Global Implications of the Cricket Bat Industry through New Balance

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08/02/20 Sports Reference this

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Introduction
With hedgerow twigs for bats, sheep-paddock gates for stumps and manure mixed with fabric for balls, the game of cricket was born (Miller, 2016). Commencing in the 16th century in the English farm communities of Kent and Sussex, the dynamics of cricket have largely transcended time, with the objective to score more ‘runs’ than the opposition by striking the ball with a bat in protecting the stumps (Miller, 2016). Despite originating in the Global-North, cricket has surpassed cultural boundaries in connecting with the Global-South, becoming the most popular sport in India (Khan & Chan, 2017). As cricket has revolutionised, so has the development of cricket bat technology. Thus, through an examination of New Balance cricket bats, this analysis will assess the global implications surrounding cricket and cricket bat manufacturing, in connecting beyond the Global-North to peoples and places in India. In exploring the connections between Western and non-Western cultures and its global implications, this paper will utilise key arguments explored by Cook (2004) and Hollander (2003) in uncovering the hidden networks surrounding cricket bat production; as well as Swartz (1997) in examining Bourdieu’s ‘habitus.’ As such, despite positive inroads being made in connecting the Global-North with the Global-South, dark undertones conceal the true realities of this industry.

Conceptualisation of the ‘Cricket Bat’
 

Changes to bowling techniques in the late 1700s prompted changes in bat-shape, morphing the bat from its hockey-stick like shape, into its modern rectangular form (Wark, 2017).

Experimentation with timbers during the 1800s found that the fast-growing English white willow produced the lightest, yet toughest and most durable timber suited to the hard ball (Wark, 2017). The climate friendly conditions in Essex (East Anglia) suited the willow’s growth as England formed a monopoly in bat-making (Roberts, 2010). Large-scale efforts in the 1920s developed the next transformation of bat manufacturing, resulting in the introduction of English willow into India, flourishing in the Northern province of Kashmir producing what’s known as ‘Kashmir willow’ (Wani & Jaiswal, 2011). Due to its fibrous and denser nature in being less-responsive when striking the ball, Kashmir willow is deemed inferior to the English version (Wani & Jaisawal, 2011). Nonetheless, it’s considered the second-best timber in bat-making, whereby the cost advantages of being less-valuable than English willow makes it a popular option (Friel, 2002).

                                            

(Cricket Bat Evolution, n.d.)

India: connecting cricket bat manufacturing beyond the Global-North

Employing over 100,000 individuals and exporting upwards of 2 million cricket bats per-year, cricket manufacturing has become one of India’s chief industries, envisioned below (Ahmad et al., 2014). Since the introduction of willow into India, the production of cricket bats has shifted from England to almost solely manufactured in India, with 90% of cricket bat production concentrated in Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar-Pradesh (Wani & Jaiswal, 2011). With India becoming the world’s largest exporter of cricket bats, this shift in production locales envisages connections between the Global-North and Global-South, linking Indian workers with Western consumers (Wani & Jaiswal, 2011).

(March,2014)

Interestingly, 60% of manufactured bats comprise of Kashmir willow, widespread among Indians and developing countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh, due to its low-cost averaging $15 (Ahmad et al., 2014). Whilst in Western countries, English willow is the sole material used for aspiring cricketers, with over 100,000 ‘clefts’ imported into Indian factories each month, with bats retailing for $250-$1000+ (Roberts, 2010). These differing consumption habits in Western and non-Western cultures reveals the entrenched implications of exclusivity and inequality within this global industry, as developing countries are disadvantaged with inferior materials.

(English Willow clefts, n.d.)

In analysing the trade deeper, I’ve chosen the New Balance cricket bat range. Historically a market dominated by English, Indian and Australian companies, it’s particularly striking that an American shoe corporation has become one of the premier worldwide cricket companies since its introduction in 2013 (Reynolds, 2013). Therefore, through the lens of New Balance, the following sections will explore the connections between cultures in uncovering the global implications of cricket bat manufacturing, through the ideas prompted by Cook (2004) and Hollander (2003), before exploring ‘habitus’ through Swartz (1997).

‘Follow the Thing’ (Cook)

Ian Cook’s (2004: 642) ‘follow the thing’ explores the circulation of commodities in uncovering the cultural, social and physical costs of our consumption. Cook’s (2004: 642) focus ‘follows’ the supply chain of ‘papaya’ from Jamaica to London, in uncovering the ‘invisible’ connections between Western consumers and the unacknowledged ‘strangers’ that produce papaya. Cook’s (2004: 648) study unearths the ‘ugly realities of world trade,’ revealing the exploitative and unequal relations of sufferance experienced by the plantation workers in cultivating papayas. For instance, plantation-packers like Pru, are prone to latex burns as a by-product of handling papaya which burns through gloves and skin resulting in blistered fingertips, forcing workers to take time off (Cook, 2004: 657). As a result, Cook denotes that papayas have ‘more freedom to travel than (Pru) would,’ exposing larger networks of dominance and exploitation surrounding the global inequalities between production and consumption as Pru can’t better her situation, perpetuating the cycle whereby the rich get richer and the poor get poorer (Cook, 2004: 648,659).

Much like papaya consumers, I imagine where my products originate, prompting me to ‘follow’ my New Balance TC 660 cricket bat to expose the lived experiences of this trade by interrogating the networks of production and consumption in disintegrating ‘commodity fetishism’ (Cook, 2004). The success of New Balance has come down to its manufacturing process, outsourcing its production to FC Sondhi’s cricket factory in Jalandhar within Punjab, described as the cricket manufacturing nucleus of India (Lamont, 2010). My New Balance cricket bat is made from 2 raw materials, English willow imported from Essex in forming the bat and Sarawak cane sourced from Malaysia in constructing the handle, with the rubber-grip sourced in India (Shekar, 2015). Whilst New Balance sell Kashmir bats, its predominately used by juniors due to its second-rate quality, with FC Sondhi’s factory holding imported English willow for up-to 24 months. Due to the abundance and popularity of local Indian companies like SS Ton and RNS, New Balance is sold primarily to Western consumers as a premium product (Shekar, 2015). Thus, through New Balance,visible connections can be made between peoples in the Global-South in India; through the cultivation of raw materials (Kashmir willow) and the manufacture of English and Kashmir willow bats; exported into the Global-North for consumption.
 

(FC Sondhi Factory, n.d.)

(New Balance TC 660, n.d.)

(FC Sondhi Factory, n.d.)

In a 2017 YouTube video (Orange Sports), then Australian captain Steve Smith visited FC Sondhi’s factory to investigate the production of his New Balance bat. As a sponsored video, clear bias is portrayed in representing the pristine factory conditions, with Indian workers kitted in protective gear and New Balance attire. However, as Cook (2004) probes, the reality is far from this. In subsequent videos, contrasts in worker conditions are shown, with a distinct lack of protective equipment like ear-muffs, gloves or glasses being used to protect against production hazards (ProDirect Cricket, 2018).

(Orange Sports, 2017)

(ProDirect Cricket, 2018)

As a result, studies of Indian cricket manufacturing factories revealed that over 62% of workers reported long-term hearing difficulties, 58% reported regular headaches from high noise levels and 24% became patients for hypertension due to increased stress (Manzoor et al., 2016). This accumulation of noise from manufacturing coupled with the lack of protective equipment and workplace training, has resulted in the overexposure of noise pollution that’s contributed to physical, emotional and social deterioration of Indian factory workers (Manzoor et al., 2016). This is analogous to the plantation papaya packers suffering latex burns as a result of their limited supply of protective gear, revealing the global inequalities of production in both industries as the enjoyment of my cricket bat has come at the expense of Indian workers’ health. Again, despite being central to production in assembling and packaging the finished product, venturing into a conservative industry has resulted in rampant sexism and discrimination for women (Ashiq, 2019). In unravelling these unequal relations, women consistently work longer hours than men, not allowed to leave until their allocated bats are ready for exportation as a global implication of fulfilling Western consumption demands, similar to Pru regularly working until 1am packing papayas (Cook, 2004: 656; Ashiq, 2019).

(Orange Sports, 2017)

Moreover, New Balance’s successful transition into cricket boils down to low production costs as the infusion of high-quality English willow and cheap Indian labour (Shekar, 2015). Despite my New Balance bat costing upwards of $350, an average month’s wage in the bat manufacturing industry accounts to a measly $100 (Lamont, 2010). This price discrepancy unravels the deceitful circumstances Indian workers are exposed to, as an embodiment of the global inequalities of worker exploitation. By outsourcing production at deplorable rates, wealth situates in the pockets of multinational corporations like New Balance, as the pursuit for profit conceals the dark realities of the trade (Cook, 2004: 648). Thus, scrutinizing the supply chain illuminates the global implications of the bat manufacturing industry through the mistreatment of Indian workers, as their sufferance stems from the minimal protection and remuneration they receive (Jackson, 2016).

‘Re-naturalizing sugar’ (Hollander)

In conceptualising the historical antecedents of sugar production, Hollander (2003: 62,68-70) investigates the impact of ‘supermarket narratives’ as marketing representations in response to consumer concerns, acknowledging consumer power in influencing production. As such, sugar producers use ‘supermarket narratives,’ to recreate the value of their products by offering transparent narratives that appeal to consumer interests, differentiating on ideas of freshness, environmental sustainability, social justice and moral virtue (Hollander, 2003: 60,69). Even a criticised commodity like sugar can ‘re-fashion’ itself in accordance to consumers’ moral anxieties through ‘supermarket narratives’ in creating new ‘cultural landscapes’ mirroring shifts in consumer preference (Hollander, 2003: 60,68-70). This envisions ‘double commodity fetishism’ as the disconnect between production and consumption demonstrated by Cook (2003) is further consolidated with a ‘double’ layer as ethical marketing strategies that are ‘re-naturalising’ sugar are extrapolated to further ‘mask’ production inequalities (Hollander, 2003: 70; Cook, 2004). Whilst displaying moral concern in purchasing decisions toward ‘greener’ options might infer ‘extensions of moral responsibility’ throughout the whole production process, Cook (2004: 648) and Hollander (2003: 60) assert that this isn’t true, as ‘hidden spaces’ reveal the ‘ugly realities of world trade.’
 

Whilst Hollander (2003: 60) reveals moralistic measures in ‘re-naturalising’ sugar on environmental sustainability, these ‘supermarket narratives’ and historical antecedents of production are inversed for cricket bat manufacturing, as gradually advancing disconnection between production and consumption. Historically, all cricket bats were meticulously hand-crafted by skilled artisans, as a consumer’s purchasing decision revolved around the sourced location of English willow and the artesian who hand-crafted the bat (Thomas, 2017). Thus, traditional ‘supermarket narratives’ reflected consumer preferences around geographical knowledges and the ability to form relationships with bat-makers, reflecting the power of consumers in driving production processes, similar to consumer concerns in dissolving sugar’s slavery connections (Hollander, 2003: 69-70). In appreciating the investment of labour, the production process surrounding bat craftsmanship was transparent, connecting producers with consumers in dissembling ‘commodity fetishism.’

However, the cheapness of Indian labour replaced skilled artisans with mass-homogenised production (Henderson, 2014). This contributed to the achievements of New Balance, as cricket brands shifted from in-house production to outsourced work, whacking its stickers on bats as a ‘wallpaper’ for its brand, reigniting ‘commodity fetishism’ through the disconnect between production changes and consumption (Reynolds, 2013). Consumers became less shrewd about how or where their bat was sourced and more-so devoted to the brands promoted by their favourite players, with New Balance initiating high-profile sponsorships with former Australian captain Steve Smith, English captain Joe Root and New Zealand’s Trent Boult. As such, narratives of production and consumption shifted, ‘re-naturalising’ cricket bats from high-tech individualised products into brand-oriented labels (Jackson, 2016). As a result, New Balance have been described as ‘ruining the industry’ paying excessive amounts to sign International players (e.g. $800,000 per-year for Joe Root) which smaller Indian factories can’t afford, resulting in many Indian manufacturers being forced out of business as a global implication of the trade (Shekar, 2015).

(Orange Sports, 2017)

(Joe Root Sponsorship, 2015)

Whilst ‘sugar’ was re-fashioned with more ‘greener’ locales, ‘supermarket narratives’ re-fashioned New Balance bats on emulating your favourite stars, as marketing strategies projected images of International players using New Balance. If a New Balance bat was apt for professional athletes, consumers perceived this fantasy as being ‘ethical’ enough for their consumption. Thus, in shifting ‘supermarket narratives’ from craftsmanship toward linkages with high-profile players, New Balance lured our attention away from the exploitative networks of production, evidencing ‘double commodity fetishism’ that’s driving the import-heavy industry. As such, through the power of consumers in ‘scrutinizing’ the supply chain, ‘supermarket narratives’ must re-fashion cricket bats back to its historical antecedents, dismantling ‘double commodity fetishism’ by appreciating the labour that goes into production (Cook, 2004; Hollander, 2003).

‘Habitus’ (Swartz)

Swartz (1997: 101-2) formulates Bourdieu’s ‘habitus’ as capturing the unconscious ‘internalised dispositions’ manifested in one’s demeanour as a lens through which individuals perceive their surroundings. The purpose of habitus is to interrogate the individual/society dualism, whereby the body doesn’t sit in ‘opposition to society’ but forms part of its existence, as mutual ‘dimensions of the same reality’ (Swartz, 1997: 86,96-7). Thus, habitus is consequential on ‘class-specific experiences of socialisation’ that are intergenerationally reproduced, as the internalisation of ‘aspirations or expectations’ corresponding to objective ‘probabilities of success or failure’ shared with individuals of the same class (Swartz, 1997: 102,105). As such, habitus demonstrates how structural advantages or disadvantages of class hierarchies are ‘embodied’ into durable dispositions, as a product of one’s class opportunities (Swartz, 1997: 104-6). Thus, habitus reveals how one’s ingrained skills, dispositions, habits and ‘aesthetic tastes’ for cultural objects are formed by one’s societal position, as a class-specific manner of characterising the body (Swartz, 1997: 109).

Whilst the working-class favour physical sports like Rugby, cricket attracts higher-status participants forming the middle and upper-classes, reflecting the notion that one’s habitus affects their dispositions towards a sport (Ward, 2009). To excel in cricket, you need intuition and strategic-thinking as a ‘feel for the game;’ a ‘gut feeling’ of how to instinctively react when the ball is bowled (Swartz, 1997: 113-4). Developing these bodily movements becomes embedded during socialisation, as those in middle to upper-classes are exposed and trained to appreciate cricket from an early-age as the particular skills and dispositions become ‘second nature.’ For me, the passion for cricket has been passed-down generationally, with my father and grandfather excelling professionally. Holding a cricket bat has felt inherently natural, a ‘visceral’ reaction; as my leanings towards cricket have been ingrained since birth, forming my habitus.


 

Whilst cricket aims to dismantle barriers, class differences established in its histories as a ‘gentlemen’s game’ still mirror the privileged lifestyles of the cultural elite (Pope, 2015). Thus, cricket preserves its exclusivity through the prohibitive capital needed to participate and master cricket, reflective of higher socioeconomic classes (Stone, 2008). This is envisioned through the fees and time associated with organised sport and the exorbitant cost of protective gear (pads, gloves, helmet) and cricket bats, with New Balance junior bats costing upwards of $350, with senior bats reaching $1000. As a premium product sponsored by International stars, New Balance bats hold status as a popularised cultural icon of the dominant class, a signifier of ‘good taste’ that forms the habitus (Swartz, 1997: 109). Owning New Balance is an indicator of one’s social position, a ‘cultural sign of membership’ to the dominant class, envisioning a sense of prestige and power (Greig, Lewins & White, 2003).  Moreover, access to elite cricket membership clubs that provide coaching and playing-fields often rest on whether other family members have previously held membership, as a mode of cultural reproduction of the dominant class (Tomlinson, 2004). Similarly, aspiring cricketers in India must join a ‘Gymkhana’ to access cricketing resources, catered toward the wealth of Indian upper-classes. This uncovers the deeply-entrenched relationship between one’s social class and their disposition towards a sport in forming one’s habitus, as those who play cricket do so out of the class conditions that support them (Swartz, 1997: 108-9). Whilst other classes aren’t provided the same luxuries, this doesn’t mean they can’t play just that their propensity to is reduced, as one’s habitus isn’t ‘fixed’ but adaptable (Swartz, 1997: 110-12).

Conclusion

 

Throughout this analysis, I’ve explored the global implications within the cricket industry, in connecting the manufacturing of cricket bats in the Global-South (India), toward consumption in the Global-North (England, Australia and New Zealand). Through the lens of New Balance, I’ve investigated the connections between cultures and relationships between production and consumption through an evaluation of the ideas driven by Cook (2004), Hollander (2003) and Swartz (1997). Thus, whilst cricket’s a well-regarded sport, the global implications of the industry reveal dark realities that perpetuate inequality, exploitation and exclusion.

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