When Parvez Rasool made debut for India in 2014, it was like a resurrection of a state which has always been in the news for all the wrong reasons. It was like that soccer player who has sat in the reserve bench through out the season and all of a sudden getting a chance in the playing eleven. However, the contribution of Kashmir in Indian cricket is more deep rooted and has a long tradition which is worth exploring.
Trivia – The quality of a willow bat depends on the grains of the willow. The premium bats made of English willow have at least 8 – 15 grains, with no knots and the grains will look like they have been embossed in the bat. The international cricketers uses these bats.
We were on our way to Pahalgam from Srinagar. In Srinagar – Jammu highway, after crossing the saffron fields, there comes a stretch of the road where hundreds and hundreds of willow bats are stacked along with their manufacturing units and shops. As the tour had been planned in 3 days, I could do little in terms of homework. However, I had read somewhere there is a cricket bat manufacturing hub in Kashmir for the abundance supply of the Kashmiri willow. And this was the place.
We stopped at one of the stores and met the owner – Abdul Qayuum. He was more than happy to take us around the workshop. It was flooded with pictures of cricket players and Shahid Afridi in particular. Kashmir willow is second best in the world after the English willow. Like the bakeries in the valley, the bat manufacturing from the willows was introduced by the British here. With nearly 10000 people working here, this is the third largest industry in the state after horticulture and tourism. Abdul manufactures 30000-40000 willow bats a year. The handle of the willow bat made from cane comes from Singapore or Kerala. There are several stages and lot of hard work involved in making the bat and we experienced the stages.
Trivia – Its not only cricket field where the bats have been used. During Gujrat elections, the Kashmir bat manufacturers received orders worth1 Lakh bats which were little larger in size with Swami Vivekananda stickers on them. When they manufactured, they did not know the purpose or the usage of those bats since the order was placed by a regular client.
From the logs of Kashmir willow, firstly the bats are sliced to give the basic bat shaped template. The clefts are then kept in such a way that considerable amount of volume and water is lost. Amount of moisture content is a key factor in the quality of the willow and hence the quality of the bat. The clefts are then chiselled to a proper bat shape by the craftsmen and the handles are finally attached.
While most players prefer to independently source or customize their bats, while growing up some memories got etched in the mind forever. While a Sunil Gavaskar was mostly seen with SG, Kapil Dev used a Vampire Bat and later shifted to Power. While Steve Waugh always used to prefer his Gunn and Moore bat till he entered into a contract with MRF, Sachin Tendulkar had been mostly seen playing with MRF, then Adidas; which had a special edition named after him. Incidentally, the little master is known to use the heaviest willow bat. Do you remember any player with a particular brand of willow bat that he used? Please list it in the comments section below.
The best part was when Tugga got a chance to handle the bats and some of were his size too. Unfortunately we could not carry one back with us.
We also met the elderly gentleman Bhat saab, who is the owner of Bhat and sons – one of the leading Bat manufacturers in Kashmir. A sadness spread on his face when he said that surprisingly the demand has lessened in the last few years. Earlier they used to sell their bats to the agents, who in turn used to sell them across India and reap the profit. Now they have themselves started approaching the sellers, yet the situation has not improved. To worsen the story, the flood in Kashmir valley had resulted in a huge wastage of willows. It was a loss worth many crores of rupees.
Abdul asked us a question, which was surprising – Has the cricket playing reduced overall?
Anyone for an answer?