Meet the unsung heroes
who have a hand in
Sachin's Tendulkar's success
By PAWANDEEP SOOCH AND BALBIR SINGH
JALANDHAR/CHANDIGARH, APRIL 3:
When Sachin Tendulkar scored his 10,000th one-day run on Saturday, the
media trotted out the familiar talking heads who had played a role in his
success. But there was one man, in a dingy alley off the backstreets of
Jalandhar, who -- though unsung and uncelebrated -- could lay a more
direct claim: Mehnga Ram, maker of the master's bats.
For the past six-odd years,
after Kapil Dev introduced them to Sachin, the bats that have tormented
bowlers at every cricket ground from Lords to Lahore have been supplied
from the town that is the centre of India's sports-goods industry. This is
where a log of mulberry wood is fashioned into a blade that can tear apart
the world's best bowling attack.
Mehnga Ram works for
manufacturers Beat-All Sports who market their bats under the brand-name
BAS. To say he's much sought-after is an understatement; his employers put
a gag order on him after a TV network told his story. The 47-year-old
father of six lives in a nondescript dwelling along the railway track on
the outskirts of Jalandhar; sources say he earns, along with his family,
around Rs 8,000 a month.
His son Suresh says Mehnga,
who migrated to India from Pakistan (Sialkot) in 1971, works for the
pleasure of seeing Sachin and others -- including Kapil Dev, Jadeja,
Navjot Sidhu and Madan Lal -- using the bat to its fullest. His wife says
he's had offers to leave and there was even an incident 16 years ago when
he actually stopped work for a few days. But his employers brought him
back and he's never had second thoughts since.
But Mehnga's is only
half the story told. There's still some way to go before the bats reach
Sachin. From Jalandhar, they are sent to Chandigarh, where they are
`seasoned' by a motley collection of young hopefuls, grizzled veterans and
those just lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.
Amit Sharma runs a sports shop
in the city and is the sole representative of BAS. His job is to use the
bats for `knocking and compressing'. ``We receive four to five bats per
month. Sometimes the number goes up to 20, depending on the availability
of mulberry wood and Sachin's cricketing schedule. This willow is now
available only in Jammu and Kashmir, it has disappeared from
The bats are heavy, says
former Punjab Ranji player Arun Sharma, who runs a cricket centre in
Chandigarh. ``They can't be given to youngsters or rookies; they are first
given to coaches and pros for practice at the nets in the coaching centres.''
Heavy or not, using a bat in
the knowledge that it might end up in the hands of the world's greatest
living batsman is like a dream come true. ``Badaam khane padte hain,''
says Arun Sharma. ``They are heavier by about 13 grams which is a lot. But
I feel honoured to play with the bat.''
Harish Sharma, another coach
who helps with the knocking, says Chandigarh is lucky to receive Sachin's
bats for knocking.``Is shehar ki kismat tez hai. I use them with great
care because the bat could one day decide India's fate.'' He agrees that
Sachin's bats are exceptionally heavy. ``Pakad ke dekho to lagta hai kisi
ne koi bat banaya hai,'' he says.
After 10-15 days' use, the
bats are polished and returned to the manufacturer who gives the finishing
touches and sends them on to Sachin.
What makes these bats so
special? Former junior Indian cricketer Sukhwinder Tinku says their weight
and softness make for good strokeplay with proper timing. Lighter bats, he
points out, require more effort to smash a delivery to the boundary. For
Harish Sharma, the uniqueness lies in the bigger curve and the thicker
For Mehnga Ram, it's all in a
Lots in a name.
For BAS, there's little public
glory in making the Bat That Sachin Uses. Contractual obligations mean
that the company's logo is covered by that of Sachin's sponsor. Ravinder
Dhir, head of a Jalandhar sports-goods manufacturers' lobby group, says
children invariably ask for the bat bearing the sponsor's name. ``So we
have to take off our logos and put on another sticker,'' he says.
Copyright © 2001 Indian
Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.