A UAE cricket philanthropist who was present for all five days of the Lord’s Test reckons he witnessed the one of the “Tests of the century”.
India beat England by 151 runs in a compelling, last-hour finish at the home of cricket on Monday, at the end of a volatile Test match.
Shyam Bhatia, a long-time benefactor of the sport in the emirates, flew to Europe on July 22 to ensure he could navigate the Covid quarantine process in time to make the start of the match.
He watched the game in the company of some of the sport’s most recognisable figures.
On the second day, the TV cameras happened to pause on him while he was in deep conversation with Clive Lloyd, the former West Indies captain, in their seats in a Tavern Stand box.
On the momentous final day, he was in the President’s Box as a guest of Kumar Sangakkara, the ex-Sri Lanka player turned MCC president, where he mixed with the likes of Sourav Ganguly, Andrew Strauss, and Lord Archer, the author.
Bhatia, an Indian national who has lived in Dubai since 1965, said he was grateful to be there to witness one of the great days for the sport in his country.
He compared the encounter to that played out between India and Australia in 2001, when India sealed a famous comeback win.
“I was there every day, before the first ball was bowled until after the last ball was bowled,” Bhatia said of the win at Lord’s.
“The only match that was better than this, which I did not watch [live], was Kolkata, where India had to follow on against Australia, and VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid scored a double century and century [respectively].
“Harbhajan Singh took six wickets and we beat Australia. But I didn’t see that one live. This one I did. These are the matches of the 21st century, 100 per cent.”
Bhatia said it was clear while the play was unfolding that the partnership between Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah on day five was the pivotal moment of the Test.
“The day was made when Shami and Bumrah batted together,” Bhatia said.
“They were not hitting blindly, they were playing proper, fearless cricket. They were blocking the ball, and playing like regular batsmen.”
Some observers might claim the Lord’s victory was not even the greatest win India have had this year, such has been the success of Virat Kohli’s side of late.
Even without Kohli present, they have authored some thrilling finishes, like the Rishabh Pant-inspired win in Brisbane in January which sealed an against-the-odds series win over Australia.
Bhatia, 78, says India have a team to believe in – thanks in large part to the expertise of one of his old friends.
The businessman has a long-running annual awards scheme for the UAE’s leading cricketers, as well as a museum and a cricket charity foundation.
Through the game he has a friendship that goes back over 20 years with Ravi Shastri, the India coach.
“This team is well prepared under Ravi Shastri,” Bhatia, said.
“He is an experienced soldier, and this bunch of players really play for each other.
“When I spoke to Ravi after the game, he said, ‘I am just the coach who assembles the side.’ I said, ‘No, you’re not – today you are the godfather of the Indian cricket team’.”