Photos: Kashmir’s cricket bat makers face shortage of willows

Lines of shops display neat stacks of willow wood along a nondescript motorway in Indian-administered Kashmir’s Sangam village. Behind the shops are small manufacturing units, where that willow is handmade into cricket bats that find their way to the rest of India and other cricket-playing nations around the world.

But in the future, those bats are probably hard to come by.

Kashmir’s dwindling willow plantations are affecting the region’s famed cricket bat industry and risking the supply of cricket bats in India, where the sport is hugely followed.

The industry employs more than 10,000 people and manufactures nearly a million bats a year. Most are sold to tourists, while the rest are transported to various Indian cities and exported to other countries.

“There will be no bats produced in Kashmir in the coming years if the shortage continues,” said Fawzul Kabeer, who owns a company that exports cricket bats.

Kabeer said the demand for Kashmir willow bats increased after it was introduced during the ICC World T20 competition in Dubai last year.

Tens and thousands of towering willow trees were introduced to the picturesque Himalayan region by the British in the early 19th century to maintain the supply of firewood during Kashmir’s harsh winters. Decades after, the region’s villagers also began abundantly planting trees and using their wood to produce cricket bats.

But over the years, farmers in the region have been planting poplars in place of willows. The faster-growing poplar tree is preferred by the booming plywood industry.

“The trees are being cut in large numbers and no one is planting them again,” Kabeer said.

The problem is not expected to affect international players, who mostly use bats made from imported English willow, but will hit regional players and cricket enthusiasts who use the more affordable Kashmir-made bats.

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