India’s cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar is in London along with Shane Warne, Muttiah Muralidaran, Brian Lara and Brett Lee to participate in the Lord´s Bicentenary Match between a Rest of The World XI and MCC XI on July 5. In between he joined many sports celebrities in Wimbledon’s Royal Box on day 6, the first week Saturday as per a long-standing tradition at the All England Club. Seated with Tendulkar were Sir Bobby Charlton, David Beckham, Chris Robshaw and others. In front of them Maria Sharapova had just defeated Alison Riske of USA in her third round match and she was probably asked if she knew who Sachin Tendulkar was among the celebrities. While she could identify David Becham, she couldn’t recognize Tendulkar. This incident irked Sachin’s fans to the extent that they began bombarding her Facebook page with aggressive remarks, some of them patently ugly. It also flooded her twitter account. Sachin’s fans argue that one sports celebrity should know another celebrity in a different field. But it is a hollow argument at best, considering that cricket does not have the same world-wide appeal as football or tennis.
There is actually no reason for Sharapova to know about Sachin Tendulkar or cricket for that matter. She was born in a small town of Nyagan in western Siberia over 1700 km from Moscow. As a two year old, Sharapova moved with her family to Sochi, the famous Russian ski resort but still thousands of kilometers away from the Russia’s Cosmopolitan Areas. Sharapova had a poor family background and no one is sure about her academic credentials. Her father was bent on making his daughter a professional tennis player and taught her only tennis even as a 4-year old. She travelled to Moscow for the first time. When she was 6 to attend a tennis clinic run by Martina Navratilova. For a girl of such tender age, whose life was controlled by her father’s ambitions, it is unfathomable to know anything about cricket or anyone concerned with cricket. When Navratilova recommended professional training for Sharapova at Nick Bollettieri’s tennis academy in Florida, the family didn’t have enough money to buy the passage money to travel, let alone afford $ 35000 which Bollettieri charged as the annual tuition fee. But Sharapova’s father borrowed money from friends and arrived in USA in 1994 with $700 in his pocket. Sharapova’s passport shows her as a US citizen since 1994, when she was just 7 years old. Again in a non-cricket playing nation like the US, Sharapova was not expected to find time about the strange sport that is played in a handful of countries, which were under the British Empire years ago. Moreover, cricket is not an Olympic sports and the so called cricket World Cup includes about a dozen odd countries, mostly from the commonwealth. Why Sharapova, even the learned and elite in Russia and US would know about Sachin Tendulkar, only if they try on their own to learn about sporting culture in the Indian sub-continent, where the game has effectively killed other sports, thanks to unabated commercial intervention. In India, especially, the idea of sports itself revolves around cricket, which has a large mass following just as the rest of the world follows football. In sharp contrast, football is played by more national teams than those recognized by the UNO. Coming back to Sharapova’s life, she was allowed no respite from tennis. Her father washed dishes and took other low-paying jobs to fund her daughter’s tennis training. Seeing her progress at the academy, IMG agreed to pay the training fee and relieve the family of a heavy burden. Sharapova was merely 9 years old then. At age 13, she began competing in junior events and made her professional debut at age 14 to play her first WTA tournament at the Pacific Life Open in 2002 and lost to Monica Seles in the second round. In the same year she reached the girls finals at Australian Open and the Wimbledon and she was not even 15. Two years later, she made headlines by winning the coveted Wimbledon. Her life now was completely enveloped by tennis, endorsements, training and traveling and an occasional love life. With a schedule like that, and no early exposure to cricket, it should come as no surprise if she couldn’t recognize Sachin Tendulkar. It is true that Tendulkar is cricket legend but his influence does not extend worldwide. You don’t expect Sachin’s fame in Latin America, where football is a religion and even Dilma Roussef and Pele can be forgiven for not recognizing Sachin. After football, tennis is another sport which has a high popularity rating worldwide and a following that exceeds cricket. If someone cannot recognize Roger Federer; than that is surprising. But in Siberia and Florida, cricket is an unknown quantity. It is not fair to hold Sharapova to ransom for failing to recognize Sachin Tendulkar. The outburst of Sachin’s fans on Sharapova’s Facebook page or on her twitter account makes for an ugly reading.