A new dawn for Kashmir cricket bats industry after its international debut

When Abdul Kabir sold his farmland to set up a cricket bat factory in Kashmir’s Anantnag district some 50 years ago, many wondered if he had been stupid in taking a such bet. Many tribulations later, his son Fawzul, now spokesman for the Cricket Bat Manufacturing Association of Kashmir, may have brought about a new dawn for the Kashmir willow tree by giving it an international first at a World Cup.

The Kabirs are one of many Kashmiri people who have staked their economic future on the demand for cricket bats over the past 75 years. More than 400 factories in the state are now involved in the business, employing around 30,000 people and having an annual turnover of around Rs 70 crore.

But so far, only one company – “GR8 Sports”, owned by the Kabirs – has been able to send its racquets to the international market.

Misbah ul Haq with the GR8 bat at the Legends Cricket League.

“It is our historic achievement that Kashmir willow has now appeared on the international stage. After the T20 World Cup last year, our Kashmir willow has also been seen in the national league of Oman and then in the Legends Cricket League,” the 29-year-old said. said old Fawzul Kabir to The Bridge.

Considered for years to be vastly inferior to the wood of the English willow – which still holds a virtual monopoly over the global cricket bat industry – Kashmir willow has recently made a significant inroad into international cricket. Oman batsmen Bilal Khan and Naseem Khushi used Kashmiri bats in the T20 World Cup. Misbah ul Haq had a few quick runs with him at the Legends Cricket League last month.

“It has been a long eight-year struggle to bring our products to the international market. Previously, there was no response and international cricketers would not even look at our product. Before the T20 World Cup, I I finally managed to interact with the Oman Cricket Council,” said Kabir.

Naseem Khushi of Oman gives Kashmir willow his World Cup debut

“Now there has been a sudden increase in orders for Kashmir bats from several countries and it is becoming difficult to keep up with the demand. We are working day and night to make as many bats as possible. has orders from New Zealand, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Denmark, Scotland. This is the new dawn that we have been waiting for for decades,” he said.

He also added that some Pakistani international cricketers had approached them for bats but they could not afford to have Indian international cricketers on their rosters due to the sponsorship money they would require.

Change of fortune for Kashmir cricket bat industry

The surge in demand for Kashmir willow bats comes immediately after a period of crisis for the industry. Over the past four years, twenty-five business units of bat manufacturing industries in Halmulla and Sangam areas of Bijbehara belt have closed due to lack of demand.

A glimmer of hope shone last year when the Indian government said a geographical indication (GI) label would be given to Kashmir willow. Around the same time, GR8 Sports succeeded in doing what they had been trying for years – they got international buyers for their products.

Having supplied their products to various parts of India for years, their main income came from sending raw materials to companies in other states – particularly based in Jalandhar – who would use their label and market them to India. international. The Kashmiri willow bat was mainly used by local Kashmiri cricketers only.

But with the entry into international cricket, the fate of the Kashmiri willow bat industry is believed to have changed. The surge in demand has encouraged many others to set up new bat-making units, even in places where it has never been a tradition.

In Srinagar, the state capital, where there were only two bat factories a year ago, Bashir Ahmed Lone, 45, is among those who have jumped on the bandwagon.

25 bat factories in Halmulla and Sangam have closed in the last 4 years but there has been a revival since last year’s World Cup.

“My factory has supplied hundreds and thousands of bats to Jammu, and later they are taken to other Indian states,” he told The Bridge.

“Srinagar may be known as the business hub of the state but there were only 2 bat factories here till few days ago. Now people are getting into this business with renewed interest. If the same demand persists, Kashmir’s economy will get a big boost,” he added.

‘No difference between English willow and Kashmiri willow’

Technical innovations have also been made to the traditional Kashmiri bat in recent years. Long considered good only for tennis ball cricket and amateur cricket, its promotion to the international stage also happened because the owners of ‘GR8 Sports’ decided they were tired of the ordeal of not finding no takers for their products and hired experts who knew what Kashmiri bats lacked.

Ravi Tiger, 37, an expert who has years of experience in bat making, having made bats for international players like Mahela Jaywardane, said bat makers in Kashmir don’t didn’t have enough knowledge about trading before.

“I have been with GR8 Sports, a leading bat manufacturing industry based in Kashmir, for two years. I think I have finally managed to dispel the idea that there is a quality difference between the Kashmir willow and English willow,” he told The Bridge. .

Claiming that the only difference between bats made in England and those made in Kashmir was in the craftsmanship, he said: “Previously the local bat makers worked on habit, making bats for tennis balls. When the GR8 bat company hired me, we produced a new brand in the world, thanks to which the Kashmir willow tree gained international recognition.”

Ravi Tiger says that there is no difference in nature between the Kashmiri willow and the English willow, contrary to popular belief.

While the Kashmiri Willow’s rise to prominence in international cricket is welcome, the man behind it – Fawzul Kabir – himself recognizes that there is also a danger. The sudden surge of bat factories in Kashmir has also resulted in the indiscriminate felling of willows, which in turn poses a threat to the future of the industry.

He said: “If deforestation continues at this rate, there will be no bat industry in Kashmir in 10 years. The trees are cut down in large numbers and no one is going to replant them. We approached the government and they assured us that they would undertake a replanting campaign. »

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