The success of Indian Premier League (IPL), where the franchise owners splashed millions of dollars to acquire their favourite players this weekend, is having a positive effect on the cricket bat manufacturing industry in Kashmir as well.
As the IPL bandwagon spread to two more cities -- Pune and Kochi -- in the fourth edition, the manufacturers are hopeful that the league's expansion will translate into more orders for cricket bats this winter.
The cricket bat sector in Kashmir Valley has more than 200 units, both registered and unregistered, with a collective turnover of over Rs 10 crore per year.
"The IPL has been a huge bonanza for our sector as the number of bats sold since the inception of the league has gone up. We are expecting more orders from cities like Pune and Kochi this year as these cities will be featuring also," Abdul Majeed Dar, the president of the cricket bat manufacturers' association, told PTI.
Dar said over the past three years, the bat manufacturers have expanded their dealings directly to cities like Kolkata, Hyderabad and Jaipur.
"Cricket is undoubtedly the number one followed sport in every city and town of India but our business dealings were mostly restricted to big cities like Delhi, Mumbai and to some extent Bangalore. Now we have enquiries from other areas like Baroda and Indore as well," he said.
Feroze Ahmad, who has a bat manufacturing unit in this highway town, 40 kms from Srinagar, said although the first three months of the year were generally low on sales as the students across the country were busy with annual examinations, the IPL has changed that.
"Since the IPL is held in the months of March, April and May, the dealers from across the country place advance orders so that they can cash on the popularity of cricket following the conclusion of the event, which coincides with school holidays," Ahmad said.
While the things look rosy for the bat manufacturing units, which provide direct and indirect employment to nearly 15,000 people in the Valley, they have many worries to take care of. Smuggling of clefts, the raw material for bats, and dwindling plantation of willow trees are just two of these.
"Thousands of clefts are illegally smuggled to some cities in neighbouring Punjab even after the state government imposed a ban on the practice. This has caused a major dent in our earnings as the processing units have better seasoning facilities at their disposal in Punjab which results in a better product," Dar said.
He said the state government has installed a seasoning unit in Sangam area, where most of the units are located, but it has not been made functional yet.
The mushrooming of plyboard peeling units in the Valley has also led to decline in growing of willow trees, considered best after English willow.
"The Poplars grow faster and bring better returns to the farmers from the peeling units. The farmers are now focusing on growing the Poplars only," Dar said.
With demand for bats rising every year and the supply of raw material dropping sharply, the cricket bats are going to be expensive in coming years, he said.