When Tendulkar was one of us

Financial Mail

TELFORD VICE, Johannesburg

THE smug slam of a classy car’s door was impossible to ignore in Zimbabwe in the 1990s. For one thing, there weren’t many classy cars in Zimbabwe then. For another, those that were there were driven by government officials or their henchmen – sub-species that spelled trouble for the rest of us.

So when that door slammed smugly one summer’s night in Harare in 1998, heads at a nearby restaurant jerked upward. Eyes did not alight on some Zanu PF suit bulging at the blazer buttons. Instead, there, on the other side of the street, stood Sachin Tendulkar.

Shorn of helmet, gloves, bat and pads, and with his pot-scourer of hair bobbing gently in the warm evening breeze, he looked oddly human.

Furtively, Tendulkar looked left, then right. Then he sighed and his shoulders relaxed. He was not looking for a gap in the traffic to cross the road: there was no traffic. He was waiting to be engulfed by an adoring mob. But, on India’s tour to Zimbabwe in 1998, there was more chance of traffic than Tendulkar being assailed by fans as he would have been in most of cricket’s other test-playing countries.

It was a mere moment in the 24 years that covered Tendulkar’s career, but it was a revelation. What to get for the sport star who seems to have everything? Anonymity.

Fat chance of that happening, even though Tendulkar no longer adorns the game. It is impossible to visit India without seeing his face in every form of advertising. Half of India’s population of 1.27-billion are under 25, which means they have never known a world without Tendulkar. The other half probably can’t remember or imagine their sans Sachin years.

Aviva, adidas, Coca-Cola and Toshiba are among the 15 leading brands Tendulkar endorses. And the beat will go on – adidas are planning a “Forever Sachin” clothing line while a Pune-based property company, Amit Enterprises, will renew their contract and are building Tendulkar-branded residential projects in Mumbai, Pune and Nashik.

It all started with a boy who was given his first cricket bat at 11, was a test player at 16, and is now worth an estimated US$160-million. Tendulkar carved his immense success – there is no stroke he has not mastered, and he has invented a few along the way – out of talent, application, and an ability to shut out of the world around him that, by comparison, makes Jacques Kallis look like a 10-year-old with ADHD. Except on a balmy evening in Harare in 1998, when he was one of us.

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