Pursuit of Happiness

Pitching it right

ASK Wealth Advisors’ Rajesh Saluja on why he believes cricket is more than just a game

Soumik Kar

It’s close to 7 pm and the lights have come on at the Air India sports stadium, popularly known as the Kalina cricket ground in the western suburbs of Mumbai. A right-arm swing bowler, Rajesh Saluja goes to his bowling mark and jogs at a gentle medium pace. He wants to get his line and length right before the match begins. As he releases the ball, it lands right in the good length area but fails to swing. Exasperated, Saluja keeps bowling over and over again — nothing unusual as the game demands skill and perfection, but it’s the energy and passion that Saluja exudes that makes all the difference. At 50, Saluja still retains the fervor that he had since childhood. The CEO and MD of ASK Wealth Advisors religiously plays the game that he picked up during his schooling days at The Lawrence School, a private boarding school in Sanawar, Himachal Pradesh. “It was in seventh standard that I first played the game as a bowler and till today I love being a right medium swing bowler,” says Saluja in his colourful bowling fatigues.

Through his graduation from Elphinstone College in Mumbai and his 25 years in the financial services space, Saluja has been playing the game, be it on the grounds close to his residence; annual cricket tournament in his office and an annual cricket sojourn where his old schoolmates all team up on the school ground every year. But of late, Saluja’s engagement with the game has only increased thanks to his 11-year-old son, whose school (Ascend International) has introduced a unique parent engagement format — 'My Father, My Anchor', just for fathers of the school’s wards — with the help of Bayside Sports and Zooter, two specialist sports event-cum-training companies. The format of the T-20 tournament is such that fathers, between the age of 35 and 55, of one school face-off with the other at day-night tournaments on a weekday in any of the city’s prominent grounds. “The best part about it is that none of the fathers should have played a professional league match, so everyone is at the same level,” says Saluja, whose comes down the order as a pinch hitter.

Playing cricket also made it easy for Saluja to slip into the role of a golfer — an unstated prerequisite if one has to get up, close and personal with clients in the wealth-management business. “The difference between cricket and golf is in the way you swing. In golf your elbow has to be high up. In cricket your elbow has to be down, so they are quite different that way. But hand-eye coordination, body movement and the swing comes easy because of the years spent playing cricket,” mentions Saluja.

But Saluja still prefers the adrenaline rush of playing a team game, like cricket. “Golf is a solo affair, the player himself is the opponent as he needs to keep getting better and better with every round. In cricket, you need your players to achieve the target,” says Saluja, whose best bowling figures read 4/4 in the T-20 league.

Just as in cricket, Saluja believes the three things that are needed to excel at work are: 1) team spirit, where together everyone gives their best, 2) never give up; the spirit of hitting back and 3) to keep control over your emotions and not just get carried away. Saluja though candidly admits that he has not been able to master the third aspect of the game, yet. “If someone riles me in a game, I get really irritated and angry. I have still not been able to control the emotion bit, but I am working on getting better,” he says smiling.

While Saluja respects Sachin Tendulkar for his sheer talent, MS Dhoni for his calm and composed leadership style, and Virat Kohli for his sheer aggression, he prefers the Kohli way of work. “I like his aggression to win, but not with a spirit of winning under any circumstances. It has to be the same at work where you need to get that client on board. But I feel a lot of youngsters who have got it easy in life lack the fire in the belly, to go for the kill,” sums up Saluja.