The 20-year-old batsman from Karnataka was over the moon. “Even today, I am grateful to Raj Kapoor for the sweet gesture which meant the world to me. It’s a pity that I never got to meet him…The telegram reinforced my belief that I had arrived in Test cricket, that I belonged at this grade,” writes Vishwanath in his autobiography, Wrist Assured, which hit the bookstores earlier this year.
Vishwanath, known for his wristy and elegant square cuts, goes on to say, “To get a telegram from such a towering personality sent me into raptures. I kept that piece of paper with me for a long, long time in our old home in Rajajinagar, but when we shifted to our current residence, it got misplaced. I wish I had kept it with me, pasted it on my scrapbook like I had pasted newspaper clippings of the exploits of Sobers and Kanhai and Harvey. How I really wish!.”
Like his contemporary Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor was a well-known cricket enthusiast. Both were regulars at exhibition matches involving film stars in the 1950s and 1960s. One such festive match, organised on March 21, 1952 and held at Brabourne Stadium, was attended by about 30,000 spectators, The Times of India reported the following day. Both Kumar and Kapoor captured a bagful of wickets in the 21-players-a-side (sic) game.
Not many would know that a tennis ball cricket tournament was hosted in Kapoor’s honour at Chembur (the location of RK Studios) after his death in 1988. Teams from Goa, Belgaum and Calcutta came to play in the first edition of the tournament which was named after the actor-director. Mithun Chakraborty was the “driving force” behind the event, The Times of India reported in Jan 1989. It continued for many years.
Interestingly, in the autobiography which was co-authored with sports journalist R Kaushik, Vishwanath also reveals that he was a regular filmgoer those days. He even watched Rajesh Khanna’s superhit Aradhana with Eknath Solkar during his debut Test in Kanpur. “It was the only time I went to the cinema hall during a Test match,” he writes.