July 5, 2014

The Sharapova lesson

Cricket is a minor league sport and apparently content to remain so

He even comes to Wimbledon. How can she not have noticed him? © Getty Images

Every now and then you come across an example of such startling human ignorance that you have to sit down, wipe your face with a handkerchief, and pour yourself a stiff drink. Brace yourselves readers, for this is one of those moments

Maria Sharapova has never heard of Sachin Tendulkar.

Who exactly is Maria Sharapova, you might ask, petulantly, but you're only pretending. You know who Maria Sharapova is. Yet of the world's greatest living batsman, the man who built monumental peaks of batting stats and then built some more on top of those, one of only two living cricketers entitled to use the world "Master" in his nickname; of him, Maria is entirely, blissfully ignorant. It is enough to make you weep.

Or, if you are of a particular cast of mind, it is enough to make you log on to Twitter and spew your ire in 140 characters or fewer. The militant wing of the Sachinistas has indulged in an online outrage orgy, an explosion of righteous indignation and patriotic silliness rarely seen outside the Republican National Convention.

And the world being what it is (a collection of squabbling states continually waving their dog-eared lists of petty grievances and uncorrected wrongs at one another) this Tendulkrage provoked an anti-Tendulkrage from those who took delight in the fact that Sachin had gone unrecognised among the Russian tennis-playing fraternity, and who were able to assert with ill-found confidence that although Maria might not have heard of Sachin, she has almost certainly heard of Imran Khan.

That may or may not be true, but if a cricketer has to form his own political party in order to become famous, then perhaps cricket has an image problem. And if Maria hasn't heard of Sachin, despite last year's farewell Sachin extravaganza and the 24 years of Sachin-ness that preceded it, you can be sure that she remains entirely unaware of Ian Botham, Viv Richards, Don Bradman, little Davie Warner, Kane Williamson, and Derek Pringle and of all their varied exploits.

Why is this so, and more importantly, why are we so surprised? Could it be that we have an inflated sense of cricket's place in the world? I can't be sure, but I'd be willing to bet Stuart Broad's next fine on the fact that Maria has heard of Cristiano Ronaldo, that he has heard of her, and that both of them have heard of Tiger Woods, Usain Bolt and Kobe Bryant.

Cricket is a minor league sport and apparently content to remain so. It is only played fully in ten countries around the world and there is regular moaning and griping that two of those ten are not pulling their weight. We grudgingly allow a handful of other nations to play, but only in the shorter formats, and then we complain about them cluttering up the World Cup.

The ICC can't even bring itself to put cricket forward for the next Olympics. It was announced this week by the new ICC president that such a step would dilute the value of the game. I can't see many other international organisations taking this approach. Imagine the board of a multi-national fast-food concern debating whether to buy advertising time during the football World Cup. On the one hand, it would expose their brand to a prime-time global audience of billions. On the other hand, if everyone in the world bought their burgers, they'd be just that little bit less special.

You might think that increasing the sport's exposure could in turn increase its global popularity, boost ICC revenue and even help regenerate Test cricket, as entire new nations discovered the beauty of the game. But to your average ICC official that sounds like yawningly hard work. And who wants a lot of riff-raff cluttering up our nice, tidy, modestly sized sport. Obscure is beautiful, as they never say in tennis, football, golf, athletics, rugby union, rugby league and basketball.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on July 7, 2014, 6:47 GMT

    Bunch of excellent observations. Cricket is popular in India and among Indians and noone else matters. Am I getting that about right?

  • Dummy4 on July 7, 2014, 6:37 GMT

    A minor correction: Tendulkar is one of only three* living cricketers entitled to use the world "Master" in his nickname. Other two being Sunny and Hanif.

    Also, pardon my ignorance but I didn't know who Kobe Bryant was before reading this piece.

  • Marcel on July 7, 2014, 6:22 GMT

    phoenix1989...... thanks to enlighten us... u r so witty

  • Tamanna on July 7, 2014, 5:53 GMT

    Some people love to live in their own little world and ignore what's happening outside of it. Though 20% of the world population may live in South Asia, the truth is very few people know about cricket outside of it and this can never be a good thing for a sports. Look at world cup football or Wimbledon tennis, look at the amount of excitement it stirs all over the world. We are missing these moments by trying to remain exclusive(in our little world) and ignored(by outer world).

  • Dummy4 on July 7, 2014, 3:34 GMT

    Andrew, while your article is very funny as usual, cricket is not so obscure as you seem to think. Here is a stat: the population of India by itself is the equal of the population of all Europe and north America combined. South Asia accounts for a quarter of the world population, and almost every one of them are cricket fans. Something like Tennis is only famous in Europe, and Europeans have many sports to choose from. Cricket may sound obscure looking at it from England because most other Europeans don't play it, but it really is a big game in the world - only soccer would beat it. So it is OK if Maria hasn't heard of Sachin, but more people in the world have heard of him than about her, Bolt, Woods and Bryant combined (honestly even I dont know who the last one is :) )

  • Marcel on July 7, 2014, 3:30 GMT

    sharapova is not an ordinary lady... she is a sportsperson.... she should be knowing about sachin or may be other famous players from all the games.... i don't think that she knows anyone barring tennis? I don't know sharapova & not interested in knowing now... she deserves criticism....

  • Nadeem on July 7, 2014, 3:28 GMT

    Why would Maria know about Sachin. Sachin was a superstar when she was not even born. So she is just a kid and we do not relate to kids in Cricket.

  • Jonathan on July 7, 2014, 2:38 GMT

    sharapova doesn't speak for the world

  • Perry on July 6, 2014, 17:53 GMT

    Right on the money Andrew. If cricket does Not think big it will be relegated to a minor sport. Ironically tennis has been masterful at raising its profile despite having the reputation of being a boring game. It's all about marketing and cricket is still woefully behind.

  • hayden on July 6, 2014, 15:50 GMT

    Have you guys actually seen the extent of the abuse Sharapova is getting? She's received as many as 50,000 comments on a single facebook post & many, many more on other posts.

    Not an exaggeration...

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