The century-old cricket bat industry in Kashmir that works with the extraordinary English willow wood has been struggling to keep up its pace lately. Overlooked by the woodworking industry, Kashmir’s cricket bat-making units are left to their own fate having no access to advanced seasoning and wood processing technologies. Modern Woodwork presents an account stressing the importance of saving a legacy of skill and craftsmanship.
Cricket is one of the most popular sports in India, and Kashmir is well known for its long-standing tradition of producing high-quality cricket bats. The cricket bat industry in Kashmir has a rich history, dating back over a hundred years, and it is an important source of employment and income for many families in the region.
The history of making cricket bats in Kashmir dates back to the 19th century, when Allah Baksh, an industrialist from Pakistan, established his cricket bat unit at Halmulla,
Bijbehara, where willow logs were converted into clefts for onward ﬁnishing at Sialkot. The initial demand was from the British army ofﬁcers stationed in the region for colonial rule, and the technical know-how was imported from England (Lawrence 1895). The expansion of this indigenous wood-based industry came into being with the registration of hundreds of manufacturing units established at various places across the Kashmir valley, particularly in District Anantnag and Pulwama. There are about 400 bat manufacturing units in Kashmir valley with most of them spread on or around the Jammu–Srinagar National Highway.
There are 7 villages – Bijbehara, Charsoo, Hallamullaha, Sangam, Pujteng, Mirzapor and Sethar – in Anantnag and Pulwama, where cricket bats are manufactured, providing bread and butter to hundreds of villagers. Sethar Sangam in Anantnag has been notified as an industrial cluster for cricket bat manufacturing.
The cricket bat industry in Kashmir is known for its focus on quality and craftsmanship. The bats are made from high-quality willow wood, which is sourced from the Kashmir valley and surrounding areas. The wood is carefully selected, seasoned, and then shaped into the distinctive shape of a cricket bat. The manufacturing process involves several stages, including cutting, sanding, shaping, and finishing, and each step is performed by skilled craftsmen using traditional tools and techniques.
One of the key factors that sets the cricket bat industry in Kashmir apart from others is the emphasis on handcraftsmanship. The bats are made entirely by hand, with each step of the process performed by a skilled artisan. This ensures that each bat is unique and of the highest quality, and it also helps to preserve the traditional skills and techniques of the craft.
Despite its rich history and reputation for quality, the cricket bat industry in Kashmir has faced several challenges in recent years. One of the major challenges is the declining availability of high-quality willow wood, which has made it difficult for manufacturers to maintain the standards of their products. In addition, the industry has struggled to compete with cheaper, mass-produced bats from other regions, and many of the small, family-run bat-making workshops have closed in recent years. The cricket bat industry of Kashmir is also confronted with many constraints, the most important being the overexploitation of
raw material and its illegal export to other states of the country.
However, despite these challenges, the cricket bat industry in Kashmir continues to thrive. Many of the surviving workshops have adapted to the changing market by investing in new technologies and expanding their product lines, and they continue to produce high-quality, hand-crafted bats that are sought after by players and collectors around the world.
The cricket bat industry in Kashmir is a testament to the skill and craftsmanship of the region’s artisans. It is an important source of employment and income, and it is a proud legacy of the region’s rich cultural heritage. Despite the challenges it faces, the industry continues to thrive and produce some of the finest cricket bats in the world, and it is likely to continue to play an important role in the region for many years to come. The governments, woodworking associations, tradeshow organizers and machine manufacturers must not overlook the thriving industry and put in their efforts to save the legacy.
The wonderful willow
The best cricket bats in the world are made in England and India from willow (Salix alba var.
Caerulea) trees. Willow wood from Kashmir is recognized for its quality and durability, making it a popular choice for the manufacture of cricket bats. Here are some of the key highlights of this material:
Unique Characteristics: Willow wood from Kashmir is known for its unique characteristics, including its light weight, high elasticity, and resistance to shock and impact. These characteristics make it ideal for use in the manufacture of cricket bats, as they allow the bats to perform well on the field.
Durability: Willow wood is extremely durable and has a long lifespan, making it a cost-effective choice for cricket bat manufacturers. This also means that players can enjoy using their bats for a long time without having to worry about them wearing out or breaking.
Sustainability: Willow wood is sustainably sourced from the Kashmir valley and surrounding areas, ensuring that the material is responsibly and ethically produced. The use of sustainably sourced materials is becoming increasingly important in the cricket bat industry, and Willow Wood from Kashmir is a great choice for manufacturers who want to be environmentally responsible.
Craftsmanship: Willow wood from Kashmir is hand-selected and processed by skilled artisans, ensuring that each bat is of the highest quality. The use of handcraftsmanship also helps to preserve the traditional skills and techniques of the region, making it a valuable part of the region’s cultural heritage.
Reputation: Willow wood from Kashmir has a long-standing reputation for quality and performance, and it is widely used by players and collectors around the world. The use of this material is a testament to the quality of the cricket bats produced in the region, and it helps to maintain Kashmir’s reputation as a hub of quality cricket bat production.
The process of making a cricket bat:
Willow wood is a popular choice for the manufacture of cricket bats due to its unique characteristics such as light weight, high elasticity, and resistance to shock and impact. Machining willow wood to create cricket bats involves a number of steps, including:
1. Selection: The first step in machining willow wood is selecting the right piece of wood. This involves hand-picking the wood based on factors such as its weight, straightness, and overall quality.
2. Shaping: Once the right piece of wood has been selected, it is shaped into a rough shape using a variety of tools, including saws, chisels, and plane knives. The rough shape of the bat is then refined using sanders and other finishing tools.
3. Drying: The shaped bat is then dried to remove any moisture that may affect its performance. This can be done using a variety of methods, including air drying and kiln drying.
4. Grading: After the bat has been dried, it is graded based on its weight, balance, and overall quality. The grading process helps to ensure that only the best bats are used for manufacture.
5. Finishing: The final step in machining willow wood is finishing the bat to give it a smooth, polished surface. This can be done using a variety of methods, including sanding, oiling, and varnishing. The handle of the bat is made from bamboo and rubber.
Each of these steps is important in ensuring that the final product is of the highest quality, and they are all performed by skilled craftsmen with years of experience in the industry. By carefully machining willow wood, manufacturers can create high-quality cricket bats that are prized by players around the world.
In Kashmir, seasoning of willow clefts is still done in the traditional way and it can take anywhere between six months to a year. We, as unit holders, are not aware of modern technologies which may increase our productivity and margins. We seldom visit wood expos like DelhiWood, but hardly get noticed among the crowd. The woodworking industry needs to give the Kashmir cricket bat industry an impetus by virtue of knowledge and technology.
– Mushtaq, Proprietor, Decent Sports Unit/Deeso Bat Factory
(Village Sangam, Tal. Bijbehara, Dist. Anantnag, Jammu and Kashmir
Government of India taking efforts to revive Kashmir’s bat industry
To revive Kashmir’s cricket bat manufacturing and other wood-based industry, a team of Union Ministry of Medium, Small and Micro Enterprises has established a Common Facility Centre (CFC) at Sethar Sangam in Anantnag district at an estimated cost of Rs 4.61 crore. The plant and machinery at the CFC were installed by Meerut-based Process-cum-Product Development Centre (PPDC) incurring an expenditure of Rs 2.46 crore.
The objective of this CFC is to facilitate seasoning of willow clefts and provide all facilities to the Cricket Bat Unit holders under one roof. This will enable the unit holders to use modern techniques in production of world class cricket bats.
The government has also given registration certificates to bat manufacturing unit owners of Anantnag and Pulwama, which would enable them to avail all benefits from the government, aimed at strengthening the industry.
A team of officials from PPDC, Meerut also visited the valley to explore ways for handholding of MSMEs in wood-based industry. The team visited cricket bat cluster in Sethar village at Sangam area of Anantnag district to assess how the bat industry there could be revived.
The government is creating awareness and provides handholding amongst the bat makers with regard to GI tagging through field officers. The Directorate of Industries and Commerce has taken up the issue of granting Logo and GI tagging with the Director, Craft Development Institute (CDI), Srinagar.
Statistics of Kashmir’s cricket bat industry:
- ₹300-crore: Annual turnover
- 400: Cricket bat factories in Kashmir
- 1,00,000: Total employment
- 10,000 to 15,000: Annual requirement of willow trees per unit
- 30 lakh: Bats are made every year
- $50 to $500: Price range of Kashmir bats