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Saturday, April 2, 2011

India vs Sri Lanka: Sachin Tendulkar will only try to bag the World Cup

A few hours from now, Sachin Tendulkar will try and bag the only notable cricket honour that has eluded him. In a career spanning over two decades, the cricket World Cup has always been the one that got away for India's most recognised sportsman. He has been a part of six World Cup squads from 1992 through to 2011 and today is widely reckoned to be his absolute last chance to be part of a winning team.

The closest he got previously was in 2003, when India made it to the finals against Australia but crumbled, chasing a staggering total of 359. Tendulkar entirely failed to live up to his reputation, and was caught and bowled by Glenn McGrath in the first over, having made just four runs.

At the semi finals in 1996, he racked up a respectable 65 of 88 balls against Sri Lanka, chasing a target of 251. It wasn't the first time that the rest of the team collapsed shortly after his dismissal and it certainly wouldn't be the last. In 1992, 1999 and 2007, India didn't even manage to make it to the semi finals of the World Cup.

All of which must rankle Tendulkar, who has otherwise made a habit of pulverising long standing records with an almost careless ease. It's arguable that any other cricketer with a similar track record would have gazed upon his accomplishments, shrugged his shoulders and walked away, content that he had nothing left to prove.

Tendulkar has run roughshod over the milestones established both by former mentors like Sunil Gavaskar and contemporaries like Brian Lara, dethroning the West Indian for most runs scored in test cricket. He set his own benchmarks, being the only player to manage a double century in a one day international. He's just a single 100 short of his 100th century.

Off the field, he practically created the category of the 'sportsman celebrity' who is such a fixture across Indian advertising these days. Starting alongside Kapil Dev with Boost, Tendulkar has gone on to have some of the longest running endorsement deals in Indian brand history, his thin ringing voice synonymous even with taglines for brands he no longer endorses.

The deals struck by Tendulkar with marketers were the biggest at the time, attaining and then transcending the 100 crore mark, surpassed only very recently by current Indian team captain MS Dhoni. Santosh Desai, MD and CEO, Future Brands, says, "In some ways he's a test case. Kapil Dev happened in a pre-commercial era.

Tendulkar is the first iconic sportsperson of the post-consumption era." Part of the reason for Tendulkar's iconic stature lies not just in his performance but because his career mirrored India coming into its own. "As India began to see itself as a significant presence on the world stage, Sachin helped make that transition."

Many of the brands associated with Tendulkar believe a post world cup fade out is on the cards for the cricketer. The majority of Tendulkar's associations pre-date the world cup and have been on for over five years. He recently bid adieu to one of his earliest brand partners in Pepsi. The global model for celebrity sportsmen is built around performance. Retirement is tantamount to death, with former legends getting reduced to infrequent appearances as nostalgia acts.

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