New Delhi: How to make the best cricket bat?
To answer that question, only this cricket-mad nation would call upon engineers at the Indian Institutes of Technology and a fleet of defence scientists.
In an initiative believed to be the first of its kind, Indian researchers from the elite IITs and defence research laboratories are among those being consulted to make better cricket bats and other athletic equipment, such as basketballs, hockey sticks and soccer balls.
The Technology, Information and Assessment Council, which falls under the department of science and technology, has identified 12 academic and research institutions, including the IITs at Kharagpur, Kanpur and Delhi, as scientific hubs where modern sports goods manufacturing technologies can be developed.
The endeavour is part of an effort to boost India’s sporting goods exports, which currently account for just 0.6% of the $18.4 billion (Rs21,328 crore) global industry. Pakistan, by comparison, makes up 1.6% of that number.
Still, India’s sports goods exports have more than doubled from Rs 250 crore in 2001-02 to in excess of Rs 500 crore today.
The council has tied up with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization and selected the Jalandhar-based Dr B.R. Ambedkar National Institute of Technology to spearhead the study of gaps in the sector.
Researchers will conduct various polymer-, composite- and wood-based tests. The National Institute of Technology plans to start contacting the institutes later this month or next. Contacted on Monday by Mint, A.K. Ghosh, head of the Centre for Polymer Science and Engineering at IIT, Delhi, one of the research hubs on the council’s list, said he hadn’t heard of the project. NIT said it will first gather information in Jalandhar, Punjab, one of India’s sports equipment hubs.
The industry concedes its method of making equipment is outdated. Still, exporters say they don’t know if scientists — even from IITs — will understand the working conditions of Jalandhar and Meerut, the other sports manufacturing hub in Uttar Pradesh.
“We don’t want theories,” says Ajay Mahajan, secretary of the Sports Goods Manufacturers and Exporters Association in Jalandhar, which represents 50 exporters. “We want practical solutions.”
NIT director Moin Uddin is confident the brains from his institute and elsewhere will create much-needed innvovations in the industry. “They also provide consultancy services to various sectors of industry, and can translate academic knowledge into information that sports goods manufacturers can use,” he says.
Uddin insists the exercise will involve more than just publishing scientific papers; “real research work will be done,” he says.
P.K. Chatley, NIT’s dean of research and industrial liaison, says the intent is to identify why Indian manufacturers lag behind and find solutions.
One major concern, however, is the willingness of manufacturers to invest in new technologies. Mahajan says if data make economic sense, investment in the sector may follow.
But one government official says the manufacturing sector suffers from a laidback attitude. Says ministry joint secretary Anil Mukim, who is also the chairman of the government-backed Sports Goods Exports Promotion Council: “Current entrepreneurs are a contented lot as their hands are already full.”
Mukim says new entrepreneurs with strong financial backing should be encouraged to set up projects. It is a sector with a lot of potential, he adds.
Vikas Jain of the Jalandhar-based Sports Forum, an association of 350 sports-goods manufacturers, hopes things will look up in six months, after the study is complete: “Let’s hope something good comes of it.”