Mumbai - When the Indian Premier League's big hitters need
their favourite bat urgently repaired there's one person they call upon - Aslam
Chaudhry, a.k.a. "Batman".
The 65-year-old bat-maker and fixer frequently comes to the
rescue of cricket's most recognisable stars out of his small, decades-old
workshop in south Mumbai.
"I've done bats for Sachin (Tendulkar), for (Faf) du
Plessis, for (Steve) Smith, for Chris Gayle, for most of them," the
floppy-haired Chaudhry said.
He is the owner of M. Ashraf Bros, a bat-manufacturing shop
set up by his father in the late 1920s.
Chaudhry, who still makes bats by hand, is known as a master
of his craft and is in high demand from players during the eight-month-long
Indian cricket season.
He is known as Mumbai's "Batman", and the logo on
his business card shows two cricket bats in front of bat wings.
Chaudhry works flat-out during the seven weeks of the IPL.
The 11th edition is currently taking place, and he is getting regular calls
about urgent work.
"The IPL is the busiest time because the bats break
quite often," he says, explaining that modern bats tend to be weaker
because they don't undergo the same amount of machine pressing as in previous
He also notes that players in T20 cricket like to hit the
ball as hard as they can as they try to whack six after six.
"They ring me up, I go to see them and then bring the
bats back here. It's a short deadline because they often have to fly off the
next day so I have to fix the bats and take them back again asap," Chaudhry
While top stars receive plenty of free bats from
manufacturers, Chaudhry says they all have a favourite match bat and it's those
they send for patching up.
Often Chaudhry is also asked to tweak bats they have
received, like adjusting the shape or thickness of edges, to suit each
The call to Chaudhry usually comes from a member of the
team's backroom staff or the player's representative, but once Indian captain
Virat Kohli phoned him personally.
"He said, 'This is Virat Kohli.' I thought it was a
prank!" says Chaudhry, laughing. The softly spoken bat-maker has also done
work for former India skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
In Chaudhry's workshop, dozens of cricket bats line a wall.
Others are piled on a table and many more are stored away in cupboards, while
wood shavings cover parts of the floor.
Photos of Chaudhry with Tendulkar adorn the walls alongside
newspaper clippings, including one about the time rookie English batsman Haseeb
Hameed turned up with a broken bat.
When visited, Chaudhry had just received three new bats
belonging to South Africa's J.P. Duminy. He was about to add the finish and put
thick grips on the handles.
Chaudhry goes to training sessions at the nearby Wankhede
Stadium or to cricketers' hotels to collect the bats due to the hysteria
surrounding top players in cricket-mad India.
"All the big stars dare not come here because they will
never get out of this lane alive, there will be so much crowd," he says.
"(Lasith) Malinga made the mistake of coming here once.
All hell broke loose and we had to call the police. We had to down all the
shutters and he was inside for the best part of two hours until the police
Chaudhry estimates that around a thousand bats come through
his shop every year, partly thanks to a fondness among many Indians for
patching things up and using them again.
He also makes original bats that are branded
"Mehtab" after his father, who started the business from nothing and
died in the early 1980s.
When making new bats, Chaudhry starts with a thick block of
willow. He shaves it and cuts a V-groove for the handle. A machine then presses
a five-tonne weight on the bat to strengthen the wood.
Chaudhry then shaves the bat into its final shape, playing
close attention to its curvature while meeting the customer's requirements
regarding weight and thickness.
"You have to have a feel for it and be at one with the
wood," he explains, describing bat-making as "an art form".
Chaudhry is rare in that he still shaves the wood by hand,
vigorously pushing the tool backwards and forwards, stopping every so often to
step back and inspect the bat's progress.
"I'm getting older and shaving huge pieces of wood
takes quite a bit of strength," he said.
"It saps my energy completely so by the time I am
finished for the day I don't want to be talking about broken bats. I don't
really care. The following morning though, yes I care."