February 3, 2021 3:02:33 pm
From Sachin Tendulkar to MS Dhoni and David Warner, Baskaran has been mending the cricketing gears of the stars for nearly 25 years. The MA Chidambaram Stadium, also known as Chepauk, has been like a second home to the cobbler. On matchdays, he would be seen running back and forth between the home and away dressing room helping players. When India plays England in the first Test in Chennai, he is unsure whether he would be allowed inside the stadium.
“I don’t know whether they will allow me into the stadium. I have approached the officials a couple of times but still, they have not informed me anything,” he says.
Test cricket returns to Chepauk after four long years. It is the venue for the two England games. However, the roads connecting the stadium wear a deserted look. The usual buzz around the ticket counters, street vendors selling Indian flags and jerseys nearby, and autorickshaw drivers scalping tickets is missing. The eerie silence around the stadium would haunt any hardcore cricket fan in Chennai.
“It was only today (Tuesday) that I opened my shop. I thought I would get some business as the matchday is just a few days away. Without fans, the place looks different. Huge crowds will be there before the match days. People will even ask me for tickets (chuckles) but there is no such buzz now,” says Baskaran.
Baskaran has been in the business since 1996, when Mohammed Azharuddin led the Indian cricket team. His shop is on the pavement, a few meters away from the Pattabiram gate entrance on Wallajah Road. With matches being played behind closed doors due to the Covid restrictions, Baskaran says it doesn’t feel like a cricket match will be taking place at Chepauk.
“For a couple of months ever since the pandemic broke out, I didn’t step out of my house simply because there is no business at all. I have to take care of my wife and my son. I opened the shop a few months ago and had no business at all. On average, I get around 500 rupees per day but now, I get a maximum of 50-100 rupees which isn’t sufficient for my meal itself,” he says.
It was, in fact, help from a former Indian cricketer that saw him through the lockdown months.
“I have a policy that I won’t ask anyone for money and I won’t switch to other businesses for money. This is my home and this is my family business. Since there was no IPL, no domestic matches, I had nothing. Hearing my situation, Irfan sir (Irfan Pathan) contacted me through one of his friends. He gave me money which helped me survive for a couple of months. Other well-wishers whom I know for a couple of years deposited money in my account. More than money, not seeing any cricket matches and doing the work for the players affected me the most,” Baskaran adds.
Baskaran claims he is the official cobbler for the TNCA and gets around Rs 1,000 as allowance on match days.
“Some of them even said they can bring out the equipment here and I can repair and send it back inside but I said I won’t because if we bring those valuable items here if someone takes a picture or if something is lost I will be responsible, I don’t want that. If they require my service they will call me. I can even take the Covid-19 test and provide them the certificate if required. I will walk into the stadium soon,” hopes Baskaran looking at the gates of MAC stadium,” he says.
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