Willow woes wind up ‘magic bat’ industry

Cover Drive

Senior ODI Player
Aug 12, 2009
Came across this so I thought I'd share it with you guys.

THE news does not augur well for sports lovers. Jalandhar sports industry, which gave Sachin Tendulkar the 'magic bat' to become the highest runs' scorer in one-day international cricket, is on the brink of closure.

A drop in supply of mulberry and willow wood has hit local sports goods industry. Incidentally, these two types of wood have made Pakistan a top exporter of sports goods.

Kashmir willow and mulberry wood have been the backbone of the sports industry at Jalandhar since 1948, when the industry shifted base from Sialkot (now in Pakistan) to Jalandhar after partition. Everything went well and the industry flourished till 1988 when the Jammu and Kashmir Government imposed a ban on the export of willow to other states.

Another blow to the industry came as a result of the dwindling of mulberry trees in Punjab and Himachal Pradesh during the past one decade. In the absence of any concerted effort on government's part to save the industry, the situation has come to such a pass that more than 50 per cent of the manufacturing units have closed down in the past ten years, while the remaining are surviving at the mercy of either smugglers or middlemen. These middlemen charge exorbitant rates for the supply of willow and mulberry wood, rendering the trade uneconomical.

In a fairly recent development, the majority of cricket bat manufacturing units here have partially 'shifted' their manufacturing base to Jammu and Kashmir. They have worked out a profit-sharing arrangement with J&K firms, according to which skilled workers from Jalandhar use infrastructure of J&K units to manufacture bats. Subsequently, the bats are shown as 'sold' to a Jalandhar-based firm by a J&K firm.

The 'shifting' arrangement does not work well for all. Many skilled workers have been rendered jobless in the process. They have been forced to opt for jobs which are much less paying and which do not make use of their special skills. "Not all workers can shift base to J&K. For them, there's no option but to call it quits," said a worker, adding that he himself was out of job for a long time due to this 'shifting'.

"There has hardly been any supply of Kashmir willow in Punjab during the past six months and 70 per cent of the units have either closed down or migrated to J&K. The remaining units are engaged in exports and are being allowed to import willow from the valley under the quota system. The domestic cricket bat industry is on its last legs," rued Mr Ravinder Dhir, president of Sports Forum, a group of sports goods manufacturing units. He added that all this had far-reaching ramifications, including unemployment and considerable revenue loss to the state.

Sports goods manufacturers maintained that in spite of being aware that the industry was in doldrums, nothing had been done either by the State or the Central Government to save it. Mr Dhir said that though four years back, the then-chief minister had assured them of restoration of willow supply, nothing had been done till date.

Mr Ramesh Kohli, owner of Beat All Sports, a local firm that supplies 'magic bat' to Sachin Tendulkar, termed the ban as anti-constitutional. "How can states ban inter-state movement of raw material? Following the footsteps of the J&K Government, the Andaman and Nicobar Administration imposed a ban on the sale of cane that is used to manufacture handle of cricket bat. Now we are importing 12-foot-long cane from Singapore. The Central Government should formulate a uniform policy to save the industry, which is facing stiff competition from China and Pakistan," Mr Kohli said, adding that a bat manufactured using Kashmir willow cost much less than that manufactured using English willow. "Amateur cricket players have been worst hit by the ban, as they can no longer buy a bat to suit their pocket," he remarked.

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