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Twitter in India: Are you following the god of cricket?

Sachin Tendulkar joins the popular social media site. Will India ever be the same?

India's Sachin Tendulkar raises his bat to celebrate his century during the second one-day international cricket match between India and South Africa in Gwalior, Feb. 24, 2010. (Punit Paranjpe/Reuters)

MUMBAI, India — A cricket star took India by storm last week when he joined Twitter and began racking up followers at the rate of almost 4,500 an hour. Within the first 24 hours, Sachin Tendulkar’s following reached almost 80,000, sparking a media frenzy and countless tweets about the so-called god of cricket joining the social networking site.

Local Indian publications pounced on the story, and the following day, the Mumbai Mirror splashed across its front page: “Sachin Breaks Record With Tweet Nothings.”

Everything from which personal photographs he uploaded to how his follower statistics compared to other Indian celebrities (he outdid Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan’s day one) became fodder for an article.

The reaction stems from India’s obsession with cricket, Tendulkar and, increasingly, social media. “India's love for cricket verges on the pathological,” Jason Overdorf wrote in GlobalPost in March.

Walk by a field, beach, back alley or even cemetery, and you are likely to find a few boys or young men gathered around a bat and ball. And Tendulkar, who uses the account name sachin_rt, is considered one of India’s all-time greatest cricket players. He breaks record after record for his batting prowess. In February, he became the first cricketer to score 200 runs in a one-day international match.

As equally impressive as the number of people who have flocked to Tendulkar on Twitter — his followers at this writing stood at more than 253,000 — is the level of enthusiasm expressed by his fans. Many who have sent him messages or written notes on his photographs sound overwhelmed with joy by the mere presence of him on Twitter.

A fan who goes by the Twitter handle @anil_vp commented wrote: “its like a dream ... to be able to interact with the GOD of cricket for a layman ...thk u so much sachin making the dream come true.”

@raam1711 commented: “I am able to achieve my goals and target by following you. You are a very great person and human being. I admire you for eveything [sic].” And @rakasit wrote, “never i expected that God would himself be on twitter :)”

Some argue that the role of Twitter in India should not be over-emphasized because most people in this country of 1.2 billion do not have access to the internet, let alone the knowledge, ability or desire to type away often frivolous 140-character messages.

On the other hand, social media expert Gaurav Mishra argues that while Twitter has only about 2 million users in India, the local media follow the big names on the site and then broadcast to the rest of society what they have written.

“Celebrities in India use Twitter not only because they can talk directly to a few thousand fans, but also because they can make provocative statements in public, which journalists can pick up for new stories,” Mishra, CEO of the online marketing firm 2020 Social, wrote in an email. “The actual reach of Twitter is much higher than the number of users.”

A former junior minister of foreign affairs, Shashi Tharoor, repeatedly made the news for his controversial tweets on everything from visa restrictions to cows.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/india/100511/twitter-india-Sachin-Tendulkar