It’s OK Maria Sharapova Doesn’t Know Sachin Tendulkar

It’s summertime in Boston, which means (a) I don’t any classes or homework and (b) I want to return to some blogging. Before we get to the serious stuff (i.e., India v. England), I wanted to say: It’s totally O.K. that Maria Sharapova doesn’t know who Sachin Tendulkar is. (In case you didn’t hear, someone at a press conference told Sharapova that David Beckham and Sachin Tendulkar had walked in during one of her matches. This person then asked, You know Sachin? And Sharapova said, basically, Nope.)

Apparently, the Internet–or at least, the part of it that Indians read and use–experienced a minor explosion, featuring not-so-funny, anti-Russian, vaguely misogynistic, and often childish memes about how, no no no, you got it all wrong Maria, Sachin doesn’t know who you are. Sure, some of the stuff is innocent enough, but this little e-fracas gets to a larger problem for Indian cricket fans: Basically, India isn’t very good at any international sport other than cricket. We used to be really good at field hockey, and we’re sort of getting better at badminton, but other than that, we’re a blip. Now, we are reasonably good at cricket, but unfortunately, Indians account for maybe 95% of global cricket fans. Which means that something that many (male) Indians care about–often very deeply and passionately and unreasonably–is just another thing that the rest of the world doesn’t. And a lot of these folks, fed almost daily on headlines proclaiming India’s growing global importance, can’t handle being insignificant.

There are two immature ways that Indian cricket fans come to terms with their (and their sport’s) relative irrelevance. One is to suggest, as some BCCI officials apparently did at the ICC, that India doesn’t need the world and can simply do what the Americans have done with their sports — draw tons of foreign stars to domestic cricket leagues and just call these events “world series.” (The same emotional impulse occasionally leads Indian fans to defend the BCCI for sticking up to those dastardly white cricket nations that, many years ago, treated us like shit.)

The other way is to elevate their favorite cricket stars, like Sachin, to some mythical god-like status and exaggerate their importance so we feel better. Don’t get me wrong: Sachin was a great player (scroll down and you’ll see I believe it!). But we Indian cricket fans will be on a sounder psychological footing if we accept that we’re big fish in a relatively small pond, and that’s totally OK. We like this crazy game that seemingly no one else seems to get (other than, ironically, rich old members of the All England Tennis Club, who applauded Tendulkar’s entrance). And years from now, we’ll be telling our kids how, once upon a time, a 16-year-old Bombay middle-class guy with untamed hair became the greatest batsman in the world, and he’s our little secret.

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