Tendulkar, Kohli turn to 'Batman of Mumbai'
Mumbai has been home to many great India batsmen, including Sachin Tendulkar. But there is only one 'Batman of Mumbai' -- Aslam Chaudhry.
Unlike his fictional namesake, there is no need to use a flashlight or special telephone line to get hold of the bat-maker and repair specialist when the world's leading run-scorers need their favourite blades reconditioned while touring India or appearing in the lucrative Indian Premier League.
Instead a call is put into Chaudhry's small, decades-old, workshop in a Mumbai side street, the home of M Ashraf Bros, a bat-manufacturing business set up by his father in the late 1920s.
Photographs of Tendulkar, a longstanding client, with Chaudhry adorn the walls.
India's Virat Kohli, one of the leading run-scorers at the ongoing World Cup on home soil and New Zealand's Kane Williamson have also entrusted their bats to Chaudhry.
"All the good guys are very particular (about their bats)," Chaudhry, who must satisfy individual requirements regarding weight, thickness and shape, told AFP.
Despite a bout of Covid-19, Chaudhry, now approaching his 70th year, still makes bats by hand, a physically demanding process.
He begins with a thick raw cleft of willow wood that is shaved, pressed and shaved again into shape, with a groove cut for a handle.
Chaudhry's only concession to modern technology is an electric conveyor onto which a bat is placed while he turns a huge fly-wheel to operate a five-tonne weight to strengthen the wood.
Few stars will visit Chaudhry's premises for fear of being surrounded by adoring fans in Mumbai, an intense hotbed of the game even by the standards of cricket crazy India.
Instead he calls on them, either at their hotel or at Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium, with those that do turn up, such as Sri Lanka's Lasith Malinga, getting more than they bargained for.
"Malinga was mobbed," recalled Chaudhry. "He was playing for Mumbai in the IPL. As soon as people saw him with his hair, all hell broke loose!
"I had to pull down the shutters. We were isolated in the shop for almost an hour-and-a-half, the police were called."
But Chaudhry said working on bats for Tendulkar, international cricket's all-time leading run-scorer, was no laughing matter.
"Absolutely, I felt completely nervous. He's got a good knowledge of bats, so to satisfy him required something.
"I had to take my tools when I went to see him with the bat," added Chaudhry. "Sometimes he would then ask me to do this or that.
"I used to see him bat in the nets, which was a privilege."
Fans in the ground, or the millions watching on television, will be unaware of Chaudhry's work, with stickers on modern-bay bats often promoting both a major commercial sponsor as well as the equipment company with which a cricketer has an endorsement deal.
"It doesn't bother me," said Chaudhry, And, thanks to the IPL, he does have a truly global clientele.
"There are some guys you think you would never meet -- for example New Zealand is at the far end of the world.
"But I get calls from Kane Williamson, I've done a lot of his bats."
It takes Chaudhry four to five days to make a bat from start to finish, but IPL repairs are often "same day" jobs.
Worries over willow supplies -- "Indian willow is good but is not as good as English willow, it's heavier," remain a concern
But the pride Chaudhry still takes in his work is obvious.
"(Australia's) Shane Watson, one bat he particularly liked was smashed to pieces," he said. "But I fixed it for him and he was so happy."
And while mass produced bats from leading UK manufacturers can now cost as much as £200-£400, you can purchase one from Chaudhry for 15,000 rupees (£149).
"The English guys go a bit loopy when they see my prices," he said