Cricket Bat Buyers' Guide

HOW ARE CRICKET BATS MADE?

High quality cricket bats are crafted from English willow clefts and a small collection of UK companies are skilfully nurturing English willow – Salix alba caerulea, which is relatively light but tough – for the entire world market, and it is grown in large plantations in wetland areas throughout Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk. The willow clefts are sawn, the ends waxed and then stacked and air dried for approximately six weeks to maximise performance. The wood is crafted into a rough blade shape via various machining processes, before being graded* and pressed. The handle, which is made from cane and rubber strips, is applied to the blade via a precise splice fitting. The blade is then shaped and meticulously tested for balance and pick-up. The cricket bat is then both course and fine sanded, waxed and polished, before a rubber grip and brand stickers are applied to the handle and blade respectively. The cricket bat is now ready to ship to retailers worldwide.

*Grade 1 is predictably the finest grade of willow. The very best Grade 1 English willow cricket bats will be materially identified as having a large number of straight grains and minimal knots, marks and blemishes. Kashmir willow is usually utilised in the production of low-cost junior bats and low-end adult cricket bats.

HOW TO PREPARE A NEW CRICKET BAT FOR MATCH-PLAY

It is essential that you gently apply linseed oil to the cricket bat; as it dries, it shrinks the wood and pulls the fibres of the cricket bat together, increasing its strength and durability. You also need to hit the cricket bat with a bat mallet for approximately twelve hours, increasing the strength of contact over time. This is called 'knocking-in'.

FEATURES OF A CRICKET BAT

As well as judging the quality of the English willow, a buyer will also need to consider the size, weight, pick-up and qualities of the cricket bat. Does it have a high swell position or a low middle? Will it allow you to play your all-round game or is it too heavy? Does it have a thick edge and spine to boost power? Will you opt for a short handle or long handle? Many new cricket bats are fitted with a toe guard to help protect the bottom of your bat from excess moisture and damage. Some cricket bats are pre-conditioned to reduce knocking-in time, while others have an ‘anti-scuff’ sheet applied for extra protection.

HISTORY OF THE CRICKET BAT

The term ‘cricket bat’ was first used in the seventeenth century and referred to a piece of wood that was similar to a modern day hockey stick – this shape was ideal due to the deployment of low, under-arm bowling. In the 1770s, ‘length bowling’ was allowed, which was still performed underarm, and the cricket bat began to morph into a similar shape to modern cricket bats with a maximum width of 4.25. Fifty years later, ‘round-arm’ bowling – which could produce more bounce – was permitted and the traditionally very weighty cricket bat became lighter with a higher swell position. Due to the increased power of the bowler’s delivery, breakages were common, so crafters began to splice the handle into the cricket bat in the 1830s. Soon after, the length of the bat was restricted to 38 inches and spring became a popular feature in the handle before cane was introduced in 1853. The modern form of over-arm bowling was legalised in 1864, which further prompted cricket bat makers to produce lighter blades with more refined shaping, as the modern cricket bat evolved.

PURCHASING DECISIONS

There are many things you need to consider when purchasing a cricket bat – some have been aforementioned – but the important ones are: budget, what type of cricket bat or brand you have previously used (did it work for you?) and how serious are you as a cricket player. Those with unlimited budgets can buy Test match, pro-quality blades to help maximise performance (between £350 and £500), but you can still buy a high quality cricket bats for around £200-£350 RRP. Growth is a factor when buying junior cricket bats – it is much harder buying a new blade for a young teenager who is growing rapidly, so it may not be worth spending a large amount on a cricket bat at this stage of their development.