Pune: "Sport must be the heritage of all men and of all social classes," said Pierre de Fredy, better known as Baron de Coubertin, the founder of the International Olympic Committee and the father of modern Olympic games. Juan Antonio Samaranch expanded that vision in June 1993 with the Olympic museum in Lausanne, Switzerland. Today, it exhibits more than 10,000 pieces and attracts nearly 250,000 visitors annually. Up to 40 Olympic museums have sprung up across the world since then, and many more are in the pipeline.
In the cricket world, the Marylebone Cricket Club museum at Lord's in London showcases the sport’s history from the 19th century onwards under one roof. Then, there is the Bradman museum in Bowral, Sydney. The comprehensive storyline weaved with precision and narrated animatedly by the tour guide turns the clock back and gives the visitors a virtual feel of a time that would have otherwise been buried under the excuse of routine commitments.
India’s first cricket club, the Oriental Cricket Club, was established by the Parsis in Bombay in 1848. India made their Test debut at Lord’s in June 1932, have since produced 272 Test players and played 462 Tests in all. However, there is not a single platform that brings India’s cricket fraternity together. Only readers of Ramachandra Guha's "A Corner of a Foreign Field: The Indian History of a British Sport" know the role of the Palwankar brothers in the evolution of Indian cricket.
Except for cricket journalists and possessors of Anil Kumble's "Wide Angle", very few have a sense of how famous victories are celebrated inside the dressing room. Preservation and presentation of history will fuel the raw energy of a cricket-mad nation and enhance the depth of knowledge in the game. Otherwise, very soon, modern-day cricketers too will be alienated from those who can never see them play.
In Live Mint this May, Rohit Brijnath had asked, "Why don’t we preserve our sporting history?" The piece inspired this writer to visit Blades of Glory, India's first cricket museum, in Pune.
Run by Rohan Pate, a former Maharashtra Under-19 cricketer, inaugurated during IPL V by Sachin Tendulkar and located in the quaint Sahakar Nagar, Blades of Glory is easy to miss because from the outside, it provides no indication of its connection with cricket. However, as the elevator opens out to the third floor of the Govind Gaurav Apartment, a treasure trove of rare cricket memorabilia spread across 4000 square feet comes into view.
Fittingly, a frame that captures the evolution of cricket bats welcomes one to Blades of Glory. The fascia at the entrance is bisected by two larger-than-life posters – on one side is the 1983 World Cup-winning team and on the other side is the MS Dhoni-led 2011 team. "A cricket bat has been an instrument of glory for over three centuries,” Pate explained. "I did not want the museum to be named after an individual. The place should have a larger appeal."
The aesthetic woodwork on the interiors creates a relaxed ambience and it takes no time for the eyes to reconnect with the memory box tickled by the familiarity of the surrounding. Bats signed by the ICC One-Day International and Test teams of the year, and Indian and English players who featured in the 2000th Test match in July 2011, are lined up on one side of the wall. On the other side are a signed bat and gloves which Kevin Pietersen used during his 151 against Sri Lanka at Colombo earlier this year.
In the 'legends room', the bats of Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Ricky Ponting and Jacques Kallis share space inside a glass case. The '300' section is made up of souvenirs of triple centurions in Test cricket. A little down the alley is a torn boot of Brett Lee, a Bradman case, Ashes Aussie batting hero frame, Yuvraj Singh’s bat with which he hit six sixes in the World T20 in South Africa in 2007 and autographed jerseys of the famous West Indian opening pair of Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes. The bowlers' case has cricket balls signed by prominent wicket-takers of world cricket. There is a Tendulkar zone and a Dhoni section, and all this form only 40% of the collection. Other memorabilia are waiting to be assigned their places.
The project is still work in progress but the madness that has gone into acquiring prized possessions is obvious from the owner’s decibel levels. "Sachin gave me his autograph and a used bat in 2010, and that’s when I thought I should start collecting new things," Pate said. "Instead of collecting random autographed articles, a little thought went into packaging and here we are now. The World Cup helped a lot. My grandfather always wanted me to do something meaningful in cricket. I could not play at the highest level but now I have started this, something India needed to have."
Like any assignment, this one too had several obstacles. "When I started this project, watertight security arrangements made it difficult for me to get physically close to cricketers. Then, Kapil Dev and Desmond Haynes helped me and through their network, I got access to Ijaz Ahmed in Pakistan and things started to fall in place," said Pate. "I have travelled around the world for this but there were days when I used to sit in the hotel lobby for hours without knowing whether the cricketers would come down or not … Then, I had to persuade many of them to part with their precious belongings and it was a challenge but when they came to see the place during the IPL, they were happy with the final outcome. The perseverance has paid off."
Pate believes if he can link the current generation with cricket's history prior to the Twenty20 era, then his objective would be half attained. Hence, tickets are priced at just Rs 50 so that entry is no deterrent to fans on the two days the museum is operational, Thursdays and Sundays. The entry fee proceeds go towards the purchase of gear for underprivileged cricketers. "We are planning to take the museum to a much bigger place," Pate said. "I hope to make this a must-see destination."
If Blades of Glory, the first step towards redressing the imbalance between passion and a lack of understanding of cricketing history in the country, can remain self-sustainable and add more layers without being consumed by the lethargy of culture, it will inspire the future to respect their sporting heritage and change the way an entire nation views the legacy of its past heroes.