Indian cricket's treasures need to show up

A recent auction of cricket memorabilia at the Cricket Club of India turned out to be a huge success. Activities such as these prove that India’s cricket lovers are not just intoxicated by merely watching cricket. Indeed, there is great interest beyond those boundaries.

Prized possessions: Cricket lovers are not just intoxicated by merely watching cricket, there is also a great interest beyond those boundaries PIC /AFP

A bat signed by the participating teams of the 1985 World Championship of Cricket was sold for Rs 4.5 lakh while Anshuman Gaekwad’s bat which he used to compile his double hundred against Pakistan in the Jalandhar Test of 1983 fetched a touch over Rs 2 lakh. Apart from valuable pieces of willow were ties and caps, books and photographs. Seventy-three per cent of items that were on offer attracted buyers. A lot of collectibles belonged to former players.

In the light of this, one wonders what has happened to the Indian cricket board’s museum plans. There is a 17-man museum committee in place and from what I gather, the Board has reserved a large space at the Cricket Centre in Mumbai for the museum. The expertise of a curator from the Lord’s museum too had been sought, but not many former cricketers have been requested to part with their prized possessions.

It is in the setting up of the museum where a cricket-oriented administrator like Sanjay Jagdale will be probably missed the most. Alas, he resigned as Honorary Secretary earlier this year, but he must return sometime albeit in a different role.

Had former president Raj Singh Dungarpur been living, the museum would have been functioning already and he would have parted with all his treasures including Vinoo Mankad’s bat which he used to sleep with.

A lot of wealth is in private collections. JK Mahendra, the former Kerala Ranji Trophy cricketer has an enviable collection of cricketanna and his treasures are worth going miles to see in Chennai. Mahendra, who represented India at the school level, has Dennis Lillee’s controversial aluminum bat which he walked out to bat with in the Perth Test of the 1979-80 series before England captain Mike Brearley objected to it.

Delhi-based cricket writer Gulu Ezekiel's collection is mind-blowing. Apart from a dozen signed items from Sir Don Bradman, Ezekiel has the bail which Anil Kumble’s top spinner bent while clean bowling Salim Malik en route his Perfect Ten in Delhi, 1999. This is his most cherished item along with a photograph of Bradman, Shane Warne and Sachin Tendulkar which has been signed by all three legends.

Former India team manager P R Man Singh’s museum in Hyderabad is more than a treasure house, but the king of all collectors has to be England’s David Frith, who has Victor Trumper’s bat, Bradman’s batting gloves and Neville Cardus’ passport. Frith proudly revealed in his book (Caught England bowled Australia — A Cricket Slave’s Complex Story) that he was a beneficiary of Sunil Gavaskar’s generosity when the batting legend gave him his India blazer on the 1986 tour of England. A few years ago, a publishing house printed 75 copies of a book which projected each and every item in Frith’s museum. The book weighed two and a half kgs and cost Rs 18,000 then.

Former West Indies wicketkeeper Jeff Dujon could have Sunil Gavaskar’s bat with which he scored the first part of his first unbeaten 236 in the 1983 Madras Test. The late Tony Greig was lucky to get Harbhajan Singh’s hat-trick ball against Australia at Kolkata for only Rs 55,000 at a charity auction in Bangalore. A Sachin Tendulkar bat went for Rs 300,000 at the same auction while Sourav Ganguly reportedly bought teammate Kumble’s 1993 Sri Lanka tour blazer for a mere Rs 25,000. But that was 10 years ago.

The Mumbai Cricket Association too plans to have a museum and like the BCCI, they must work fast. After the elections, one presumes.

It is critical to value history through museums. It can inspire, excite and entice young cricketers. Ask Sunil Gavaskar who was told at a very young age when he caressed and yearned for his maternal uncle Madhav Mantri's India pullovers: 'Work hard and earn the India colours.'

The Board would do well to name the museum in honour of a cricket personality. I can't think of a more apt name than Raj Singh. 

Clayton Murzello is MiD DAY’s Group Sports Editor¬†

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