The 45-minute trip from Jashore city to Narendrapur union would feel uneventful – narrow streets, same roadside trees and paddy fields and water bodies at places. But once in Mistripara or Mohajerpara villages – on the bank of the River Bhairab, one would be surprised to see almost every house there is into making cricket bats, stumps and other sports items.
Household members are always found working in their family workshops, making sports equipment.
At this point, the trip turns out to be promising, with the cottage factories welcoming you to the "cricket bat villages of Bangladesh".
Around 500 people of these two villages, many of whom were farmers once, are now making cricket bats on semi-automatic machines and manual light instruments. According to the bat-makers, 23 small factories manufacture cricket bats round the year, while 25-30 more small-scale production units join them during "cricket fever" seasons – whenever any major tournament is taking place worldwide.
More than 70 other factories have mushroomed in adjacent Balrampur and Rudrapur villages.
All these family-owned workshops together produce 5 lakh cricket bats annually, with an annual turnover of Tk30-40 crore.
In the cluster, those who are workers today will soon set up their own factories at their homes after learning the work. Their stories are an evolution to an amazing worker-to-artisan-to-entrepreneur pattern – earning them a name for bat-making as their main profession.
The beginning of the bat-making tale dates back to 1986, when one Sanjeeb Majumder, after returning from Kolkata, started making the cricket accessory at his family workshop in the village. Sanjeeb had only seen Indian artisans making the cricket bat, but he neither had any training nor institutional skills to emulate them.
He sold the bats at the local Rupdia bazar, encouraging others to step into the new-found sports venture. And the endeavour proved successful.
Take the example of Ratan Majumder and Ripon Majumder, who launched the cottage business around two decades ago with only Tk20,000 as capital. The Majumder brothers now have more than Tk2 crore in annual turnover. They have built duplex houses and purchased land.
"Due to extreme poverty, I had to leave school after the 8th grade. Then I started carpentry work with my father to help him make ends meet. But at present, my family is not in poverty," Ripon Majumder, who now employs 15 workers alone, told The Business Standard.
The Majumder brothers once produced no more than 1,000 bats a year owing to sales-related concerns. But they now make more than 30,000 bats as they estimate that demand will double in the next five years.
"In this business, an investment of Tk10 lakh usually yields more than Tk5 lakh in profit," said Shariful Islam, another bat-maker of Narendrapur who has sold 20,000 bats for a total of Tk22 lakh in the past six months.
Shariful – who once was a farmer and started his business in 2020 – sells the bats at prices beginning at the lowest of Tk20 to the highest of Tk250 each.
The entrepreneurs said they buy neem, hybrid neem, jiban, puyo, pitel, kadam, debdaru, chatian or pithegara timers for bat-making. They also need glue, paints and stickers for finishing. The instruments and machines include electric saw, manual file, wood writer, manual planer and hammer.
Apart from the males, their wives and children also work at the factories. They usually do the finishing and packaging.
Female worker Tanu Majumder told TBS that she earns Tk300-350 a day by putting stickers on bats in her free time.
However, the cluster, like other industries, sustained a blow during the pandemic-led closures.
Abu Bakr, one of the factory owners, said around 20 small factories were shut during the pandemic.
As key challenges for the entrepreneurs, he noted inadequate access to bank borrowing and remote and fragile transportation.
Prof Md Masudur Rahman, chairperson of the SME Foundation, said the foundation had disbursed Tk5 crore loan to bat-making clusters in Jashore and Pirojpur to offset the Covid fallout.
"We will ask the banks to provide the entrepreneurs with low-cost loans. Besides, we will provide advanced technology and more technical training to them."
The SME Foundation chairman said the foundation wants to brand and familiarise Narendrapur as a world class cricket bat manufacturing hub.