Ram Bhandari, who Sachinka bat-wala? Agli gali mein rehta hai woh.” Tucked away in one of the crowded lanes off Pipeline Road in Ilyas Nagar, in Bangalore, is the house-cum-workshop of perhaps the area’s most famous resident, 52-year-old Ram Bhandari, ‘bat doctor’ to many Indian and international cricketers.
“I customise bats according to what the cricketer wants,” Bhandari explains, as we sit in his in his workshop, surrounded by bats belonging to local and international cricketers. “I check the balance and weight of the bat, modify the curvature if needed, work on the grip and carry out any repairs. I get their ‘master bat’, jise who pasand karte hain, and modify their other bats according to those specifications — bat unke liye set karta hoon.”
“I never mention my fees,” Bhandari says. “Who apne hisaab se mujhe pay karte hain aur main khush ho jaata hoon.”
After failing his Class 10 exams, a dejected Bhandari left his village in Bihar in 1979. He reached Bangalore and, after a short stint as a factory worker, graduated to machine operator. He learnt karate, worked in a hotel, did a stuntman course at the Vijaya Film Institute and even drove a lorry for the local corporation. He then became a supervisor at a complex in Gandhinagar, which had a sports shop called Player Choice. Bhandari, who had learnt carpentry from his grandfather, started helping repair the cricket bats in the shop, to supplement his income. He started off with junior cricketers’ bats and, as his work gained appreciation, moved on to the bats of Ranji Trophy cricketers. One of the cricketers whose bat he worked on was Rahul Dravid.
1150-gram medium- handle bat
“Dravid’s bat weighs about 1150-60 grams,” says Bhandari. “He used a medium-handle bat, and I used to check its balance and the curvature. The balance of a bat is key for good batting, and Dravid was particular about the balance being ekdum correct.”
1350-gram short- handle bat
It was through Dravid that Bhandari met the other India cricketers, at a training camp at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore, in 2004. That was when Bhandari’s association with Sachin Tendulkar began. Bhandari reckons he worked on about 20 bats for Tendulkar. “He used a very heavy bat, about 1350-60 gms, from 2004-07,” Bhandari says. When Tendulkar hit a lean patch in 2006, Bhandari suggested a reduction in the weight of the bat to 1250 grams. The move paid dividends; Tendulkar made a century against West Indies in Malaysia. “The bottom of Tendulkar’s bat is very thick, and I had to make sure the curvature is correct. He used a short- handle bat.” According to Bhandari, Tendulkar was very particular about his bats. “I used to visit the nets when Tendulkar came to Bangalore. I would sit through his practice, and then we would discuss what he wants from his bat. Finished bat main unhi ke haathon mein deta tha – I didn’t give it to anybody else.”
Bhandari’s work on bats often goes beyond the usual seasoning and plastering. In 2012, Gautam Gambhir had a problem with his favourite bat. It was making a noise whenever he played a stroke. “When a bat is used a lot, it gradually loses stroke. Sweet spot mein problem aajaata hai,” Bhandari explains. “I first checked the bat with a hammer. The bat had become thoda hollow in the place from which the stroke comes, and the balance and weight were also off. I opened the damaged portion of the bat with a screwdriver, filled it with Fevicol and chips and left them pressed in a machine overnight. Then I checked the bat again and saw that strokes were flowing from the sweet spot.” Gambhir, says Bhandari, uses a 1150-gram bat, like Dravid.
Bhandari’s work is not restricted to Indian cricketers only. He has worked on the bats of Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting, Tilakaratne Dilshan, Chris Gayle, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Luke Wright and Kieron Pollard, among others. Bhandari has fond memories of his association with Chanderpaul, whom he met in Bangalore during the IPL. Bhandari worked on four bats, weighing 1250 gms each, in Chanderpaul’s hotel. He says they spoke in a “mixture of Hindi and English”. “Chanderpaul was so humble; he served me lunch while I worked, and, after I ate, he cleared the plates himself. Unhone mujhe sabse zyada khush kiya.”
1370-gram long- handle bat
Bhandari says Chris Gayle has the heaviest bat of all the cricketers he has worked with. “About 1370-90 gms ka bat,” he says. “And, apart from the weight, it was one of the longest bats I have worked on”.