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Last Updated: Monday, 16 August, 2004, 11:30 GMT 12:30 UK
An advertisers' dream
By Ayanjit Sen
BBC in Colombo

In England, very few non-cricket fans would be able to identify members of the national team, bar the likes of Andrew Flintoff and Michael Vaughan.

But in many other countries, especially the sub-continent, cricketers are treated like demi-Gods and are even more well known than film stars and musicians.

And their stardom is worth their weight in gold, as far as advertisers are concerned.

Muttiah Muralitharan
Muralithan in an advert in Colombo
In the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, a smiling Muthiah Muralitharan smiles at you from a branded apparel billboard.

The Sri Lanka captain, Marvan Atapattu, points his bat at you from another billboard hawking one of the country's biggest mobile phone networks.

Atapattu is helping the network 'connecting the country', as the billboard says.

Enjoying their superstar status in Sri Lanka, these cricketers score over all other potential candidates like actors or other sportspersons for product endorsements.

"Stars in our entertainment world cannot match with the cricketers. After all, this is a game watched by millions and has grown with generations," says Nushad Perera, general manager of a leading mobile network in Sri Lanka.

Former Sri Lankan captain Sanath Jayasuriya, Atapattu and Chaminda Vaas advertise this mobile network.

They say stars of the entertainment world are far behind in terms of popularity.

In India, cricketers have a serious competitor in actors who fight for space to dominate advertisements.

With players like Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly making millions for endorsing products, even lesser popular cricketers have joined the bandwagon.

But at the same time, Bollywood actors like Hrithik Roshan and others too share a equal time on the air.

Since the Sri Lankan team won the World Cup eight years ago, the game's popularity has surpassed all sports and other forms of entertainment
But officials of leading national and multi-national companies in Sri Lanka say the stakes are really high for the cricketers.

The cricketers here advertise for different range of products including clothes, phone, soft drinks and shoes.

"The stakes in cricket are almost as high as the days of Roman gladiators. Since the Sri Lankan team has won the World Cup eight years ago and earned world recognition, this game's popularity has surpassed all sports and other forms of entertainment," says a manager of a leading company.

Experts on the island nation say cricketers are the best ambassadors for brands, which seek to enhance their business prospects.

They say the cricketers as well as the companies do not always share information regarding the amount of money they get for endorsing products though, on most occasions, a million rupees is not out of the question.

And they promote humanitarian causes too.

Star spinner Muthiah Muralitharan has joined the United Nations World Food Programme as an ambassador to fight hunger among children.

An official of a leading postal group in Sri Lanka which tied up with UNWFP regarding this programme says Muralitharan even took part in a walk in Colombo last month to help raise money to feed children in remote areas of the country.

"I am happy to be associated with the World Food Programme though I have a foundation of my own to help the needy," says Muralitharan.

But a leading academic in Colombo University, Dr Roshan Edirisinghe, says the cricketers should be used more to promote humanitarian causes considering their popularity.

"Cricketers like Jayasuriya and Muralitharan are worshipped like Gods. They should be roped in to for spreading different social messages," he says.

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