Maria Sharapova might have little in common with Nicolaus Copernicus, the Renaissance astronomer and mathematician who is the undisputed father of modern science. Surely, the Russian lady who has made a million magazine covers would readily concede that she’d be dwarfed by Copernicus’ intellect.
Yet, Sharapova, unwittingly, has done to cricket what the 16th century genius did with his telescope to our little planet itself — putting it in its real place instead of it being thought to be at the centre of everything, as was widely perceived for millennia.
By saying that she did not know who Sachin Tendulkar was, Sharapova has (predictably) not only drawn plenty of fire in the social media from the great Indian icon’s millions of fans but also helped put in perspective cricket’s global reach.
For many, cricket may be a matter of life and death, and Tendulkar its greatest god, but the fact is there are large swathes of this planet where he can go about unrecognised and unmolested. This is unlikely to be as true of a Messi or a Neymar.
Not a global sport
What this means is simple: cricket itself is not at the centre of the sporting universe. It is a game played by a handful of nations, one that can never become a truly global sport like football.
This is precisely why Sharapova instantly recognised David Beckham but failed to acknowledge Tendulkar’s presence in the Royal Box at Wimbledon.
Cricket scores at the global level in terms of numbers only because it is a religion in the sub-continent, a part of the world that is home to more than one in every five members of our species.
And the recent ‘administrative changes’ in the game, something that has created an elite clique headed by India — and including England and Australia — might end up doing more damage than good to the game in terms of its global aspirations.
For, it may signal a process of slow-but-sure death for the game in places such as South Africa and New Zealand, and countries and the tiny nations that comprise the West Indies.
A generation from now, nobody should be surprised if quite a number of South Africans, New Zealanders and even Australians, failed to recognise Tendulkar for who he is.
After all, how many cricket fans in India can recognise Jack Nicklaus or Magic Johnson or Wayne Gretsky for who they are? At least, do the names Vava and Didi ring a bell with cricket fans in India?
The hashtag whoismariasharapova may continue to trend on Twitter but do create one for whatiscricket and check the response in many parts of the world where the sub-continent’s religion has no followers.
Very few might even care to answer; for they wouldn’t know what it is. And the whole thing might once again point to the precariousness of truth at a time when we are being overwhelmed by the social media.
An eminently deserving winner of the Bharat Ratna, Tendulkar is worth every priceless moment of emotion that any cricket lover has ever expended on him. And the fact that a woman tennis player who was born in Russia and who matured into adulthood in the United States failed to recognise him should hardly matter to those who value his heroic achievements for all the right reasons.
But pouring venom on Sharapova for her ignorance regarding cricketing matters does nothing to reinforce — not that it needs reinforcement — the unmatched status of India’s greatest sportsman of all time.
And please do remember this: the most gifted tennis player of all time —Roger Federer — has publicly acknowledged that he is a fan of Tendulkar, a player who reshaped our perceptions of the possible and the impossible on a cricket field.
Finally, all the outrage has to do with the nature of human consciousness itself; it has to do with our ego. We almost always put ourselves, and our experiences, at the epicentre of everything. It is just as well to remember that there might be people — a whole lot of them — in this world in whose life experience cricket and Tendulkar play no part.
And yes, there is life outside Planet Cricket.