Useful tips for purchase of a cricket bat
Cricket bat willow is mainly sourced from England and Kashmir. In England the industry is based in Essex and Suffolk where 90% of worldwide cricket willow is grown and is globally considered to be the finest available.
Kashmir bats are aimed at the lower end of the market and the willow is usually heavier , due to the higher moisture content from the growing conditions. Some Indian bat manufacturers use willow "EWNI" - English willow nurtured in India. This is English "stock" willow Salix alba var.Caerulea grown in Kashmir , has English characteristics in looks and grain but generally has a more Kashmir character in weight due to the higher moisture content in the growing on.
As a natural product even the finest willow will have some "blemishes" or "pin knots" and hence even a top grade bat will not be 100% clean ; some imperfections will exist but not in key areas. While some imperfections will effect playing ability others will not , cosmetic looks sometimes overrule the truth.
There are four grades of English willow generally available on the market (A Grades 1 to 4). There is a fifth (A Grade 1+ or super) , but this is the ultimate finest willow and usually reserved for the pro market.
- A Grade 1 - The finest willow used in top of the range models. Blades would typically have straight grains , be unbleached and have very few imperfections (usually the playing area being clean). Some red wood may be present around the edges.
- A Grade 2 - Fine quality willow but with a potentially higher red wood content (the playing performance will usually be unaffected). Imperfections will be present in the form of minor blemishes and pin knots. Mostly straight grains and unbleached.
- A Grade 3 - Good quality willow but with some irregular grain patterns. Imperfections may be present in the playing area , in the form of stains and more prominent knots are likely. A higher amount of red wood will be present and the blade is likely to be bleached.
- A Grade 4 - The lowest grade , certainly bleached and often used for "non oil fibre covered" bats. The bats may play as well as higher grades but likely to contain more imperfections , including butterfly stains , knots and red wood.
This is an area often overlooked by the bat buyer. For a customer in the know the number of grains on a bat can provide a lot of information.
Two general considerations apply. Firstly , performance. A narrow grain bat (more grains across the blade)will give a better performance from an early stage. Why? because the narrow grain indicates quicker growth , allowing an early felling and therefore giving a younger and hence stronger wood. In this modern world the willow grower is subject to commercial decisions and it is very likely that quicker growth will be in favour. More grains signify a better response but potentially a shorter life for the bat , less or wider grains for a longer life of the bat. The happy medium is to consider your standard of cricket you play in but in general around 6 to 8 grains should be about average.
The "scale weight" of a bat does not always indicate how heavy a bat will feel. Different styles of bat are designed for different approaches to batting , where pick up and design , combined with the weight , contribute to the performance of the finished product.
In general there are two major factors that contribute to the "scale weight" of a bat. Firstly as already stated , the type of willow used English or Kashmir. Secondly , the drying process. A cleft that has been allowed to dry over a long period of time will allow the batmaker to deliver a finished product with an even distribution of weight throughout the blade , contributing to a "nice pick up" or balance.
for many years bats were available in long and short handle models. While long handle bats are still made , the short handle has become much the norm with a long blade now being more common for the taller player.
The construction of the handle itself has developed in recent years with the use of stronger cane from Singapore. It is most important that the splice and handle are not oiled , as this will have detrimental effect on the glue used to fix blade to handle.
Grips are available in all sorts of colours and textures. In playability the only real factor is the width that the grip gives the handle or how it feels in your hand. Many players prefer to have two grips or more , considering that it will aid a lighter pick up.
Top grade English willow or Kashmir willow , wide or narrow grains , fully knocked in or not , a cricket bat is a natural product. No one can determine when or where your bat "will go". While yorkers and outside edges are the most common instances where bat damage occurs , surface cracks and hollowing can appear on all bats without effecting the performance.
Always take good care of your bat , helping to prolong its life as long as possible as it is a tool of the trade and certainly will not last for ever.