Cricket and the UAE have a special relation. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, Sharjah was a special destination where cricketers from around the world entertained the cricket crazy fans from the subcontinent and enjoyed Gulf hospitality.
Then Dubai and Abu Dhabi emerged on the horizon with the state-of-the-art venues that rival the best in the world. A journey that started nearly four decades ago continues to gather pace.
And as cricket has become a part of the UAE landscape and the social fabric, a quiet corner of Dubai has played its part in creating a grand cricketing legacy in the UAE. We are talking about the Shyam Bhatia Cricket Museum.
Founded by veteran Dubai-based businessman and cricket lover Shyam Bhatia, the museum is an ode to the greatest names in the history of the game. With priceless memorabilia from some of the biggest names in the game adorning the museum in his villa in Jumeirah, Bhatia has accumulated one of the finest collections of cricketing memorabilia in the world.
“I have no agenda (that) I want to put this (museum). I have an agenda of how to make Test cricket history,” the 75-year-old tells Sport360.
“See what is happening now. Twenty20, one-day cricket has taken over the game. And people are forgetting the history of Test cricket. So I want to revive that history. You will see in my museum, apart from memorabilia, a lot of history of the game.”
Even hardcore cricket fans take some time to register all the iconic names who are represented at the museum, either through signed equipment, exquisite paintings or special photographs. From Sunil Gavaskar to Viv Richards, from Don Bradman to Muttiah Muralitharan, almost every icon of the game is honoured in one form of the other here.
Cumulative records of teams over the years, heads of state, stars outside the cricket field all live on under one roof at the museum.
Bhatia’s sojourn started in August 1965 when he landed in Dubai. He worked as an executive at an insurance firm before getting into the world of steel. The septuagenarian is now one of the leading steel manufacturers in the Gulf through his company Alam Steel Group.
Despite his immense success in the business world, the Rajasthan native never shook off the cricket bug.
“I used to play cricket in India myself. When I came here (UAE), there was a little bit of cricket. We used to play at Sharjah, Dubai. Any sand track, anything.
“In 1984, the India-Pakistan series started and Mr Abdul Rahman Bukhatir started CBSF (Cricketers Benefit Fund Series). India and other teams used to come. I used to host (them for) lunch every time. They used to leave some memorabilia with me.
“First I had a very small room for that (memorabilia). And then I collected so many (items) I needed a proper place for it. And then I built this museum. On April 18, 2010 we opened this museum,” Bhatia said.
The Indian businessman is not just an accumulator of cricket memorabilia. He runs the Cricket For Care programme that has provided kits to children in various countries including Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Thailand, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka.
Bhatia has created quite a legacy as a cricket aficionado and now wants to take it to the next level. His museum in currently nestled in the corner of his villa in Jumeirah and Bhatia wants to move to a bigger location where all his prized possessions can be enjoyed by cricket lovers in the UAE and across the world.
“We are in process to take this museum outside. Because we have India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka next door. And they are cricket crazy countries. I am working to get land from Dubai government, or any government authority like Dubai Sports (Council), Dubai Tourism. We are talking to them,” he explains.
It’s clear that after decades of dedication to the game, Bhatia has no plans to slow down. “It’s just the beginning, just the beginning. There is no end to this.”
(Video by Hiba Khan)
Smith and Warner were handed one-year bans by Cricket Australia after the ball-tampering scandal during the Newlands Test against South Africa, while Bancroft was suspended for nine-months.
Smith had addressed the media on Thursday in what was a tearful press conference, while Warner also issued an apology on his Twitter account.
Later, coach Darren Lehmann stepped down from his position and revealed that the Wanderers Test will be his last as head coach.
Meanwhile, Sharma expressed his feelings about the SandPaperGate saga on social media and came in support of the trio.
— Rohit Sharma (@ImRo45) March 29, 2018
South Africa captain Faf du Plessis said on Thursday that he felt the 12-month ban on disgraced Australia skipper Steve Smith was “harsh”.
He told a media conference in Johannesburg that he was “very sorry” for Smith and had texted him a message of support.
Smith and vice-captain David Warner were banned for 12 months and Cameroon Bancroft for nine months for attempted ball tampering during the third Test in Cape Town last Saturday.
The Australian cheating plot was foiled when TV cameras spotted Bancroft seeking to alter the condition of the ball with sandpaper.
Du Plessis, 33, was speaking on the eve of the fourth and final Test at the Wanderers of a drama-packed series in which South Africa hold a 2-1 lead.
“It’s been a crazy week. I have compassion for what he’s going through.
“I think he’s one of the good guys and he’s just been caught in a bad place,” said Du Plessis, who has twice been found guilty of ball tampering himself, but was only fined and never banned.
“I did send him a text. From a really deep place in my heart I feel for the guy.
“I don’t want to see guys going through that stuff.
“It’s going to be incredibly hard for him over the next days so I sent him a message of support, saying he’ll get through this and he must be strong.”
Du Plessis said that although he regarded the bans imposed on Smith, Warner and Bancroft as harsh, he understood the context of the high values Australians expected from their cricket team.
Du Plessis welcomed the announcement by International Cricket Council chief executive Dave Richardson that there would be a review of the ICC code of conduct and penalties.
“I think it’s overdue. All we ask for is consistency. There are a lot of grey areas,” said Du Plessis, who was only made South Africa captain after being caught ball-tampering.
Despite his sympathy for Smith, Du Plessis said he and his team were determined to “finish the job”.