Cricket was big for India, whenever and wherever. The pre-independence days, with the Amar Singhs and the Ranjit Singjis, the three-month ship rides to reach the country and the three-month tour. We did not call them test matches because we were not eligible to play them, but we had a team, and we had followers.
Cricket became the hottest topic of conversation amongst most people, irrespective of who they were and where they were from. It was treated as a religion and nothing less, with the star players receiving godlike worship.
Following a barren spell in the 1990s where the national team didn't really set the world on fire in terms of their performances, the turn of the millennium did indeed bring a change in the fortunes of the Men in Blue.
It would be naive for anyone to think that the media would let all of this go unnoticed, and they didn't. With many of the national team players enjoying so much crowd support, big brands saw this time as a new opportunity that was begging to be exploited.
I strongly believe in the capitalist dictum of making the most of your skills, your marketability, your tenure on the "popularity" list—and all for the reason that the world is ready to pay, and you would be a fool not to take advantage of it. You have a life, after all, and you have a family that is looking up to you.
Nowadays all you could see in advertisements is a collection of very ordinary acting by a bunch of guys who wouldn't have ever even made their college drama society. But yet it works! The masses love it, and the products are being sold almost as if it would be a sin not to have the potato crisps being endorsed by the captain of the Indian cricket team.
Believe me when I say this, all of us are commodities—what we can fetch for ourselves while we can is the model of existence. There is no charity either way—if you can't sell yourself, no one will buy you, and if you fail to sell yourself while you can, you must be mad.
However, to say that this has affected the performance levels of the players is taking it to a completely different level altogether.
Regardless of how educationally unqualified our national team players may be, they all have a degree of common sense and know that they would never cut it out as actors and cricket is what they have to focus on.
We don't talk about our movie stars advertising for consumer goods—Shah Rukh Khan (a famous Indian actor) does enough promotions. Sachin does not go to the studio when he needs to be at the nets, there is time enough for everything.
To blame our recent failures away from home on the increased number of advertisements is a very premature conclusion, as one has to understand that India have never been good travelers.
We are still a top team at home, maybe even better than we used to be.
To connect advertisements with player performances is almost like comparing the colour green to blue, where there will always be a certain section of the population that are colourblind who would argue that they are the same, but for everyone else, there will be a world of difference.
Cynics will always give you adverse reasons as to why the team isn't being able to perform up to their potential, but if triumphing in the World Cup, with all the weight of pressure and expectancy on the shoulders of the players and coaching staff is not enough to satisfy them, then God help them! Or how about Sachin himself?