On Wednesday morning, India awoke to the news that while we were sleeping, Sachin Tendulkar, GoC had signed onto Twitter.
GoC is like “Esq” used last century, except of course, in India, there is only be one God of Cricket and He had put his real finger-print on cyberspace.
A light piece of news turned into a force of nature. What followed was a tidal wave of tweets, a tornado of text messages and an Eyjafjallajökull of emails.
And of course the Following. In the zone where privacy and public space overlap, Twitter is mostly the Facebook of the Famous. It is where the average fan, linked to his favourite, can stalk without being charged. He can read the “star”s’ thoughts, check his spelling, hear him speak, see his personal photos without managers or mikes, bodyguards or boundaries.
When Tendulkar decided to come that close through Twitter, the tally of his “followers” turned over as if a digital Greenwich had decided that time could only be measured in seconds. Tendulkar had signed on at midnight and at 11am the next morning, the number of people following was a mere 4000. But the news had just begun spread and when he hit 24 hours, the number had risen to 68,000. Every time a screen is refreshed the numbers go up, 100 at a time.
This sentence is being written at 6:13pm Wednesday (local time) and Tendulkar has 150,724 followers.
Tendulkar is more than the sum of his numbers, of course, but you know how much we love them here, almost as much as the man, his 31045 runs and 93 hundreds for India.
During the IPL, he visited an 87-year old-Chennai grandmother who called herself his oldest fan and aced every answer to a Sachin-stats-questionnaire from a TV reporter.
On his first day of tweeting, he wished a student good luck for his examinations.
An extremely overwhelmed fan was up at 3.30am waiting for a reply and when it came, the fan thought his hero stood in front of him. It was Twitter’s USP meeting Tendulkar’s aura.
The man’s demographic cuts across gender, age, region, religion, class and all other divisions that India can think of. An ad-filmmaker once said that Tendulkar was the country’s only “pan-Indian hero”. There are movie stars who are enormously popular in the South India who have zero traction in the north, singers whose warbling words earn them the devotion of a few hundred million but to about half-billion elsewhere, it means little.
Not Tendulkar. He is accepted and adopted by them all, including those who write software in Silicon Valley or drive taxis in Sydney.
And naturally, instinctively, his official Twitter ‘followers’ now have another expectation of Tendulkar. That he do what he’s done for twenty years. Break a record, become No.1, except this time they believe they are involved. “We can do this for him”, they chatter and messages with his link pasted go wheeling around the internet.
As this is being written, there are only two other Indians ahead of Tendulkar on the Twitter scoreboard: actor Shah Rukh Khan (336,358), who owns the Kolkata IPl team and former foreign minister Shashi Tharoor (763,862), whose resignation started off the IPL scandal. They must feel the Sachin cyberbreath down their necks. Commentator Harsha Bhogle (Twitter count: 19773) joked on Wednesday afternoon that he was still ahead of Tendulkar in the numbers of followers, adding, “Guess it will last another five minutes”. Shahrukh and Shashi would do well to stand aside. Shaquille and Ashton could be next.
This is one of the last sentences in this column. It is now 7.12pm and Tendulkar’s Twitter followers are 154,324. That’s 3600 new devotees he’s gathered in an hour.
I admit to writing far too slowly, but those numbers are still impressively fast — and, as he keeps that score ticking over, surely another Tendulkar record is in the offing.
*At the time of publishing this story Sachin Tendulkar had 176,410 followers
***Back Page Lead is a new sports opinion website that provides sports content to Crikey.