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Brazil gets its first cricket bat factory

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Poços de Caldas (Brazil) (AFP) – In a workshop with a breathtaking view of the mountains of southeastern Brazil, self-taught carpenter Luiz Roberto Francisco carves a piece of pine and transforms it into a rare artifact for this football-mad country: a cricket bat.

Francisco, 63, is the proud owner of Brazil’s first cricket bat factory, based in the small town of Pocos de Caldas in Minas Gerais state, which has a population of 170,000.

It’s no coincidence that the leafy spa town is also the headquarters of Cricket Brasil, an organization run by Matt Featherstone, a former England cricketer who has set an ambitious goal of bringing 30,000 Brazilians to practice the sport he loves in the next three years.

Since Featherstone, 51, retired from professional cricket and moved here with his Brazilian wife in 2000, he and the 19 employees of Cricket Brasil have managed to grow the sport exponentially.

There are now more than 5,000 cricketers in Brazil, mostly thanks to the organization’s 63 youth community programs, and the women’s national team has won four of the last five South American championships.

When Francisco discovered there was no machine in Brazil to apply the 2,000 pounds of pressure needed to bring bats to the correct density, he invented one himself. CARL DE SOUZA AFP

But that all came to a halt when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, leaving those who spread the gospel of cricket without a key import: bats.

Enter Francisco, a retired electrician from the local Alcoa aluminum plant, known around Pocos de Caldas as a skilled handyman and ingenious problem solver.

Featherstone looked for him.

“He told me he needed someone to make cricket bats and asked me, ‘Are you up for the challenge?’ “says Francisco.

“I told him: ‘I accept!'”

Gumption and YouTube

Francisco had never held a cricket bat in his life.

But he used a combination of YouTube videos, trial and error and common sense to turn the carpentry shop on the porch of his house into Royal Bats, his new business.

From a YouTube video on making cricket bats, he learned that he would have to apply two tons of pressure to the wood to bring it to the correct density.

“There was no machine in Brazil to do that,” says the bespectacled woodworking prodigy, walking around his tidy workshop.

Francisco, the proud owner of Brazil's first cricket bat factory, named his company Royal Bats
Francisco, the proud owner of Brazil’s first cricket bat factory, named his company Royal Bats CARL DE SOUZA AFP

“So I tried different things and ended up inventing one myself.”

He didn’t know what kind of local wood would work best, so he started picking up scraps and branches whenever he came across them.

After months of trial and error, he and Cricket Brasil settled on the pine.

Francisco can now produce a bat in about five hours.

They cost around 100 reais (around $20) each, which is around 70 times less than a premium bat imported from abroad.

As cricket culture continues to spread, Francisco expands its product line.

It also manufactures wickets and foldable cricket chairs.