Cricket needs no introduction to a country like India. In this part of the world, the gentleman's game is cherished as a religion and cricketers are worshipped as demigods. It further explains why Indian cricketers end up garnering such popularity and limelight when compared with foreign players. Another valid example is the Indian Premier League (IPL) whose immense success highlights the country's obsession with cricket.
While cricket continues to bring India together, it also offers lucrative business prospects to those interested. The star-status of the cricketers also make them a marketer's dream, paving way for endorsement deals and brand associations. In fact, the coexistence of endorsements and cricket has reached such a level that the smart cricketers, using their popularity, have started promoting their own brands.
There are a billion eyeballs constantly chasing every move that the cricketers make, on and off the field. They are idolised by their fellow countrymen and cherished as role models for the youth. And, this is what makes them the perfect mechanism to bolster the sales of a product or service.
A smile is the best way to unwind. ð pic.twitter.com/w8RoT6udd3— Virat Kohli (@imVkohli) January 21, 2019
The likes of Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni are a prime example. Arguably amongst the most popular sportspersons in the country, the duo enjoys the unmatched spotlight and rank high up in terms of brand value. There is so much, and more when it comes to the commercial interests of the cricketers. And, there is nothing wrong with it, albeit their on-field performances aren't getting affected.
But, while it might seem like an incentive of being a cricketer in the modern era of the sport, there exists a rare breed that still values the unadulterated side of cricket.
Imagine, playing far away from the spotlight for a major part of the year, in domestic competitions that no one really cares about. And then, you're recalled into national team to play in hostile conditions where, in those limited games, you have to prove your mettle, else you find yourself facing immense criticism. That's the cricketing life of Cheteshwar Pujara.
The batting of this Saurashtra cricketer is a throwback to eras gone by. The man doesn't tire of scoring runs, no matter the opposition or venue. And, his fitness is more about what is required for batting for long periods as opposed to bulging biceps with tattoos on them. For a man who pays his bills through Test cricket, Pujara is undeniably the perfect face of the longest format that is striving for the limelight in the age of T20s.
Pujara's perseverance and resilience were in full display during India's historic Test series triumph in Australia. The middle-order batsman smashed three hundreds and a fifty, emerging as India's leading run-scorer - with 521 runs to his name - in the five-match series. But, as always, Pujara's efforts often get overshadowed by more glamorous teammates like captain Kohli.
While his teammates travelled to New Zealand for their next big challenge, Pujara quietly returned to the playing domestic cricket for Saurashtra. But, more importantly, the fact that he only features in the longer version of the game further translates into less or no endorsement deals.
In a list of India's top 20 valuable celebrity brands published by advisory firm Duff & Phelps earlier this month, it wasn't surprising to see Kohli topping the list but Pujara not featuring anywhere highlighted the cruel side of cricket. But, the 30-year-old is unfazed by the lack of endorsement deals.
“Being a (specialist) Test cricketer, I accept that there haven't been many endorsements. I am someone who doesn't go after endorsements. For me, the true thing is the love of this game. My father has taught me that I don't just play for myself but for the entire country,” he was quoted as saying by the Indian Express.
In the world where a sportsperson is measured by his brand value, Pujara is just happy to contribute to his team in the predefined role by the management. For him, endorsement deals aren't really important, what he truly cherishes and strives for is the appreciation for his hard work.
“In my life, I am a simple man…if it (endorsements) comes, I will take it; if it doesn't, I am not bothered about it. If I keep playing well and performing for the Indian cricket team, what I like is the appreciation from this country and from (the) cricketing fraternity, which is more than any endorsement I might get in my life,” Pujara added.
For someone who notched up the 'Man of the Series' award for his exploits Down Under after keeping the opposition bowlers at bay with his stubborn batting - facing 1,258 deliveries (more than any other Indian in a Test series), Pujara, just like his artistry with the willow, has made a valid point - something young and budding cricketers can learn from.
Endorsements are a byproduct of cricket and shouldn't overshadow a cricketer's performance on the field. If it wasn't for cricket or a player's performance, nothing would come by, let alone endorsement.