Video Editor: Prashant Chauhan
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“MS Dhoni is size 10. Sachin is size 9. Javagal Srinath is size 14. De Villiers is also size 14. In fact, many on the foreign teams have those big sizes. In Indian team, it is mostly size 10 or 11.”Baskaran, Official Cobbler of the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (TNCA)
Well, that is Baskaran recalling from memory the shoe sizes of the various players he has become friends with over the last many years.
Outside MA Chidambaram stadium, popularly called Chepauk stadium, a landmark in Chennai and a favourite adda for every cricket fan, sits Baskaran.
With a broken-toothed smile, he welcomes you to his humble shop spread on a mat. Beside him in a raggedy cover, you can see photographs of Sachin Tendulkar piled up. He introduces himself as the official cobbler of the Indian cricket team in Chennai.
Speaking to The Quint, he remembers how the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (TNCA) selected him nearly 27 years ago.
How India Came to Love Cricket
Baskaran has been fixing cricketing gear for the team every time there is a match in the stadium. “Pads, gloves, helmet, shoes. Except for repairing the bat I do everything,” he said.
But despite that he continues to sit outside on a dirty pavement mending gear. He says he has appealed to the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (TNCA) several times, but his efforts have been in vain.
“For all the matches – one day matches, international matches with Australia, New Zealand, everyone, I am the one who is present. During the match, I get to sit with the players and watch the match directly,” he says with a grin.
‘MS Dhoni and Sachin are my Friends’
Baskaran has seen several captains over the decades. And it is not just the Indian cricket team he attends to. He is at the service of every country that arrives to play.
“It is a matter of pride that from local to international players, everyone calls only me,” said a beaming Baskaran. Adam Gilchrist, Chris Gayle, David Warner, VVS Laxman – he has worked for them and even watched matches with them.
But his favourites are definitely MS Dhoni and Sachin Tendulkar.
“MS Dhoni and Sachin Tendulkar always talk to me. For Sachin, I am the one who has to do all the repairs. Even for a tiny thing, he calls me. During the last match, I mended MS Dhoni’s pads. He sat next to me while I did it and even said ‘very good’.”Baskaran, Official Cobbler of the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (TNCA)
Not a Fan of the Sport, but of the Players
During a match day, Baskaran is a busy man. For T20 matches, he is inside the stadium by noon and for test matches, by 7 am. And he doesn’t leave the cricketers’ side till the match gets over, no matter how long it takes.
Baskaran gets a front-row seat for every match but he is not at all crazy about the sport. In fact, he says, it is the cricketers and their banter that he loves.
“I never look for money. It is about the job satisfaction. I have never known cricket until I started this job. And even now I am not a cricket fan.”Baskaran, Official Cobbler of the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (Tnca)
When he works for the team, he gets paid Rs 1,000 for a day.
Baskaran learned the trade from his father-in-law and says no one in his family is taking forward this profession.
“I am the only one who gets passes so I get two tickets and give it to them to go watch,” he said.
Star Cobbler Continues to Work on the Pavement
At the end of the day, the pavement outside MA Chidambaram stadium is his workspace.
On a regular day, he earns about Rs 500. Baskaran also tells he has many customers who come looking for him as he is known in the area as the ‘cricketers’ buddy.’
“Nobody is helping me. For more than 20 years, I have worked for big players but no one has helped me to set up a permanent shop and that’s what hurts me.”Baskaran, Official Cobbler of the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (Tnca)