Dubai: As a journalist, we sometimes have that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet a truly inspiring individual whose life story is riveting and encouraging.
Recently, I had the chance to meet, and gain some insight into the mind of a very special and lifelong philanthropist – Shyam Bhatia.
Bhatia is unlike your typical humanitarian. He’s a man who has long dedicated himself to doing more with the wealth he has earned as a successful businessman than to just save it to splurge on expensive things. He is committed to leaving a legacy through his passion for cricket - principally by sponsoring youth scholarships for students around the world and building a cricket museum like no other on the planet.
Here is what I learnt from a man who has helped fuel the dreams of hundreds of youngsters, provided for their sporting growth and rewarded them for their excellence:
Bhatia’s passion for cricket dates back to his school years in India where he proudly represented his school and always played the game with a ‘straight bat’, which would become his motto in life.
Even as a young philanthropist, he viewed his passion as a way to give more than take, not as an obligation but as way to put smiles on the many young faces and instill in them the desire to excel.
After coming to the UAE in 1965 ‘on a ship,’ Bhatia founded Alam Steel, but beside his business interests, he was more keen on pursuing his passion for playing cricket and making friends in the sport.
Despite the lack of grounds to play a proper game of cricket, which was mostly on Fridays, his unwavering passion led to him to meet three pioneers of sport in the UAE - Hero Jashanmal, Abdul Rahman Falaknaz and Mohammed Redha Abbas and together, they formed the Dubai Cricket Council in 1969.
The DCC was the perfect example of Bhatia using his time, talent and tresures to better the sporting landscape and community in Dubai and the UAE. As time progressed and international cricket came to the Emirates in the early 80s, Bhatia would invite the players, umpires, media and members of Dubai’s business community to his home for lunches and dinners.
“There were legends like Clive Lloyd, Ian Chappell, Michael Holding, as well as journalists like Kishore Bhimani and Khaled Ansari coming home,” he reminisces. “We showered them with local hospitality and home-cooked food. It was always a big occasion.
“This is a practice that I follow to this day. It’s become a Bhatia ‘tradition’.
Charitable work and Cricket for Care
Bhatia is hugely appreciated for his two initiatives in the UAE - the Cricket for Care Foundation that he started in 2007 and the Shyam Bhatia Annual Cricket Awards that recognizes and rewards talent in the UAE.
The Cricket for Care foundation, which provides professional training and cricket kits to underprivileged children around the world, works two-fold with children and young adults. The aim of the foundation is to empower them through discipline, teamwork and leadership through sport.
To explain the rationale behind the charity, Bhatia says: ‘‘I wanted to give back to our society and I wanted to do it through cricket,” he says. “Cricket has brought me to where I am today, a happy man who will leave behind a legacy that transcends monetary expectations. It began a long time ago when I donated $10,000 to the Dubai Cricket Council to support cricket coaching at the local level.
“But then I began to look at the bigger picture and beyond the UAE. I went to Pakistan and Zimbabwe to reach out to cash-strapped government schools that were desperately in need of cricket kits and proper cricket training for their students,” he adds.
“In South Africa, I work directly with the South African Cricket Board where together we target the black townships where the need is greater and the passion even stronger.”
The Cricket for Care Foundation has made donations in over 20 countries around the world, including non-cricket playing countries like Thailand, Indonesia and Japan.
The Shyam Bhatia Annual Cricket Awards
For close to 20 years, Bhatia has sustained a tradition of both substance and style though his definitive end-of-season awards ceremony - one of the most eagerly anticipated events of the year for every youngster involved in cricket.
In a world that pays little attention to such virtues these days, the Shyam Bhatia Annual Cricket Awards highlight the fact that there are several individuals still willing to remember and extol the virtues of sports. The awards were established to reward excellence in cricket with the many categories recognising all areas of the game, including women’s cricket and umpires.
The Awards carry a cash prize but what makes them really special is that the winners receive their reward from one of the many legends of the game, past and present. From Viv Richards to Sunil Gavaskar, Imran Khan to Kapil Dev, the greats join Bhatia at his residence in Dubai to acknowledge players who have performed consistently in domestic cricket for the season under review.
Bhatia has regularly added more categories to his awards and when women’s cricket began to flourish in the UAE, he created a category for the best women players as well. “I am truly inspired by the displays of cricketing excellence by the youngsters who have captured the true essence and spirit of the sport,” said Bhatia. “This is my way of saying well done.’’
“If not for them, cricket has no future. Outstanding performances need to be recognized and I believe that these awards, which are presented in an intimate environment by the legends of the game, are a great motivator to the youngsters,” he adds.
Bhatia once famously said: ‘‘I don’t think I will ever retire from my business, from the game or from my museum.’’
And that is true. His cricket museum, which sits proudly within the back lawns of his Jumeirah reside, houses a staggering collection of authoritative and enlightening cricketing memorabilia.
The items, which range from autographed bats, original team blazers, caps worn by legendary figures, trophies and literature, are not simply from a single era or representative of an individual source, but rather a composite treasure trove marking the sport’s history.
The entire subject of the museum, which took over 10 years in the making, houses memorabilia from the past with those from the present.
Unquestionably a ‘Museum for the Ages’, Bhatia’s pride and joy include rare contemporary items that include four bats, signed by the ‘Big Four’: Virat Kohli, Steve Smith, Joe Root and Kane Williamson. “I got a special kick out of sourcing these bats that are autographed by four of the top batsmen in contemporary cricket,” he said. “They added depth and a modern day’s resonance to my museum collection in its tenth anniversary.”
Bhatia, and the team that helped him create the iconic gallery, are continually upgrading features like the cricket Hall of Fame which has record of all the ICC World Cups since it’s inception in England in June 1975 - including brief scores of all the 452 matches of the 12 editions played.
“This took our team close to two months to put together,’’ said Bhatia, “We have also added the updated records of teams like Bangladesh and Zimbabwe and the two new ICC members, Afghanistan and Ireland.
No museum is complete without a library and this is where Bhatia spends most of his spare time, if he’s not exercising on the treadmills in the gym next to his stunning collection of cricket literature.
When Bhatia walks into the library, housed in the basement below the cricket museum, you don’t need to switch on the lights. His eyes radiate joy and pleasure the moment he steps foot into his sanctuary.
For a sports lover, or for the matter any sportsman, the key factor that contributes towards growth is constant engagement with the past, present and future of the game. Among the hundreds of books: coffee table ones, almanacs, periodicals, newspapers and the works is a 1859 edition of ‘The Cricket Field’, the oldest book in his collection.
Here are a few items that make his library a virtual goldmine:
* A brochure on Australian cricket team’s first visit to India in the winter of 1935-36.
* ‘The Jubilee Book of Cricket,’ a classic work by Prince K.S. Ranjitsinhji with his original signature. Only 350 copies were made and Bhatia’s was the 29th of the collection. Now virtually reduced to parchment, it has 475 pages of priceless information.
* The complete ‘Neville Cardus Collection’ from from arguably cricket’s greatest writer
* Imperial Cricket 1912 - a well known book from 1912.
* Famous Cricketers and Cricket Grounds, 1895, Edited By C.W. Alcock.
* Original cuttings from English newspapers from 1945-’48.
* Sports Magazines including Sports Illustrated and The Cricketeer from 1948 to 1965
Who’s Who of cricket on Bhatia’s museum
Congratulations on a fantastic tribute to cricket. This museum will inspire many children to take up this great game. Amazing, Awesome, Mindblowing.
- Steve Waugh, former Australia captain
I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to visit such a comprehensive cricket museum. The passion and love that is visible is touching. It takes a special person with a very generous heart to do this. Thank you and all the best.
- Kumar Sangakkara, former Sri Lanka captain & President of MCC
Dear Shyam, This is the best I have ever seen in the world cricket. Wonderful collection and you have the best cricketers of the world.-
- Kiran More, former Indian wicketkeeper
Wonderful memories, wonderful museum. Amazing collection. Thank you Shyam.
-Chris Broad, former England player & Match Referee
Always a pleasure to visit your museum. Every time I visit, I really get thrilled
- GR Vishwanath, Indian batting legend
Great collection. Keep up the good work
- Aravinda de Silva, former Sri Lankan captain
It is one of of the best cricket museums I have seen till today. It’s a lot of hard work that Shyam Bhatia has done.
- Zaheer Abbas, Pakistan batting legend