When cricketers and fans visit Pune these days, their itinerary has three must-dos: visit the ultra-modern cricket stadium at Gahunje, dine at the restaurant owned by Zaheer Khan, and spend as much time as possible at Blades of Glory.
Every minute spent at this unique museum is worth it. Where else in the world can you find a bat signed by each of the members of every major team of the 2011 World Cup? Or bats signed by India's various World Cup teams? Or by each of the World Cup-winning squads from Clive Lloyd's 1975 West Indies to MS Dhoni's 2011 India?
Among the other artefacts on view are memorabilia signed by five modern-day triple-centurions, and balls autographed by 22 members of the 300-Test-wicket club.
The man behind the museum is Rohan Pate, son of the owner of a major construction group and a club cricketer who played in Maharashtra and England. Incredibly, putting together Blades of Glory's extraordinary collection took Pate less than two years.
The inevitable Sachin Tendulkar connection is not hard to find. During the 2010 IPL, Pate met Tendulkar for the first time and got him to sign a bat for him. Soon afterwards, Pate's father tried to rope in Tendulkar as a brand ambassador for their construction firm, and Pate went to Tendulkar's manager's office in Mumbai, where he saw on display a bat signed by some of the legends of the game.
It was a eureka moment. "Till then I used to collect autographs in a diary," says Pate, as we walk through the Legends Room, which houses bats signed by Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Ricky Ponting, and a golden bat autographed by Don Bradman; and the room dedicated to Tendulkar. "But after seeing that bat, I thought I should aim for something bigger, unique and exclusive."
"Players like Matt Prior, for example, were so nice that they used to call me saying, 'We are staying at this hotel. Give me a bat in the morning, and take back the autographed bat in the evening.'"Rohan Pate on how approachable some players were
He became obsessed with the idea and was soon a regular fixture at cricket series across the globe. In 2011, he travelled to Sri Lanka for a series between the hosts and Australia, and says he found players from both teams very welcoming.
The IPL turned out to be a boon, since "almost every major achiever in international cricket features in it". Pate went to the UAE for England's series against Pakistan, where "Ijaz Ahmed helped me a great deal in getting through to most of the current and past Pakistan greats".
He capped the year with two of his most memorable experiences. While India's tours to England and Australia in 2011-12 were disastrous, Pate's trips to those countries during the series were so successful that by the time he returned from Australia, he was sure the museum could be opened to the public during the 2012 IPL.
"I was taken aback by the warm response from the English players. Players like Matt Prior, for example, were so nice that they used to call me saying, 'We are staying at this hotel. Give me a bat in the morning, and take back the autographed bat in the evening.'
"Australia, of course, was the biggest target, since they have been world champions [many] times. I spent exactly 15 days down under and managed to get 47 autographs."
Pate has tied up with many schools in Pune so that their students can come and marvel at memorabilia of the great achievers of the game.
"The memorabilia is increasing every day," Pate says, as he acknowledges receipt of a consignment from the West Indies sent by his "good friend" Desmond Haynes.
If you want to visit Blades of Glory, be sure to take an appointment through its website. The entry fee is a reasonable INR 50. "I don't intend to convert this facility into a profit-making venture," Pate says. "In fact, I am planning to put this money back into the game, either in the form of providing cricket gear to budding cricketers who can't afford it, or by offering scholarships to youngsters."