In a nation where batting is worshipped and batsmen are viewed as demi-gods, it is the wooden piece in their hands out of which flows a stem of runs that makes them so. But what happens when this wooden stick — which is not more than 965 mm in length and 108 mm in width — is damaged and needs repair? Who do the international stars go to, to get back their favourite willow and wield it for further runs? It is here that men like 55-year-old Ram Bhandari come into the picture to save the day.Ram is a doctor of bats to several international, national and domestic players and operates out of his Bengaluru house-cum-workshop, where work is on in full swing. “Cricket fever is on and I’m working late into the night as there is not a second to waste. Every day, bats come in from the nets or I sometimes have to go the nets at Chinnaswamy Stadium to figure out what sort of repair work is needed. Sarfaraz Khan’s bat came in yesterday and I have to finish it off by today to send it back. The reason it came through is because of a crack at the bottom and the boy needs it quickly before his match.”
Explaining how he mends the bats, Ram says, “I fix and contrive bats for a cricketer the way he wants; the work ranges from balancing to seasoning and plastering,” Ram explains, as he sits in his workshop and works on Bengaluru player Sarfaraz’s bat. “The balance and weight of the bat are important, along with the curvature. So they need special attention, along with the grip and other repairs, so that there aren’t too many modifications made to the master bat.” As far as the fees are concerned, Ram says, ” never mention my fees. I take whatever the players give.” That said, he gets around `200 to `300 for a piece of wood and somehow scrapes through daily life. “Money is not my concern; it is the passion for the game that drives me to work every day,” he adds.
But for this mender of the willow, life has not been an easy ride. What began with a struggle for survival is now truly a story of success brought by sheer hard work, dedication and desire. After being unable to clear his Class 10 exams, Ram left his village of Bhikhna Thori in Bihar in 1979 in search of work. From there, he went to Delhi, then Gorakhpur and Chennai, before finally settling in Bengaluru. He did odd jobs, worked in a hotel, and drove a lorry for the local corporation. Later, he became a supervisor at a complex in Gandhinagar, which had a sports shop where he had his first tryst with repairing bats. Ram, who learnt carpentry from his grandfather, started off by lending a hand at repairing the cricket bats in the shop to supplement his income. He started with junior cricketers’ bats and, as his work started getting appreciated, he moved on to the bats of Ranji Trophy cricketers. One cricketer who was impressed by his handiwork during this period was Rahul Dravid.From there on, there was no looking back as Dravid himself referred him to former teammates Sourav Ganguly and the master, Sachin Tendulkar himself. Today, after nearly 20 years in his profession, he is now famously known for helping out Tendulkar by reducing the weight of his bat to 1,250 gms from his earlier 1,350 gms. “To understand a bat, you must understand the life and death of the wood that it is made from and then work on it so that it suits the batsman. Each batsman has a different specification for his bat. Some want it light, others heavy. The specification for curves varies with people. I watch them play and see their footwork.”
Now, bats from foreign countries like England and Australia are also sent to him as international players prefer his hands for the repairs. Even international players like Travis Head, Tillakaratne Dilshan and many others get their willows repaired by Ram. He recalls, “West Indian batting legend Shivnarine Chanderpaul was very hospitable to me. Several years ago, he invited me to his hotel room to repair his bat. While I was giving a new look to his bat, he served me food himself.”Ram’s passion for cricket is what has kept him going and he says he has never missed an opportunity to watch cricket matches held in the city. However, he says this art is something that he practises himself. “This can’t be taught to anyone. It is a skill. My younger son has developed an interest in mastering this art, but I tell him to learn it by himself,” he says.Ram’s sons are also cricketers. His elder son, Narendra Bhandari, plays for an under-19 inter-zonal cricket team, while his younger son Dasharath Bhandari plays in under-16 tournaments. Meanwhile, Ram will be seen on the silver screen as he has a small role to play in the upcoming biopic on Sachin Tendulkar, ‘Sachin: A Billion Dreams’.
(Text Source:The Times of India)