Riding the cricket wave
Sports goods maker SG saw its domestic market surge post economic reforms in 1991, courtesy the cricket frenzy that was gripping the nation
Meerut: The dust of Partition had just settled, and the family that migrated from Pakistan’s Sialkot was rebuilding their lives in Meerut. The year was 1950, and restarting their old business of manufacturing and exporting sporting goods was a priority for the Anand brothers—Dwarkanath and Kedarnath.
Aided by experience, the family business was flourishing again, but with one tiny change. The new focus was on making cricket gear. By the 1980s, their company Sanspareils Greenlands Pvt. Ltd (SG) had expanded into cricket bats and balls, but was still focused mostly on exports.
“We had Indian customers, suppliers who wouldn’t take a no, but our primary focus was exports,” says Trilok Anand, commercial director at SG.
And then, India won the World Cup in 1983. “Cricket was always a blue-eyed boy but as a nation, we were more invested in hockey, even though our performance in the sport had dipped by the ’60s,” he recalls.
The 1983 Prudential World Cup victory took cricket to a whole new level in India, and, since then, it has only gotten better.
And with it, the fortunes of SG, already well-established, rose as well.
“Today, more than 60% of our market is domestic,” says Paras Anand, marketing director of SG and Trilok’s son.
It is indeed a rare enough turnaround as most companies in India went from being domestic to export-oriented after economic reforms of 1991.
“During the 1970s and ’80s, there really was no restriction on exports; it was the import duty that killed you. SG was importing, among other things, English willow,” recalls Anand. According to him, if the willow being imported was within the Rs.1 crore bracket, then there was no duty to be paid on it. “That changed with reforms. We even made a presentation to Montek Singh Ahluwalia who said that we had had our time.”
One of SG’s first brand associations was with cricketer Sunil Gavaskar, that exists even today. The firm’s website proudly declares that Gavaskar’s achievement of scoring 10,000 runs in test cricket in 1987, came off an SG bat. The bat is now marketed as “Sunny Legend”, the company’s most expensive and most sought-after bat.
“The 1983 World Cup, the arrival of Sachin (Tendulkar), the cable boom and Indian Premier League (IPL)—these are the broad stages that have fuelled the growth of cricket in India and two of these —cable and IPL—are a result of the economic reforms of 1991,” says Paras.
The ’90s were also the era when cricketers like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly were emerging as brand ambassadors for multinationals entering India, and cricket became a money-spinner. And at every step of the game’s evolution, SG was there.
A tour of SG’s new factory set up in 2007 is a lesson in the manufacturing of cricket equipment. The ground floor has different rooms for manufacturing balls with one section entirely devoted to cricket bats.
Stacks of willow are lined on one side of the wall, colour coded for quality. Each room is akin to a chapter in the evolution of a cricket bat from a mere block of wood as men saw, align and polish away diligently to craft the perfect bat.
“Every day, we make 500 pairs of pads, 800 pairs of gloves, 1,000 bats and 600 balls—we can’t do more than 600,” says Trilok. The number is restricted because every single step in the creation of the SG cricket ball, which is now used in Test cricket matches, is done by hand, including making of the core.
“Around 2008, we expanded the scope of our operations into shoes, clothing and accessories, with apparel manufacturing following later. Throughout the 1980s, 90s and even the 2000s, we grew rapidly,” says Paras.
But even as the game grew to become a multi-billion dollar industry, some facets of it are changing, feel the Anands. While there is still pride associated with wearing the India cap, money too has become a big motivating factor. “Earlier, players like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid,etc would have made upwards of Rs.40 crore in the later stages of their career. Today, youngsters play four IPL seasons and make that kind of money, without playing even one match for India. You see parents ferrying their children to different camps, investing time, effort, energy, because if even one child makes it, then it’s a very lucrative profession.”
This is the 24th part in a series marking the 25th anniversary of India’s liberalization.