It is amazing how a small incident can make a crucial difference to your life and career. This was what Vishwanath’s test debut did to me. I was a relatively junior official in my company. I knew I was being trained to take over the Market Research Division. But that would have depended on my success in one or two difficult assignments . There was no dearth of competitors!
One such assignment came up in 1969- a survey on a new type of decorative closures. The liquor companies were the principal prospects. There were only three major groups and I could therefore approach each of them to conduct personal interviews.
I was to take charge of the entire project, right from design and the research proposal to the questionnaire, interviews, tabulation, analysis and final report writing. Of course I had a boss who would discuss the whole project with me, approve the methodology, check progress and finally temper the report, particularly the recommendations.
As part of the study, I had to interview the leading liquor manufacturer in the country. I chose to interview first the Zonal Manager who sat in an impressive office in Calcutta’s Alipore, not very far from my office. The Manager was a retired army colonel, a heavy figure with large eyebrows and a hefty moustache, which with blood shot eyes gave his face a forbidding appearance.
The Colonel asked me to come in sharp at 11.30 in the morning and as Colonels normally are, I took him to be very time conscious. I reached ten minutes earlier and his Secretary immediately showed me into a large hall, which resembled a conference room in a five star hotel. I took several nervous steps towards the Colonel’s end of the rom before he noticed me. He was reclining in his chair listening to a voice from his transistor. I tried to introduce myself but he quickly put a finger on his lips to signal “Ssh, Shut up”. He pointed towards a chair and motioned to me to iat down.
What did I see there? A huge table on which was placed a small transistor radio. Television had not come into India. The voice was the running commentary on the cricket test in Kanpur ; it was the last day of the second test between India and Australia, the test in which Vishwanath made his debut. He had got out for 0 in the first innings. And now in the second innings he was batting at 75 against a very strong Australian side led by Ian Chappell. Our Colonel was totally engrossed with the match.
A four by Vishwanath! The hefty moustache leaned forward and the right hand thumped the table in sheer ecstasy. He did this every time a four was scored. The thumping became more frequent and an Ah and a mild thumping were now greeting even the two’s singles. Vishwanath at 86! He seemed to take more time than the Colonel expected and I wanted him to. As Vishwanath progressed towards 90, I saw on the Colonel’s face an unspoken anxiety, an unbearable tension not normally associated with army personnel.
I was equally tense. Perhaps more so. By now the Colonel had forgotten all about me. I had to sit till Vishwanath got his century. And if he didn’t? By the look of the colonel, I was certain that I would be thrown out. It would be disastrous to this critical interview and indeed the whole project which could give a different turn to my career.
I started praying. At every turn of the bowler and as he came running I prayed, thanked God for every run given to Viswhanath. Vishwanath was now on 94. And 98! The colonel closed his eyes. Was he too praying? No market research interview had given me such I had seldom experienced such excruciating agony, such sense of uncertainty. The colonel’s heart and mine were now pounding much faster, for Vishwanath.
Vishwanath made a tentative defence to the first ball of the next over. I closed my eyes. And then I heard a loud cry of delight from the Colonel and the equally excited description of Vishwanath’s square cut to go past 100.
The Colonel was in raptures. Soon it was the lunch break for Vishwanath and the Colonel’s time was all mine.
He was a different man now. He would answer all my questions and give me information that he would otherwise have held back as ‘classified’. At the end of the interview, he even offered to fix an appointment for me with senior personnel in his Head Office.
The most important liquor manufacturer indicated an interest in the product and agreed to accept our samples for testing. He was cooperating with me in every way this survey! I was thrilled. The project was completed in three weeks and was one of the few studies in which we had given a concrete basis for positive action. Our recommendations were accepted which meant The Managing Director had read my report.
Soon after, I had an opportunity to ghost write a speech for the Managing Director, an Englishman who had come over a year ago and to meet him for the first time in my life. That assured me of a big promotion in April!
Years later, I thought of how Vishwanath’s career in cricket was closely linked to mine in the corporate world. He had a glorious career. I didn’t but I had some unexpected successes. By the time luck deserted him, I had had a rebirth-in management education.
(I had however decided that I would never again subject myself to such excruciating tension for the sake of Indian cricket. My blood pressure has nothing to do with cricket. I watch replays and that too only when india wins.)