Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Inside the world's largest cricket museum in Pune built by a former under-19 cricketer

Rohan Pate has single-handedly built Blades of Glory in Pune, with 2,000 rare collectibles on display, and close to 50,000 others waiting to be showcased

Published: Jun 5, 2021 10:00:00 AM IST
Updated: Jun 5, 2021 12:15:19 PM IST

Inside the world's largest cricket museum in Pune built by a former under-19 cricketer34-year-old Rohan Pate single-handedly built the world’s largest cricket museum in Pune. Photo by Mexy Xavier

In 2008-09, Rohan Pate attended a sports memorabilia auction in his hometown Pune, hoping to win two autographed bats belonging to cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar. But his hopes were dashed as the willows went for Rs 6 lakh and Rs 11 lakh respectively—astronomical sums compared to his budget of Rs 2 lakh. “That hurt me,” recalls Pate, a former under-19 cricketer from Maharashtra-turned-realtor.

It wasn’t the first time, though, that he would have to return empty-handed in pursuit of Tendulkar’s autograph. In December 2009, at the end of a day’s play during the third Test between India and Sri Lanka at the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai, he saw the former India captain giving throwdowns at the ground. Unmindful of the security cover, he ran towards him only to have a guard shoo him away.

But such near-misses didn’t deter Pate; if anything, they made him more determined. The following year, when Amit Enterprises Housing Ltd, his family-run real estate company, was hunting for a brand ambassador, he convinced his father and signed on Tendulkar for five years. Immediately after, he asked for a bat from the cricketer, and Tendulkar gave him a used one without much fuss. “I thought if I can get Sachin’s bat, I can get anyone’s. That’s how I started collecting autographs and memorabilia,” says Pate, 34, who set up the Blades of Glory cricket museum in 2012.

Tucked away in a housing society at the end of a quiet lane in Sahakar Nagar in Pune, the 5,000 sq ft museum has 2,000 items on display—from late Australian cricketer Donald Bradman’s bat, to the pink ball used in the first day-night Test, and willows signed by World Cup-winning teams, and those with 10,000-plus runs in Test cricket, including Brian Lara and Jacques Kallis. Pate claims that close to 50,000 other collectibles—signed jerseys, bats, balls, stumps, helmets and books—are kept in an area of the same size on the floor above, which is not open to visitors.

In March, Miami-based World Record Academy registered Blades of Glory as the largest cricket museum in the world, ranking it above the one at the Lord’s Cricket Ground in England, The Bradman Museum in Australia, the West Indies Cricket Heritage Centre at Grenada, and the New Zealand Cricket Museum in Wellington. These museums are managed either by their respective cricket boards, trusts or governments, while Blades of Glory is run by an individual, it said in a statement.

Inside the world's largest cricket museum in Pune built by a former under-19 cricketerThere are exclusive sections dedicated to Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli. Tendulkar’s section includes 100 miniature bats (with his scores), in honour of his century of centuries. Photo by Mexy Xavier

The following month, Blades of Glory was honoured with Certificates of Excellence by the Golden Book of World Records, an exclusive International Book of Records and World Records India, for its impressive collection. Pate is thrilled. “I had not imagined I would be able to build a museum when I began. It has been an unbelievable journey,” he says. “The main aim of the museum is to recognise our heroes, honour and remember former cricketers and preserve our rich cricketing culture.”

Former South African speedster Allan Donald says he has not come across a person who is more passionate about cricket than Pate. “I’ve been to many beautiful, iconic places in the world and had a front-row seat. In India, the passion for cricket is beyond what you can expect. If you’ve been to museums anywhere, you’ll agree that Blades of Glory is an amazing place. The stuff that Rohan has collected over the years is absolutely outrageous,” says Donald, who is an ambassador for the museum and among the 450 international cricketers—from Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev and Virat Kohli to Clive Lloyd, Andy Roberts, Wasim Akram and Muttiah Muralitharan—who have visited it.

Inside the world's largest cricket museum in Pune built by a former under-19 cricketerVirat Kohli’s career statistics are updated after every match. Photo by Mexy Xavier

In his quest to acquire rare artefacts from some of the world’s greatest cricketers, Pate has had to criss-cross continents, face humiliation and rejection, and spend obscene amounts from his pocket to book himself a hotel room on the same floor as cricketers. “It’s difficult to get bats, but I was never ashamed to ask… I’ve even irritated some players multiple times to get what I wanted. I have never accepted defeat,” says Pate, who describes his 2011 visit to England and Australia as the turning point in his journey.

During that trip, he visited the museums at Lord’s and Sydney, and wondered why India did not have a “temple of its own” despite cricket being a religion in the country. “I just kept quiet and collected my stuff over the next two months,” he says. That same year, in 11 days, Pate claims to have taken 48 flights, sometimes covering Sydney, Perth and Melbourne in a day, and met 50-odd cricketers to collect 300 to 400 autographs. “It was Christmas and I travelled 300 miles, to villages and remote towns, to get an autograph from the likes of Arthur Morris, Richie Benaud and Bob Simpson,” he says. “It wasn’t easy. My day used to start at 4 in the morning and end at 1 in the night. I used to carry three kit bags, full of bats—70 to 80 of them—and balls, along with my luggage,” adds Pate, who has thematically displayed items at the museum.

Inside the world's largest cricket museum in Pune built by a former under-19 cricketerCricket memorabilia is displayed thematically—such as bats signed by World Cup-winning captains and those with 10,000 runs in Tests. Photo by Mexy Xavier

One of them includes a bat signed by all living captains of Australia. He recalls Steve Waugh had a bet with him, saying it’s impossible to achieve that. The former Australian captain had even promised to give him something in return if he proves him wrong. “I told him ‘don’t bet with me… I am mad’. I got all the signatures and sent him a photo. He didn’t stick to his word though,” chuckles Pate.

When he had collected enough memorabilia, he requested Tendulkar to inaugurate Blades of Glory on May 2, 2012. Pate admits that having the cricketer as the brand ambassador of Amit Enterprises helped him unwittingly, as he was able to win over the confidence of other players. His only regret is that though he was with the Indian team during the 2011 World Cup campaign, he could not capitalise on the friendships he developed. “I did all the bookings myself and stayed in the room next to Tendulkar. I took autographs from all the teams and spoke to the players regularly. I could have taken everyone’s T-shirts, but I did not… that was my biggest mistake,” he says.

Proximity to players, however, did not guarantee easy additions to Pate’s collection. South African pacer Dale Steyn was among the hardest to please. Once, Pate was collecting autographs of the erstwhile Deccan Chargers team in the Indian Premier League and only Steyn’s signature was pending. He refused point-blank even though Pate claims he waited for 18 hours over six days—in the hotel lobby, on the floor that he stayed and even on the ground. Steyn assumed the bat would be sold to make money. It was only after he inquired with Tendulkar’s manager that he signed it. Since then, he has visited Blades of Glory and even donated generously. “He told me to keep his stuff next to his hero’s, Australian speedster Brett Lee. This time, I declined, but only in jest,” says Pate. Former India skipper MS Dhoni was another tough nut to crack, he adds. However, Dhoni did end up giving his bat and shirt later, unlike a former India opener—Pate won’t say who—who has refused to donate any of his possessions.

Inside the world's largest cricket museum in Pune built by a former under-19 cricketerClose to 50,000 other items are yet to be displayed, kept in a section that is not open to visitors. Photo by Mexy Xavier

But Pate doesn’t bear any grudges. He has a much larger goal to pursue. With the nearly-50,000 surplus artefacts that he has, he plans to set up museums in the metros—Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru—and cricket-playing nations such as Australia, England and Bangladesh. He has also set his sights on the United States, where the sport is gaining ground. That apart, he wants to introduce an immersive experience at Blades of Glory. “I want to go big on digital too, ensure a theatre-kind-of-feel… also focus on making it interactive, with audio, holograms, movies [on cricket],” he says.  

In March, Blades of Glory was added to the online ‘Google Art and Culture’ platform that enables enthusiasts across the globe to have a 360-degree view of the museum. Pate claims he was in talks with the West Indian and Australian cricket boards for a collaboration, but things have come to a standstill after they slashed budgets due to the pandemic.

Emails sent to the World Record Academy and Golden Book of World Records did not elicit a response, but Forbes India is in possession of a letter from the Surrey County Cricket Club to Blades of Glory, expressing interest to showcase some of the material from the museum at the Oval in England.

It helps when players who have visited the museum put in a good word. Dev, for instance, told Lloyd about it, ensuring any doubts over its credibility were quashed. “It is also about convincing them with photos, chats etc. It took me six years to get something from Lloyd,” says Pate, adding that cricketers are often sceptical about how their possessions will be used or displayed. Former West Indian opener Desmond Haynes introduced Pate to Malcom Marshall’s widow and son. They parted with the late West Indian quick’s jersey, after he convinced them that the museum is about preserving legacy and there’s no point “keeping it in a garage or cupboard”. Some others agree instantly. Thanks to Dev, former Pakistani cricketer Ijaz Ahmed helped Pate with autographs and T-shirts of the Pakistani team, including of the 1992 World Cup-winning squad.

So far, over 16 lakh people have visited Blades of Glory, which has exclusive sections dedicated to Tendulkar and Kohli. The areas have a board with their career statistics, and Kohli’s are updated at the end of every match. It gets 100 to 150 visitors daily, while the number shoots up to 300-plus on weekends. An entry fee of `100 is used for the museum’s upkeep. “Money is not the motive, but you need it for expansion. It is needed to run the show. Whether I am there or not there, this should go on,” says Pate.

Former India captain Rahul Dravid believes aspiring cricketers will be inspired after seeing the museum. “It’s a real celebration of cricket and cricketers. It’s an excellent kind of effort that has gone into creating this museum. Rohan has some rare artefacts, some great items associated with the history of the game,” he says in a video testimonial. In the testimonial book at the museum, former India opener Virender Sehwag has described it as “the best cricket museum I have seen”.

The vast collection has not made Pate complacent. He’s in no mood to put his feet up and rest. “I am not satisfied. There is a lot of greed in me… I keep wanting more,” he says, adding that he’s keen to have Ranjitsinghji’s bat, exotic stuff from the 1930s and ’40s, and pre-Partition items, among others.

With his bedroom and cupboards full of such articles, his family would initially get annoyed with the odour and lack of space at home. Today, they are proud of him. Pate, though, says he has given only 1 one percent of his time to this ‘hobby’. His work as joint managing director and CEO of Amit Enterprises keeps him busy. But he insists Blades of Glory is a dream that will continue forever. “I want to do so much in my lifetime that no one should come close to me,” he says.

To achieve that, Pate has taken fresh guard and is eyeing bigger, newer milestones.