Ajay Sethi was barely 17 when he saw Sunil Gavaskar, his biggest cricketing hero, in the flesh.
The year was 1980 and Gavaskar, a superstar in world cricket back then, was at the Sector 16 Stadium in Chandigarh for a domestic match that also featured local hero Kapil Dev.
Kapil had just cemented his place in the Indian team as a fast-bowling all-rounder of immense potential.
But it was not Kapil who drew Sethi to the Sector 16 Stadium.
“I had already seen what Kapil was made of long before he played for India,” Sethi told the Khaleej Times.
“I went to the same college in Chandigarh as Kapil did. He was already a hero in our college.
“I remember all of us rushing to our college ground every time Kapil was batting because he could effortlessly hit those massive sixes. Many of those landed in our canteen.”
But on that day in 1980, Sethi rushed to the stadium to catch a glimpse of Gavaskar, the man who set a new benchmark for Indian cricket with his classical style of batsmanship.
Sethi had not seen any of Gavaskar’s classics. Like millions of Indians those days, he could only follow Gavaskar’s epoch-making cricket journey through the radio commentary.
“When he came out for the pre-match warm-up that day in Chandigarh, I could not control my emotions. I crossed the barbed wire fence and ran on to the ground for his autograph,” Sethi recalled.
Sethi did manage to get the autograph, but as a result of his adventure, he also had a cut on his right thigh.
He saw his torn trouser and the bad bruise, but in that moment the only thing he felt was a sense of joy.
Now 43 years later, Sethi counts Gavaskar among his best friends.
The man who grew up following his hero’s every milestone on the radio in the 1970s, is now the chairman and MD of the Channel 2 Group Corporation, the global audio rights holders for all ICC tournaments, including the 2023 50 Overs World Cup in India.
“We have a long-term radio partnership with the ICC. As many as nine broadcasters are broadcasting the World Cup globally,” the Dubai-based Indian businessman said.
Sethi’s impressive media business didn’t take shape overnight. Having tried his hand in the automobile business after moving to Kenya in 1984, Sethi came into his own as an entrepreneur after he decided to shift base to Dubai in 1993.
It took him another 10 years to make a foray into the radio business.
He hasn’t looked back since, winning the global audio rights for every ICC event since 2009.
“When I launched my radio business, I got top commentators on board. Kapil Dev, Sunil Gavaskar, Clive Lloyd, Zaheer Abbas, these are giants of the game, people never saw them do radio commentary in the past, they were always on TV. But I brought them to the radio commentary box,” he said.
“Not only did I bring them to radio commentary, I also developed a personal relationship with them. All of them are now my friends.”
Remarkably, Sethi also credits these cricket legends for his success as a businessman.
“What I have learned from these legends is the value of humility and discipline. This has helped me a lot in my business which has grown over the years,” he said.
“But I have never forgotten how I started my journey. And this is why I am still running my old automobile spare parts showroom in Dubai. This was my first business, it’s a small showroom but it gave me the space to grow as a person.”
Few things have given him as much joy as seeing the happy faces of four Mumbai street kids who received World Cup tickets from him recently.
“As part of our contract with the ICC, I get 10 tickets for every match. I normally give them to friends who always call me for tickets. These people can buy tickets, but nobody wants to spend money. So this time, I thought let’s give tickets to people who cannot afford to buy them,” he said.
“So we gave tickets to four street kids. And would you believe it, that was the Australia-Afghanistan match?
“Those kids ended up watching the biggest match in the World Cup history. They were in the stands when Glenn Maxwell played that magical innings.
“The kids had an amazing experience. It was unbelievable to see the joy on their faces after the match.”
Sethi’s team has given away more tickets for the semifinals and the final.
“I can’t buy tickets for everyone in India, but if I can make a few people happy, I will do it every day in every match,” he said.
“Look, I was also an ordinary fan who crossed barbed wire fence for an autograph from a legend (Gavaskar).
“Now the same legend is my friend with whom I have often walked into the famous Lord’s Long Room.
“It proves that anything is possible in life if you are passionate about what you do.”