When the world's batsmen dazzle crowds at this month's cricket World Cup, many will use bats hand-made in India. But lucrative global branding that masks the bats' true makers threatens the country's craftsmen.
In cricket-mad India, family businesses that have supplied the country's leading cricketers for generations face an uncertain future of anonymity as global giants swamp the game with cash in exchange for TV-friendly logos on the big-hitters' bats.
"Buying players with advertising is far cheaper than investing in making bats. We are crafting bats, they are using stickers. They are ruining our brands, because we cannot afford to give that kind of money, those royalties to the players," said Rakesh Mahajan, director of B.D. Mahajan and Sons.
In his dust-filled workshop in the northern Indian city of Meerut, dozens of workers cut, glue, sand and bend hundreds of bats everyday to the exact specifications of international superstars, who rely on their decades-old techniques.
"Sponsorship is no harm, but removing the manufacturer's branding is not fair. We are building the bats, but people are not recognizing us: The sponsors are taking the credit," Mr. Mahajan said.
Sitting in his wood-panelled office, over the sounds of sawing and banging below, Mr. Mahajan proudly shows photos of players using BDM bats. But the pictures are undeniably dated: Former superstars carry the logo, but the current crop have followed the money.
"We have no issue with Gray-Nicolls, or Kookaburra," he said, referring to the long-established U.K.- and Australia-based equipment manufacturers.
"The problem is Nike, Reebok, Adidas, people like Britannia and Hero Honda. They make biscuits and motorbikes, not bats!"
BDM employs 300 people in its two factories in Meerut, 80 kilometres northeast of Delhi, where hundreds of sports companies gather at a major hub in the country's estimated 10-billion rupee (about $218-million) cricket equipment market.
Despite Mr. Mahajan's fear of the commercialization of cricket, which exploded with the launch of the billion-dollar Indian Premier League in 2008 that sent player wages and TV rights skyrocketing, he acknowledges that the globally viewed World Cup is good for business.
Demand is strong, and Mr. Mahajan's sparkling 4x4 on the dusty lane that runs through the industrial area filled with sports manufacturers attests to BDM's 10-to-15 per cent annual growth.
With the World Cup's first match just weeks away, the BDM factory is churning out 1,200 bats a day for its largest ever order, and to meet soaring demands from schools and local authorities. Sacks are stuffed with cricket balls branded with car-maker logos for promotional release during the tournament, which begins Feb 19.
The company produces an average of 150,000 bats and 220,000 balls a year, using willow from England and India's northern Kashmir region. Ten per cent of its products are exported, mainly to the cricket heartlands of the U.K., Australia and Pakistan.
In the factory's reception area, a huge kit bag stuffed full of BDM equipment sits ready to be delivered. The name of Sanath Jayasuriya, Sri Lanka's big-hitting all rounder, is emblazoned across the top in shining silver letters.
"The top players come in and want to feel the wood before we make their bats. They want to test the quality, thickness and the speed that the ball comes off it," said Lalit Verma, factory supervisor. "They know we can give them what they want."
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