In a workshop with a stunning view of the mountains of southeastern Brazil, self-taught carpenter Luiz Roberto Francisco is chipping at a piece of pine and turning 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 city of Pocos de Caldas in Minas Gerais state, population 170,000.
Not coincidentally, the leafy spa city is also the headquarters of Cricket Brasil, an organization headed by Matt Featherstone, an English ex-cricketer who has set the ambitious goal of getting 30,000 Brazilians playing 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 Cricket Brasil’s 19 staff have managed to grow the sport exponentially.
There are now more than 5,000 cricketers in Brazil, thanks mainly to the organization’s 63 community youth programs, and the women’s national team have won four of the past five South American championships.
But that all ground to a halt when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, leaving those spreading the gospel of cricket without one key import: bats.
Enter Francisco, a retired electrician at the local Alcoa aluminum plant who is known around Pocos de Caldas as a deft handyman and ingenious problem solver.
Featherstone sought him out.
“He told me he needed someone to make cricket bats, and asked me: ‘Are you up to the challenge?'” Francisco says.
But he used a combination of YouTube videos, trial and error, and sheer gumption to turn the woodworking shop on the porch of his house into Royal Bats, his new company.
From a YouTube video on crafting cricket bats, he learned he would need to apply two tonnes of pressure to the wood to bring it to the right density.
“There was no machine in Brazil to do that,” says the bespectacled woodworking whiz, giving a tour of his tidy shop.