Bat manufacturing units in this south Kashmir town are banking on a good performance by the Indian cricket team in the upcoming World Cup to make up for the losses they have suffered during the violent protests that rocked the valley last year.
Abdul Majeed Dar, the president of the Cricket Bat Manufacturers' Association, said if the Indian team has a successful World Cup, the demands for the bats made here is likely to go up.
"If the Indian team does well, we will be happier as it would set off some of the losses we have suffered during the last year's protests in the valley," Dar said.
Tourists, most of whom take a cricket back home as a souvenir or for the love of the game, fled the valley overnight following widespread protests during the summer of 2010 due to the violent protests against the armed forces here.
At least 15,000 skilled and unskilled workers at the bat manufacturing units here are now hoping that the Indian team makes it to the title round of the event beginning February 19.
Some of these workers may have taken part during the last summer's valley-wide protests but now the considerations are purely financial as the progress of the national cricket team at the quadrennial event, which is hosted jointly by India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, directly affects their business.
"We hope that India makes it at least to the final of the world cup as it generally further heightens the cricket fever across the country," Mohammad Amin, owner of the many bat manufacturing units dotting the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway, told PTI.
Amin said the business for the bat manufacturers, who are fighting the odds to keep the trade going, was good following the excellent show in the 2003 World Cup when Saurav Ganguly led the team to the final before losing to Australia.
"We saw an increase of at least 2.5 times after the 2003 World Cup with order and enquiries pouring in from smaller cities of the country," he added.
Ghulam Mohiuddin, a worker in a nearby bat manufacturing unit, said if the demand for bats increases, it ensures that they get work throughout the year.
"When the demand is low, we get to make bats for five to six months in a year but if the demand increases, we will have year long work," he said.
Mohiuddin said during lean periods, he works odd jobs to sustain his family.
"I generally go with my neighbour, who is a carpenter but there is hardly any construction work going on in the winter season," he added.
The cricket bat sector in the Kashmir Valley has more than 200 units, both registered and unregistered, with a collective turnover of over Rs 10 crore per year and employees nearly 15,000 skilled and unskilled labourers.
Dar said the popularity of cricket has been on the rise since the 1983 World Cup win for India, the introduction of Indian Premier League (IPL) has also helped to sustain the largely unorganised willow industry in the valley.
"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," Dar said.
He 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 most 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.
The bat manufacturers also have other 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 ply-board peeling units in the Valley has also led to a decline in the growing of willow trees, considered the 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.