SANGAM, India: When the Cricket World Cup opens in India next month several players will carry Kashmiri willow wood bats, but manufacturers say over-exploitation of trees means their craft faces ruin.
Unchecked logging without replanting has reduced swathes of woodland to scrub in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK), and bat manufacturers face a bleak future.
“It´s a case of culling all the time and no sowing,” said Irfan Ali Shah, a senior official in the government´s forest service. Willow grows far more slowly than the more commercially viable poplar, and bat-makers warn the entire industry -- a major employer -- is at risk.
“We have started searching far-off corners of the valley, but there is not much good willow to be found anywhere for making the best quality bats,” said Fawzul Kabiir, whose GR8 bats are International Cricket Council-approved and sold worldwide.
“If the government doesn´t help plant again soon on a large scale... we will run out of raw material in three to five years,” he told AFP.
Found from Europe to central Asia, water-loving white willows -- scientific name Salix alba -- are deciduous trees growing up to 30 metres tall. Numbers expanded enormously during the 19th century under British colonial rule, when plantations were laid for firewood during the freezing mountain winter. The ready supply of willow -- the wood favoured by cricketers -- also sparked a craft in bats.