The cricket bat industry in Jalandhar and Meerut is bracing for a crisis as the recent floods in Jammu and Kashmir have washed away Kashmir willow, worth crores, used for making bats.
The industry is not only predicting a shortage of raw wood in the coming days, but a steep increase in price, which will hit Ranji, under-19 and budding cricketers. Established players may not be affected as most use bats made of imported English willow, which are far too expensive for the local players who prefer staffs made from Kashmiri wood.
"We have information that whatever willow they had in their yards has either been swept away or damaged by the flood waters. It is bad news for the industry," Paras Anand, director of marketing at SG, a Meerut-based bat manufacturer, told HT.
"Our Kashmiri suppliers are not disclosing the extent of damage but if the inputs we are getting here are right, acute shortage is round the corner," added Anand.
The willow trees grow best around the Jhelum River but production hubs like Pulwama, Bijbehara, Baramulla, Sangam, Charsu are still submerged. More than 80% of bat-makers in Jalandhar and Meerut depend on J&K for raw material.
Industry sources said J-K produces more than 25 lakh ready-to-play and raw (cut piece without handle) willow bats. The industry has a turnover of over Rs 100 crore and provides livelihood to around 50,000 people.
"Huge amounts of raw wood (cut pieces to make bats) have been swept away by the flood. Even if you cut new pieces, there would be spots in them because of the moisture," said Rakesh Mahajan, MD, BDM.
"Once moisture gets in the wood, there will be a black spot on them and you won't have the required finish," he added.
"Not only the willow, the cutting machines are under water too, and according to information we are getting here, majority of them could be damaged beyond repair. They will need decent money to install new ones, so naturally, the cost of bats will go up," said Manish Mahajan, managing director of a Jalandhar-based bat manufacturer.
"Bats made of good quality Kashmir willow start from Rs 3,000 while English willow bats start from Rs 5,000. Budding cricketers can't afford English willow bats, so, the Kashmir willow bats are very popular. Besides, they earn huge export revenue for India," said Anand.