Remembering Mark Mascarenhas
There was more than a touch of Packer to the Indian sports-television entrepreneur who died 17 years ago
Australia commemorated ANZAC day this Thursday, April 25, when tribute was paid to the contributions made by the servicemen and women of Australia and New Zealand.
This solemn occasion reminded me of one of my worst predictions as a commentator.
In 1998, Australia, India and New Zealand played a triangular in Sharjah. I was commentating courtesy of Mark Mascarenhas, the Indian entrepreneur who owned the TV rights to the tournament.
Mascarenhas, who lived in the USA, had been enticed back to cricket after he watched a Sachin Tendulkar century on television. He was ensconced in the production room with me and my brother Greg as we waited out a sandstorm interruption to the game.
India were chasing a difficult target of 284 in the penultimate game. They needed a win, or a narrow loss, to oust New Zealand from second spot and qualify for the final. Mascarenhas - naturally anxious to have India in the final - asked me what I thought.
"Mark, the day-night final will be played on the 24th here, which is the 25th in Australia," I responded. "That's ANZAC day, which will reflect the teams in the final."
Desperate for a different answer Mark turned to Greg. "What do you think?"
"I agree with Ian," replied Greg.
When play recommenced, Tendulkar scored one of the most sublime ODI centuries, to blitz the Australian attack. During this innings I confided in Mark: "Tendulkar's not just chasing the target to propel India into the final, he wants to win the match."
As it turned out, Tendulkar failed to achieve the win but India were safely into the final. Mascarenhas immediately reminded me of my failed prediction and then dashed off to congratulate Tendulkar.
As Tendulkar's manager he arranged a deal with the sponsors that if Tendulkar made a century in the final and India won, the player would receive a car.
Tendulkar duly repeated his form of the previous encounter to ensure India won the final, chasing down another difficult target. Mascarenhas was elated and Tendulkar received his car and the Player-of-the-Match award.
Mascarenhas would regularly remind me of my failed ANZAC day prediction, but sadly not for very long, as he was tragically killed in a car accident in 2002.
I often describe Mark as the Kerry Packer of Indian television. He was big and full of bluster, similar to Packer, and demanded a high standard for his telecasts, just like the Australian entrepreneur did.
However, he also made work fun. He'd ring me after I'd just returned from an overseas gig: "You must come to Sharjah," he'd demand.
"No Mark," I'd reply. "I need to stay home and rest for a while."
"But we'll have fun," he'd interject.
"Yes, I know, Mark. That's why I need to stay home."
I'd usually succumb. He was a great salesman, with that typically Indian trait - he never heard the word "no".
The influence of Mascarenhas on India's cricket television coverage should never be underestimated and deserves greater recognition. He always went after a top-flight crew and sought people he regarded as the best commentators. His first big cricket gig was the 1996 World Cup, when he travelled to Australia to seek permission from Packer to employ the Channel Nine commentators.
Packer agreed but only on the proviso that the Channel Nine commentators were available for all the Australian matches. Mascarenhas promised Kerry that he'd commandeer the private jet of Kingfisher's Vijay Mallya to comply.
Unfortunately for Mascarenhas the jet wasn't available. This resulted in an exhausting but at times hilarious trip by train, car and plane in a dash to Australia's game in Vizag. We eventually arrived half an hour after the opening delivery, which meant that Tim Gilbert of Channel Nine News and Michael Slater, Australia's 15th man, started the commentary.
Packer wouldn't have thanked Mascarenhas for the cock-up but Indian cricket fans should appreciate his legacy. He was a skilled television entrepreneur and cricket benefited from his media expertise and great enthusiasm for the game.
Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is a cricket commentator for Channel Nine, and a columnist