SRINAGAR: Kashmir willow bat has after a century gained international recognition as the number of cricket-playing nations picking up bats from the Valley has risen significantly. This year the Kashmir willow bat will debut in the One Day International (ODI) World Cup.
Players of six international teams, West Indies, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Oman and UAE, who would be competing in the 50-over cricket world cup (including qualifiers) to be played in India later this year, would be playing with the Kashmir willow bat.
GR8 Sports, a local company in the Halmula- Sangam area of Anantnag, has helped change the fate of the cricket bat industry in the Kashmir Valley.
“Kashmir has been making bats for over 100 years but it was hardly marketed to international customers until now. Companies used to buy Kashmir willow bats without labels and branded them as their own on before selling,” Fawzul, Fawzul Kabir, owner of GR8, said.
The Kashmir bat, according to Fawzul, is lighter, has more power and is much cheaper than English willow. In order to reach here, he had to sell 26 kanals of land and other assets to bring Kashmir willow bats at par with international standards.
The Kashmir willow bat came into the limelight after UAE player Junaid Siddique hit the longest six (109 meters) of the 2022 T20 World Cup from Kashmir (GR8) bat against Sri Lanka.
“The longest six also gave a kick to sales of Kashmir bats. I began to receive emails from different parts of the world showing interest in buying our bat,” Fawzul said.
From no exports till 2020, over 35,000 bats were exported in 2021. Around 1.25 lakh Kashmir willow bats were exported to different countries last year, he added.
There are about 400 cricket-bat-producing units in Kashmir.
Mohammad Naseem Khushi of Oman was the first player to use a GR8 bat. It was for the first time that a Kashmir willow bat with local label and branding was used in world cricket.
Four players from Oman played with GR8 bat in the 2021 T20 world cup. In the pre-qualifying stage of the 2022 T20 world cup, four players from Oman and six from UAE played with the Kashmir willow bat.
Now countries including Bangladesh, Gulf countries, Sri Lanka, Australia, Canada, the United States, New Zealand, South Africa, Denmark, the United Kingdom and Ireland are importing Kashmir bats.
At least 23 cricketers from six cricket-playing nations are using the GR8 bat. Among them three are from West Indies, two each from Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, four from Afghanistan, six from UAE and seven from Oman.