by Maleeha Sofi
SRINAGAR: The longest six in the ongoing T20 World Cup- 2022 was hit by United Arab Emirates (UAE) batter Junaid Sidique using a Kashmir willow bat manufactured by GR8 sports based in the Sangam area of Anantnag district.
The UAE batter hit a 109-meter half-dozen shot against Sri Lanka on October 18, 2022. He recorded the longest six of the tournament till now. Sidique is among the four players from the middle-eastern country who have opted for bats made in Kashmir. Apart from UAE, players from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, South Africa, and Oman are also using the Kashmir willow to hit it off the park.
GR8 sports was started by Abdul Kabeer in 1974 in the Sangam area of south Kashmir’s Anantnag, without any specific name used then for the bats manufactured at the factory. His bats would travel across the world nameless till somebody sold them under the name they chose. Interestingly, in India, 90 per cent of bats are made from Kashmir willow.
The claiming and branding of Kabeer’s bat was started by his son Fauzal Kabeer who traveled to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and scores of Gulf Countries to get to know the international market of bats.
Fauzal says, “I took my bats to main cricket-playing nations, but did not receive any positive response.”
After wandering for 10 odd years, he realized that his bats have ‘no acceptance anywhere in the world.’ In 2021, he started branding his bats under the GR8 Sports label and approached International Cricket Council (ICC) for getting listed as an officially authorised bat manufacturer. His effort paid dividends and the GR8 bat powered the longest six-run shot this year in the desert continent of Australia.
Willow used in bats either grows in England or in Kashmir. The price of an English willow bat is higher than the Kashmir one. While the English willow ranges from Rs 1,20,000 to Rs 2,00,000, the Kashmir willow bat is priced between Rs 1,500 to Rs 5,000.
On the process and raw material used in making bats in Kashmir, Fauzal says, “The bats are made of willow primarily but it is not the willow which gives them the identity. It is the handle and sticker that make a bat the best. It is also the knowledge, craftsmanship, and expertise.”
“Shaping a bat in a particular way needs an understanding of how a particular pitch is paced. Also, the bats are designed as per the level of the batter in the line-up. An opener, a middle-order batsman, and lower order batsman all have different bats made for them,” Fauzal adds.
Last year 1,35,000 bats were exported from Kashmir valley to all parts of the world.
Fauzal says that the demand for their bats increased in the international market when they learned to manufacture a better product as per the international requirements. “We export 3,000 bats per month.”
In the coming year, seven players from Afghanistan will be seen using GR8 bats from Kashmir.