When the Indian Premier League’s big hitters need their favourite bat urgently repaired there is one person they call upon – Aslam Chaudhry, aka “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 eightmonth-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 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 do not undergo the same amount of machine pressing as in previous eras.
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 asap,” he says.
While top stars receive plenty of free bats from manufacturers, Chaudhry says they all have a favourite match bat and it is those they send for patching up.
Often he is also asked to tweak bats, to suit each batsman’s tastes.
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!” Chaudhry says, laughing. The softly spoken bat-maker has also done work for former India skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
In his workshop, dozens of cricket bats line a wall. Others are piled on a table and 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 AFP visited, Chaudhry had received three new bats belonging to South Africa’s JP Duminy. He was about to add the finish and put thick grips on the handles.
Chaudhry goes to collect the bats due to the hysteria around 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. All hell broke loose and we had to call the police. He was inside for the best part of two hours until the police came!”
He estimates about 1 000 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 died in the early 1980s.