field is when a teary Sachin Tendulkar made what was seemingly the longest trek of his life. Having expressed his gratitude — prepared with the same meticulous perfection that he brought to his craft — and moving a nation to tears, the maestro moved towards the 22-yard rectangle. And then he did what only a noble soul would have done: he bent and touched the terra firma and then his heart. It was a gesture that broke even granite-strong men. This was where it all began, and this is where it ended. And in between those surreal years, that marvellous piece of real estate at the Wankhede Stadium turned a precocious schoolboy into ‘God’. But for that little genius, that little brown strip was a “temple” to which he was now paying obeisance with undiluted purity the likes of which one has never seen any retiring cricketer do.
Every move of the man on that day was observed with unblinking vigil by the print, visual and digital media, as they have done since 1989 — a watershed year not just for Tendulkar and Indian cricket but also for the thousands of cricket journalists whose life was to change in spectacular fashion. Journalists who never got into a flight, journalists who never stepped outside their city to cover events, were now going places — literally and figuratively. Australia, England, South Africa, New Zealand, Canada, Singapore, the Caribbean Islands… their passports showed stamps of many, many countries that most of their friends in schools and colleges could only dream of. One man contributed largely to their change of fortunes: Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. As the cricketing blue chip helped India’s cricketing stocks soar, he brought about a change in the thinking of tight-fisted media organisations, who now found value in sending reporters and photographers to travel with the Indian cricket team.
One only has to think of Viswanathan Anand and Leander Paes, who were about the same age as Tendulkar and whose exploits in their respective sports are as iconic as Tendulkar’s in cricket, to appreciate the cricketing legend’s contribution to the growth of cricket journalism and journalists in India. Till date, only a handful of media houses in India send their reporters to cover an overseas World Chess Championship starring Anand or Wimbledon/Davis Cup featuring Paes. On the other hand, the size of an Indian media contingent is arguably more than the media from the rest of the world like World Cups. This has, unquestionably, been because of Tendulkar’s incandescent aura.
Cricket journalists got new-found respect simply because they got to cover Tests and One-Day Internationals and watch Tendulkar bat. The journalists who knew the icon became ‘heroes’ themselves, simply because they knew the master. Journalists basked in reflected glory, sharing anecdotes of their tryst with the master to an omnipresent audience listening to them with dropped jaws.
As Tendulkar grew in stature, he had a price to pay — loss of privacy. He could escape the fan by cocooning himself in the sanctuary of his hotel room while on tours. The instructions to telephone operator was clear: no calls to be put through to his room. There was also a second line of defence in the form of DND (Do Not Disturb) outside his hotel room door. But that did not stop pesky journalists wanting more to save themselves the wrath of demanding bosses. They knocked the doors of the man, who was always considerate — despite the barging. And despite his accommodative nature when he got bad press, his retort was: “The Press too can have bad days.” This man was Buddha in flannels!
As the world went increasingly digital, the Tendulkar magic became quantifiable. Thanks to Google Analytics and other measuring tools, one can emphatically say how magical the words “Sachin Tendulkar” are when it comes to page views, page ranking, time spent on an article, bounce rate… Even five months after his emotional farewell to the game, his name directly and indirectly help many people to keep their jobs going and bring food on the table for their loved ones. And that includes journalists.
Tendulkar had never asked me a favour and I never gave him one. I, like many of my tribe, was doing my job as a professional writer, while Tendulkar did his job as a professional cricketer. Yet, in the symbiotic relationship, we cricket journalists — especially from India — benefitted in more ways than one. His virtuoso brilliance drove us into writing paeans with the kind of creativity that we could write about very few. The stature he gave to the game of cricket also gave us journos name, fame and money.
“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it,” wrote William Arthur Ward. I know what I have to do when I meet Tendulkar next!
(H Natarajan, formerly All India Deputy Sports Editor of the Indian Express and Senior Editor with Cricinfo/Wisden, is the Executive Editor of CricketCountry.com. A prolific writer, he has written for many of the biggest newspapers, magazines and websites all over the world. A great believer in the power of social media, he can be followed on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/H.Natarajan and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/hnatarajan)
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