Many people have been captivated by the batting of Sachin Tendulkar but for one man it was the inspiration to get involved in cricket and this resulted in a vast improvement in the way the game was televised in India.
Mark Mascarenhas was a big man with a gambler’s heart. An Indian, who’d been living in the USA for more than twenty years, Mascarenhas was a professed cricket lover who’d drifted into American sports through proximity. Mark delighted in telling me how, as a kid in 1969, he watched South Zone play Australia in Bangalore.
The game was played at the College Mascarenhas attended and it ended prematurely in a draw. The players were forced from the field when the spectators began bombarding the umpires with rocks and coconuts. The fans were unhappy that Australian spinner John Gleeson kept padding away deliveries from Erapalli Prasanna but wasn’t being given out.
Years later I introduced Gleeson to Mark at the SCG by saying; “John, meet a guy who threw rocks and coconuts at you in Bangalore.” Mascarenhas was appalled that I would introduce him that way and immediately denied the charge but he loved the exchange with the Australian spinner.
Mark enjoyed cricket but he loved it most when Tendulkar was batting. He explained how on a trip home he’d seen Tendulkar batting on television and was immediately captivated. He’d been working for CBS in the USA but after being mesmerised by Tendulkar’s batting he decided to get involved in the television coverage of cricket.
Thanks to an unlikely chain of events he gambled on purchasing the rights to the 1996 World Cup and from there his involvement with cricket quickly expanded. Mark was a gregarious go-getter, who liked a good time but also had a competitive streak that would’ve done credit to an international cricketer. He aimed to put an outstanding product to air and he set about fulfilling that ambition for the 1996 World Cup.
His first step was to pay a visit to Kerry Packer in Australia and ask if he could “borrow” some of the Channel Nine commentary team for his World Cup coverage. His wish was granted on the condition that the Channel Nine crew did all the Australian games. Mark agreed, telling Kerry he’d even employ the beer baron Vijay Mallya’s private jet to ensure they were at every game.
Mark was unable to utilise his friend’s jet and this led to a marathon trip from Gwalior to Vizag for the Australia versus Kenya contest. It was lucky for Mark the game was against lowly Kenya because Packer wasn’t tuned in to hear Tim Gilbert [a radio announcer] and the Australian 13th man Michael Slater call the first few overs of the game because the Channel Nine commentators were late arriving.
Mascarenhas’ courting of Packer evolved from his desire to have the best possible commentary team covering the World Cup. He sold his world wide coverage on that basis and surprised many people by turning a handsome profit after they believed he’d paid an exorbitant fee for the rights.
As a present to himself, he bought a Rolex watch following thehighly successful coverage of the 1996 World Cup. That shouldn’t convey that he was a selfish man; far from it. He was a very generous boss who delighted in keeping his charges happy;there was a party in Mark’s room after every day’s commentary.
Mascarenhas didn’t have the word “no” in his dictionary. He’d ring me and say he wanted me to commentate on his next gig. Tired from a previous engagement I’d decline the offer and Mark would start his sales pitch; “You’ve got to come; we’ll have a good time.”
“Yes Mark,” I’d reply, “I know we’ll have a good time, that’s why I’m saying no.” Nevertheless, I was a pushover for a man who had successfully pitched to Kerry Packer. I’d end up going and we’d have a good time and I’d return home even more knackered.
Mark’s admiration for, and confidence in Tendulkar knew no bounds. The final league match at Sharjah in 1998 featured a game India had to win or at least lose by a narrow margin to make the final. The Australians batted first and posted a considerable target. A concerned Mascarenhas asked me if I thought India could still make the final. After due consideration I said; “The final will be another Anzac Day celebration Mark,” a reference to the tribute Australians and New Zealanders pay to their fallen on April 25th.
The day/night final was to be played on April 24th and I thoughtNew Zealand would participate because of India’s failure to qualify. Not satisfied, Mark turned to my brother Greg and asked his opinion. “I don’t always but this time I agree with Ian,” he replied.
Mascarenhas still wasn’t convinced and left the room vowing we’d be proved wrong because; “Sachin will see to it India is in the final.” Sachin did see to it with a memorable knock and that night the party in Mark’s room was even more raucous than usual.
However, it wasn’t all play for Mark. Following that scintillating knock he managed to negotiate a sponsors bonus for Tendulkar if he was able to make a hundred in the final. Tendulkar completed another glorious century, India won the final and we had another huge party that night. Once again I returned home knackered.
Mascarenhas didn’t lavish all his efforts on his client Tendulkar. He encouraged Ravi Shastri’s commentary career and also tutored him in business. There was a mutual admiration betweenRavi and Mark and the former Indian all-rounder learned his lessons well.
One game was abandoned without a ball being bowled after a deluge. Back in Mascarenhas’ room, he was joking with Shastri that he wouldn’t receive any pay because there hadn’t been any play. “Mark you must learn the rules,” said Ravi, “the meter starts ticking the moment I put on my tie.” Mascarenhas was a good tutor as well as making work fun.
As Tendulkar enters the final phase of his highly successful career, I hope he spares a thought for Mascarenhas, a man who helped secure his financial independence. And when Sachin does think about him I’ll bet he says the same thing we all do when friends reminisce about Mark; “I miss him.”