Video Producer: Maaz Hasan
Video Editor: Prajjwal Kumar
"We are making a debut in the One-Day International World Cup. This is a matter of great joy for all of us," Fawzul Kabir told us when we met him at his cricket bat factory, Gr8 Sports India Pvt Ltd, in south Kashmir's Anantnag district.
Kashmir willow bats have been manufactured in the valley for over a century. Still, the 2023 ODI World Cup has got to be a special event for the cricket bat industry as players of three teams - Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are playing with bats made in the Fawzul Kabir's factory.
Cricket is a religion in India, and since the ODI World Cup event has returned to India after 12 years, the sport has seen a massive craze among the fans. This has given a significant boost to the industry.
"Our sales have improved due to the tournament. Earlier, we just used to sell cricket bats. With the rise in demand, we provide other cricket equipment, too."Sarfaraz, MS Sports PVT LTD
'Kashmir Willow vs English Willow'
The year 2023 is also special for Kashmir's bat manufacturing industry, mainly located in Anantnag and Pulwama, as it will compete with English willow bats, which are more popular among international cricketers, at the ICC tournaments.
While sanding a bat's surface, Sunil Kumar, a craftsman, optimistically tells us, "There is no difference between Kashmir and English willow. These bats have a lot of strength in them. Kashmir willow bats give tough competition to English willow. I would say these bats are better than the English willow bats."
Manufacturing bats is a lengthy process, and it takes over a year to get a bat made out of a special kind of willow that's grown in Kashmir.
"After the tree is cut and willow is extracted, it is dried for around a year and a half. Then, the dried willow is smoothed and sent to the mill to cut into a specific size from which the bat is made. In the end, it is rubbed with the machine, after which the bat is ready."Mohammad Shahid, Craftsman
In the last decade, the Kashmir bat industry has soared to a revenue of Rs 300 cr, giving employment to over a lakh local Kashmiris and migrants from UP, Bihar, Jharkhand etc.
"Earlier, we used to make normal bats that could be used to play with soft or hard tennis balls. Slowly, we got exposure. We have improved over the years. In the last five years, with a rise in interest in this sport in Kashmir, we started observing professional cricketers and used their cricket bat profiles (designs) to sell the bats in the market."Sarfaraz, MS Sports PVT LTD
Irfan who works for New Sealand Sports PVT LTD informed us that they are selling bats in several other states - Goa, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.
'Facing Job Losses'
There are around 400 bat factories along the highway in south Kashmir, and over the years, the demand for bats has increased manifold, but there has been a significant shortage of willow.
"We have been cutting trees and making bats out of them for over a century. We never anticipated a day when the willow might face extinction. Now, we find ourselves at an exceptionally high demand, and the supply has reduced to almost 70%."Fawzul Kabir, Gr8 Sports India Pvt Ltd
Bat manufacturers feel that their efforts of planting trees wouldn't be sufficient to cater to the demands of the growing industry, and it would need the government's help for sustenance.
"The initiative should have come from the government. There are government lands, wetlands, riverbanks, and other government-owned areas where trees can be planted. If the government doesn't plant 100,000 trees annually in a sustainable drive. We would all be jobless in the next five years," said Kabir.
(All 'My Report' branded stories are submitted by citizen journalists to The Quint. Though The Quint inquires into the claims/allegations from all parties before publishing, the report and the views expressed above are the citizen journalist's own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for the same.)