The breeze from the west, the din of the North Stand and Ashraf bhai leaving his perch at the sports goods shop opposite Metro Cinema to wait near the dressing room staircase to chisel important bats – some things at the Wankhede Stadium never changed. A big cricket kitbag slung round his shoulder, filled with bats and bat-grips, Ashraf Chaudhary was a constant presence during matches – international or IPL.
In many ways, the man with the 70’s moptop was the most valuable support staff for batsmen. He would fix broken bats, remake them, shave off wood to reduce weight or trim the handle edges as per demands of the hard-to-please batsmen.
However, for the past few weeks, Ashraf bhai has been admitted in a suburban Mumbai hospital with health complications. It’s not Covid-19 that has laid him low but a series of issues from kidney stone to other ailments.
A well-wisher Prashant Jethmalani, who knows him for the past 15 years, is helping raise funds for the treatment.
“His situation is not good. There was some kidney stone-related problem, which has resurfaced again and there are other complications too. The lockdown means his business took a major hit as cricket has completely come to standstill in the city. He doesn’t have funds; whatever he has, it’s over,” Jethmalani says.
“We managed around two lakhs but we need more. We also want to raise some funds for him for his sustainance in the near future,” he adds.
Owner of a small shop M Ashraf Bros that has been in operation in his family since 1920, the lockdown has hurt his finances, while his other employees have returned to their hometowns. Things took a turn for the worse earlier when his elder brother passed away two months ago.
In fact, Ashraf has even helped some players without charging them a penny. In 2016, when West Indies played a T20 World Cup game in Mumbai, Ashraf donated 16 bats to the entire squad. The generosity was after Ashraf read about West Indies players being in a tussle over money with their cricket board.
“Nobody is asking for bats these days and with IPL happening abroad, there will be no work for Ashraf. Sad part is that many players owe him money but they haven’t paid him yet. Ashraf till date has never asked money from them,” Jethmalani said.
Prashant says it’s now the turn of cricketers to help the man whose accurate workmanship helped them in their time of need, he reckons.
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