3 years

Retreading

What Next, Sachin?

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Taking guard for a life away from the field

Sportsmen accomplish homeric tasks on the field of play but a simple question stumps them when they retire. Former tennis player Ramesh Krishnan captured this condition succinctly in his biography without lapsing into the maudlin or dramatic. ‘What do I do with my day?’ Ramesh wrote of his quandary after laying down the arms of sporting combat.

This is a question retirees in any field face. With athletes, the situation is trickier because the change is greater. The switch from gladiator to grocery-shopper takes some getting used to. Sportsmen lead intense lives in the public eye, a life involving travel and adventure. There are low moments but rarely dull ones. When you retire, you and your kit bag are off the bus in a town called Drearyland. “Thank you for the memories,” everyone says. They love you. You’ve done well. You have a name. You have a fair amount of money. A new life is ahead of you. But that bus ain’t coming back for you. That is why when retired athletes get a chance to play even a veterans’ match in a grand arena, they covet the opportunity. For instance, Pele was sorely disappointed when an exhibition match to commemorate his 50th birthday could not be played at London’s Wembley Stadium.

Homebound, without applause, with nothing to do, the retired athlete often finds himself restive. Writing in his memoir, Joseph Anton, about his incarceration under Khomeini’s fatwa, Salman Rushdie observes of his bodyguards, perforce shackled as he was: ‘These were men of action, their needs the opposite of those of a sedentary novelist trying to hold on to what remained of his inner life, the life of the mind. He could sit still and think in a room for hours and be content.

They went stir-crazy if they had to stay indoors for any length of time.’ It’s a bit like that with sportspeople too. The newfound availability of vast lengths of time, together with financial sufficiency and access to all thrills can wreak havoc on lives. Diego Maradona and Mike Tyson, prone to orgiastic decadence even in their playing days, went berserk. Boris Becker did not even wait a few days to spiral out of control, letting himself unravel just hours after his last match. A few drinks at a restaurant.

An attractive stranger named Angela Ermakova meeting his gaze.

Eye contact, which minutes later progressed to brazen union on the stairs (not the broom closet, as widely believed). The rest is Tum-mere-bachche-ke-baap-bannewale-ho history.

Sachin Tendulkar is far too sensible for such indiscretion. And while his famous love of cricket will always make him miss his previous life, he truly has had a full innings with little scope for regret.

Tendulkar played to his heart’s content, maybe a season or two too many. Like Forrest Gump he ran and ran, through varying terrain and weather. In a few days, he will stop. And when he looks back, he will see a 24-year-old Taj Mahal of a career, every brick and flourish, garden and pool in place.

But what now? “I have given 24 years of my life to the game. Now, it’s time for my family,” Tendulkar told the Sunday Mid-Day newspaper. He hinted at a vacation.

“I need to get away once all this (his final series and the accompanying fuss) is over.” That apart, Tendulkar hasn’t revealed much. In a television interview before the Kolkata Test against the cast of extras from the Caribbean, Sachin’s brother and mentor Ajit Tendulkar said Sachin’s focus, for now, was on whatever was left of his cricket. Asked if he had advice for his younger brother on life after cricket, Ajit said, “He is 40 years old. I don’t think he needs anyone’s advice.”

At the time of writing, Tendulkar is still an active player, if with the diminished relevance of a lame-duck President of India. Besides, he doesn’t need to worry about earning his livelihood. According to Forbes, Tendulkar made $18.6 million last year alone. That can buy a lot of Bombay Duck. So it is natural that Tendulkar will take a long break before deciding in which career to take strike next. Recently, after the launch of Musafir.com, the travel portal in which he has a minority stake, he indicated he would like to travel with his family. He wants to see more of India, he said. He also likes to repair to London every summer, where he has a house in St John’s Wood, a shout away from Lord’s.

After he has paused enough, and when the need for routine and goals reawakens in his rested body, Tendulkar is likely to be involved in a combination of cricket-related activities, business and philanthropy. Many in Indian cricket want him to be available as a resource person. Sourav Ganguly said on air that the Indian cricket board should make use of his cricketing acumen. At the naming ceremony of the Mumbai Cricket Association’s Sachin Tendulkar Gym- khana Club in Kandivali, Mumbai, Javagal Srinath said in a recorded message that Sachin should involve himself in cricket administration. Srinath’s message was ironic, and timely, because it came during a poorly managed function hijacked by politicians masquerading as sports administrators. Irfan Pathan, currently far removed from the circus around Tendulkar but someone who has played many times with him, says Tendulkar would make an ideal coach. ‘He always told me to focus on my bowling action. ‘Never try to swing the ball, [it is] your action [that] will make it swing’,’ Pathan says in an email message through his agent. Tendulkar will also continue to be there for the Mumbai Indians, the franchise he represented in the IPL. Nita Ambani told The Times of India on Monday, “Both Mukesh and I regard him as a founder of the team and there’s little doubt he will continue to be with us in a very significant role.” Many feel Tendulkar will be the right choice of coach for something as proximal as India’s World Cup 2015 campaign. He has played with MS Dhoni and shares a rapport with the team.

But to be with any team in an official capacity might mean travel, and that is something he is likely to avoid for a while. Commentary is ruled out too because he is not much of a talker, nor is he likely to find the job exciting. A foray into politics seemed on course once. He is nationally revered, ambitious and has over the past few years attended events of the Congress, Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). He also accepted a Rajya Sabha seat. But he has also been disenchanted with politicians, and so, for now, politics is ruled out. Tendulkar is also reputedly a sensitive man, and the problems of India’s poor may well spur him into some form of public service, if quietly. “The Spreading Happiness project is close to his heart,” a friend of Tendulkar’s says. Backed by Schneider Electric and fronted by Tendulkar, the project aims to bring solar lighting to remote villages in India. Asked about Sachin’s approach to charity, the friend says, “Instead of donating Rs X himself, he will mobilise a lot of people to donate Rs X.” Tendulkar also wants to mentor son Arjun, an aspiring cricketer, but he is not the kind who will get on his case, the friend says.

He may also get the time to start one of his dream projects, a cricket academy that has been on his mind for a while. Marcus Couto, a cricket umpire and friend of Tendulkar, says, “Ten years ago, as per Sachin’s instructions, Ajit [Tendulkar] and I identified a few places in Mumbai to start an academy.

We visited a particular spot in Wadala. But the local leader interfered, saying the academy must accommodate his quota of trainees. We said we would enrol them if they had talent. Eventually, it was preferred not to press ahead with the idea. Besides Sachin had this strict rule—if the academy was in his name, he should be present there for the maximum period. Sachin continued playing and the idea was kept in cold storage.”

What about brand Tendulkar? Early in February 2002, Harish Kri- shnamachar and R Chandramouli of TVS Motors sat in a room at the Taj Land’s End hotel in Mumbai. They were anxious. TVS had recently separated from Suzuki. And a high-profile deal with Tendulkar hung in balance after the cricketer’s agent, the typhoonic Mark Mascarenhas, died in a car accident in Nagpur. After a half-an-hour wait in the room, the door opened. Tendulkar walked in.

“It was a bit anti-climactic. There were no bugles or anything,” Krishnamachar recalls. Nevertheless, the meeting did bring music to the ears of the TVS men. Tendulkar, who too was in a daze after Mascarenhas’ premature death, agreed to go through with the commitments. “It was a big relief,” Krishnamachar says.

Krishnamachari is no longer with TVS. But his association with Tendulkar has continued. Krishnamachar is Senior Vice President and Country Head, India, of World Sport Group, which has been Tendulkar’s business manager since 2006. And now he and his team have the job of sustaining Brand Tendulkar after his retirement. Yesterdays, however glorious, don’t sell so well. It is possible that Tendulkar’s sponsors, 17 as of now, will reduce in number, or they may scale back their investment. But Krishnamachar says, “None of his contracts are linked to him being an active cricketer; they expire with differing terms.”

Krishnamachar says he and his team started to restructure Tendulkar’s deals from 2009, when Tendulkar was 36, in a way that the deals did not mandate his being an active player.

“Our job as managers began a couple of years ago to ensure that we built commercial structures that were not wholly dependent on him playing cricket actively, and we have ensured that,” Krishnamachar says. “Normally contracts with players have clauses that require them to be in the team or a certain format of the game. Year 2009 onwards we revised the structures of [Sachin’s] deals. We did royalty-based deals for him, which are not linked to actual playing, but usage of his IP (intellectual property). Like the Sachin Tendulkar line of Adidas products.”

Asked what their strategy would be post-retirement, when Tendulkar will not command the same price as earlier, Krishnamachar says, “We believe his retirement will give us increased access to the most precious commodity—his time. We reached a stage in 2009-10 when we could not do anymore endorsements. He did not have dates. I’m guessing that won’t be the situation now.” Two much-reviled entities have made the transition to retirement better for Indian cricketers. One is the Indian cricket board, which last year paid former players a gratuity ranging from Rs 15 lakh to Rs 1.5 crore, depending on the level of cricket they had played and the duration of their careers. The other is the media, where players find gainful employment and a way to sustain public appeal. Over the years, most retired cricketers have been content to find livelihood in media or through BCCI assignments.

Chief selector Sandeep Patil, for instance, earns Rs 70 lakh a year, with the committee’s other four selectors making Rs 60 lakh a year. But some do the odd selfless thing. Sunil Gavaskar may be guilty of blindly toeing the establishment line, but he also started the CHAMPS foundation, which supported needy ex-sportsmen of different sports. Dilip Vengsarkar is a regular columnist and enjoyed a stint as chief selector but he also started the Elf Vengsarkar Academy, which helped mould Yuvraj Singh. The most exemplary life after retirement, of course, has been led by a man across the border. Imran Khan’s political views may be controversial, but he built a cancer hospital and a college for his people out of pure will, with nothing but his name and a truck to drive around asking for contributions. Over to Tendulkar now.

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