Sachin Tendulkar is one of the greatest cricket players ever, a titan of his sport. But poor Maria Sharapova had never heard of him, never heard of a man who is so beloved in India, he could endorse a brand of darkness cream and millions of people would buy it.
The Russian tennis star had just lost a match at Wimbledon and was asked about Tendulkar, who happened to be in a star-studded gallery watching her. Sharapova made the mistake of admitting that she didn’t recognize the recently retired batsman. The legend’s fans were aghast at this indignity to their hero and lashed out at Sharapova on Facebook, Twitter and other social media. “No wonder you lost your match,” one fan wrote. “That’s what happens when you don’t recognize God!”
Another fan’s message was more ominous: “Apologize immediately, Miss Sharapova, or I will write to Narendra Modi to invade Russia.”
Thanks to angry tweets from Tendulkar fans, the hashtag #WhoIsMariaSharapova was soon trending on the Internet, prompting Sharapova fans to respond with hashtags of their own: #FiveGrandSlamTitles and #HotterThanSaniaMirza
Millions of young Indian men who had decorated their bedrooms with posters of both Tendulkar and Sharapova felt compelled to take down the images of the leggy blonde. “I put mine in a drawer,” said one aggrieved fan. “If she apologizes, I will put her poster back up. If not, I have vowed to look at it just once a day.”
Another fan was less forgiving: “Apology or not, she is not going back on my wall. I am so upset that I am seriously considering putting my wife back as my computer background.”
It’s hard to fault Sharapova for not recognizing Tendulkar, as magnificent as he is. Cricket, after all, isn’t quite as popular as tennis or soccer around the world. Tendulkar is surely as accomplished in cricket as Roger Federer in tennis or Lionel Messi in soccer, but he’s virtually unknown in dozens of countries, including the two countries where Sharapova has spent most of her life, the United States and Russia. Among recognized sports in America, cricket falls somewhere between the hot dog-eating contest and the egg-and-spoon race.
When Tendulkar is mobbed by autograph seekers while visiting New York City, you can bet at least half of them are immigrants from India, Sri Lanka, Guyana and other cricket-playing nations, while the other half aren’t quite sure who he is.
Man: “Hey, that guy must be famous. Everyone’s going crazy. Let’s get his autograph!”
Woman: “Who do you think he is?”
Man: “I’m not sure, but I think he’s that guy from Slumdog Millionaire, Anil Kapoor.”
None of this diminishes Tendulkar’s greatness, of course. And if you ask me, Tendulkar has the best kind of fame. If he wants to be a god, he can stay in India; if he wants to be a legend, he can visit England, Australia and South Africa; and if he wants to be just an ordinary guy, he can visit the United States (as long as he stays away from motels, 7-Elevens, and the entire state of New Jersey).
Most celebrities don’t like to be recognized everywhere they go. Sometimes they want a little privacy, a day or two without someone screaming, “Sachin! I love you! Please take a photo with me, so I can post it on Facebook and get one million ‘likes.'”
As for Sharapova, hopefully she has learned her lesson. In the future, if she’s asked about an Indian cricketer or movie star, she’d be wise to give “safe” answers that don’t reveal her ignorance.
Reporter: “Did you know that Sachin Tendulkar was watching you?”
Sharapova: “Sachin? Really? That’s amazing. I’m so honored. I love him.”
Reporter: “So you know who he is?”
Sharapova: “Are you kidding? Doesn’t everybody?”
Reporter: “What do you think of his career?”
Sharapova: “It’s been amazing. He’s accomplished so much. I loved him in Slumdog Millionaire.”