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The Money Machine

Bradman was limited to accumulating runs. Sachin scores on and off the field.

Game is delightful. But not always. sometimes recognition is tiresome, like having one's name on a MOST WANTED poster. Bradman, renowned for an Arctic aloofness, remained confined in his hotel room. Tendulkar plays the hermit too at times, preferring to hitch on his headphones and tune out the baying world. Bradman would approve: "Music," he wrote, "is tonic for the jaded nerves."

It is here, at the altar of worship, that their paths diverge. Bradman had to settle, in the main, for sheer adulation; Tendulkar has found his bank balance grows in proportion to his halo. Ironically, it is the very technology that Bradman feared that nurtures Tendulkar. As Bradman wrote in his Farewell to Cricket, published in 1950: "The men who invented the (movie) camera ... created weapons of publicity which are almost frightening to a team of international cricketers."

With moving pictures in their infancy, the clarity of Bradman's genius is to be found only in books and the diminishing memory of those who saw him play. Tendulkar's celebrity has been enhanced by television. "Part of Tendulkar's existence is linked to the medium," explains Sankar Rajan of Hindustan Thompson Associates. In this age of the live cricket telecast, everyone gets to be part of his miracle. Including sponsors.

The result is that Tendulkar endorses Visa, Action Shoes, Adidas, Pepsi, Colgate, Boost, Philips and MRF. He is a walking advertisement hoarding. It is as much an acknowledgement of Tendulkar's uniqueness as it is of a changing world. In the late '60s, that languorous Nawab of Pataudi Jr recalls being paid Rs 2,000 for having his signature stamped on bats. Two decades on, Kapil Dev was earning Rs 30 lakh for a three-year deal. Tendulkar now commands Rs 1-2 crore a year for an endorsement.

As world cricket's most precious corporate pitchman, Tendulkar is a recent phenomenon. Till some years ago his deals were insignificant: his Action Shoes contract, still running, is worth a mere Rs 2 lakh a year apparently. The bustling, aggressive Mark Mascarenhas, head of WorldTel, altered that. When he acquired the rights to Tendulkar in 1996 for the guaranteed payment of $7.5 million (Rs 31.5 crore) over five years, it appeared an uncalculated risk. But, says Mascarenhas: "Earlier it was a case of not marketing him properly. We raised the stakes." Indeed, it did. In just under three years, WorldTel has raised $10 million (Rs 42 crore) in Tendulkar's name.

Details of Bradman's sponsorship figures are hazy, yet his legend did not go unrewarded. A professional in an amateur age, he once received a car from General Motors, and by 1929 had a deal with Sykes, the bat manufacturer. He wrote newspaper columns as well, though when administrators objected to his writing, media baron Sir Frank Packer (Kerry's grandfather) had to release him from the contract. As a stockbroker he was known to play the market, yet those were the Depression years and times were hard.

Tendulkar's timing has been better. His rise has coincided with the subcontinent's emergence as the commercial hub of world cricket. In 1992, the India rights for the World Cup were bought for Rs 25 lakh; for the 1996 World Cup it cost Rs 42 crore. Cricket became the national opiate. It meant that if Adidas pays Leander Paes Rs 12 lakh plus hefty bonuses, for Tendulkar it does not baulk at a crore and more per year in a six-year deal worth a couple of million dollars. Says G. Kannan, general manager, marketing, "At first glance it is a huge figure. But on analysis, if you look at his value, it appears reasonable." This is not a man to waste time bargaining over. During the 1996 World Cup, MRF representatives walked into Mascarenhas' room and said they wanted the rights to Tendulkar's bat. A deal was done in seconds.

Tendulkar fills a vacuum in a nation bereft of role models, in and beyond sport. He has an appeal that is seductive to the entire Indian universe. "Audiences are fragmented, but he's one of the few big unifying symbols," says Rajan. It is an aura so compelling that one sponsor admits: "If you put him on one side and the team on the other, he is still the meatier proposition." A recent TNT/Cartoon Network poll among 600 children in the 7-18 age-group endorses that. When they were asked to name India's top sportsperson, Sachin received 51 per cent of the vote; Mohammed Azharuddin was a distant second at 10 per cent. Predictably, no Indian cricketer is paid close to Rs 1 crore a year; only Australia's Shane Warne, signed on by Nike and Channel Nine, is endorsed so heavily.

Tendulkar's earnings do not end with endorsements. Indian players earn match fees of Rs 1.25 lakh for Tests and Rs 90,000 for one-day internationals; so in 1997 alone, by playing all 12 Tests and 39 one-day internationals, Tendulkar earned over Rs 50 lakh. In 1989, when his career began, the fees were less generous, but the 196 one-day internationals and 61 Tests he has played since then are worth a few crores at least. A final income, directly related to his genius, is the prize money he earns, 25 per cent of which, says Mascarenhas, is his share. The sums are not weighty but they add up for he wins them with astonishing regularity. Take just part of his winnings this season:

India vs Australia Test series: once Man of the Match (Rs 35,000) and Man of the Series (Rs 50,000). Pepsi Tri-series: twice Man of the Match (Rs 70,000). Coca Cola Cup in Sharjah: twice Man of the Match (Rs 42,000 each), Man of the Final (Rs 63,000), Man of the Tournament (Rs 1.05 lakh and an Opel car), Fastest Hundred (Rs 42,000), Most Sixes (Rs 21,000) and Best Batsman (Rs 42,000). Plus a Rs 14 lakh bonus from Coke. Off the pitch, Tendulkar has cultivated his image sensibly. Unafraid of interviews, careful not to court controversy, he is, says sports entrepreneur Lokesh Sharma, "a winner with the boy-next-door face". He will never earn what basketball icon Michael Jordan does (Rs 330 crore in 1997), yet he escapes the censure Jordan faces. As the American writer Frank Deford put it, "This Jordan is a conglomerate, they say, too greedy, lacking social responsibility."

Tendulkar is a mini-conglomerate. More comfortably, social consciousness is not a required part of his agenda. Quietly, one hears, he does his part, like assisting a programme that helps Mumbai slum children. But Indians, interested only in what he does at the wicket, do not quibble over how much he earns. Why should they? When last could one man alone lift national morale?