Sachin Tendulkar, the legendary sportsman worshipped by India's cricket enthusiasts, has long been the darling of television advertisers eager to cash in on his strong mass appeal.
He endorses more than a dozen brands and is known to charge a hefty annual fee of US$1 million (Dh3.6m) for every advertising campaign.
But his participation in the ongoing India-England cricket series - in which he is expected to smash the "mother of all records" by scoring his 100th international century - has generated unprecedented hype among viewers and advertisers.
Tendulkar has so far scored 99 international centuries - 51 in Test cricket and 49 in one-day matches - far more than any other player in international cricket. Leading brands such as Coca-Cola, Adidas, Canon and Aviva have all lined up to buy advertising slots with the official broadcaster ESPN Star Sports, which is expecting a windfall revenue of 2 billion rupees (Dh166.74m) from the tournament.
It is reportedly selling a 10-second ad slot for 75,000 rupees for Test matches and 300,000 rupees for one-day matches in the tournament that began last Thursday and will end on September 16.
The coveted century eluded Tendulkar in the first Test match this week played at Lord's in London, which India lost by 196 runs. But viewer and advertiser interest has not waned, ESPN Star Sports claims, as Tendulkar's ambition can still be realised in the remaining matches.
India plays four Tests, five one-day matches, and one Twenty20 match - a cricketing format popularised by the International Premier League (IPL), for which the broadcaster will reportedly charge brands from 150,000 to 200,000 rupees per 10 seconds of air time.
Even the tournament's Test matches, usually not a favourite advertising vehicle among brands, has generated much interest, says Sanjay Kailash, the vice president for ad sales at ESPN Star Sports. Ad slots for one-day matches, which begin in September, have "almost sold out", he says.
ESPN Star Sports is using the series to unveil its new high-definition (HD) version of the channel - which offers superior sound and picture quality compared with standard definition channels. It will be accessed through a set-top box currently available to more than 3 million households in India. ESPN Star Sports is reportedly charging a slightly higher ad rate for the HD version, but Mr Kailash did not share details.
The telecommunications giant Tata Docomo, along with Nokia, Maruti, Reliance Communications, Panasonic and Tata Steel, have signed up as lead sponsors of the event. Coca-Cola is expected to release more than 6 million cans with pictures of Tendulkar during the series, while the insurance provider Aviva has launched a special promotional contest, promising to fly chosen viewers to London to meet the sporting star.
Cricket, a national obsession, typically attracts a mass viewership in the subcontinent paralleled by no other sport. The analysis firm TAM Media Research in Mumbai says that cricket dominated television ratings last year, with about 176 million viewers, compared with 57 million in 2003. The sport accounted for 85 per cent of the total TV sports advertising spending.
Last year, 13bn rupees - out of a total television ad total of 105bn rupees - was spent on cricket, 20 per cent more than the previous year.
ESPN Star Sports, which was also the official telecaster of the cricket World Cup this year, reportedly earned 8bn rupees from it. SET Max, which beamed the IPL tournament immediately after the World Cup, earned a windfall of 10bn rupees, one third more than the previous season.
Tendulkar is recognised among advertisers as a celebrity with the Midas touch - "I can sell anything", he once famously said. But his many endorsements don't always result in high airtime, as many brands find it too expensive to run his ads frequently. There is also a sobering realisation that at the age of 38, he is in the twilight years of his illustrious sporting career.
This year, however, "interest in cricket and Sachin is at its peak", says Giriraj Bagri, the vice president for marketing at Castrol India, a market leader in four-stroke engine oil. Castrol signed up Tendulkar as brand ambassador in February in a multimillion-rupee deal.