Sangam: Sunil Kumar, an expert batmaker from Uttar Pradesh’s Meerut, is among several master craftsmen lured to Sangam as manufacturers in this south Kashmir town have witnessed a surge in orders ahead of the Cricket World Cup that begins next week.
While sales of bats made from Kashmir willow witness an uptick ahead of every multilateral event organised by the International Cricket Council (ICC), orders this year have been higher as India is hosting the event after a gap of 12 years. “With the Cricket World Cup approaching, the demand for bats has risen so much that we are not able to complete all the orders,” Kumar told PTI.
While more work translates into higher earnings, Kumar is happy that the bats he makes will reach international cricket.
“I am a batmaker with 20 years’ experience. I have made bats for ace cricketers such as Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, KL Rahul, Andre Russell and Dwayne Bravo,” Kumar said.
Fawzul Kabir, the spokesperson for the Cricket Bat Manufacturers’ Association of Kashmir, said the demand for Kashmir willow bats has steadily increased over the past two years after the ICC granted approval for these to be used in international tournaments.
“We have been manufacturing cricket bats for 102 years but didn’t have any national or international recognition till 2021. After getting the ICC’s approval, our bats appeared in different international tournaments and the demand has risen manifold,” Kabir, who manufactures bats under the GR8 Sports brand, said.
Kabir claimed that Kashmir caters to 80 per cent of the global demand for cricket bats.
“With the World Cup around the corner and being hosted by India, the demand has risen manifold. We manufacture around three million bats annually but the demand for this month and the previous one was 15 times higher. We manufactured around three to four million bats in two months that we delivered,” he said.
Kabir claimed that from “zero exports” till 2021, more than 1.85 lakh bats from Kashmir have been exported to various countries.
“We are giving the world a better alternative in the form of Kashmir willow, that too at a cheaper price. Quality-wise also, if you see our bat, the biggest six in the (T20) World Cup was hit by a player using our bat,” he said, adding at least 17 players will be using his company’s bats during this edition of the World Cup.
Mushtaq Ahmad Sheikh, a worker at a bat manufacturing unit, said the workforce here waits for the World Cup as their wages go up.
“We always wait for the World Cup because our work increases manifold and we get double the wages. We work day and night during these days as this is the source of our livelihood,” he said.
Sheikh said the buyers increase their orders three to four times around the time of the World Cup.
“Those who usually order 1,000 bats ask for 3,000 to 4,000 bats now,” he added.
Omer Alam, a former cricketer from Jammu and Kashmir who played in the Ranji Trophy, said the investment into improving the quality of Kashmir willow bats is now paying dividends.
“The investors are doing a fabulous job. Kashmiri manufacturers are providing bats to youngsters as well as international players,” Alam said.
He feels that Kashmir willow bats are better than those made from English willow because of their durability.
“The Kashmir (willow) bats are much cheaper and they have a longer life. English willow bats are used for one season but Kashmir willow bats last for two to three seasons … We have seen international players playing with these bats and it has got a good scope,” he added.