Cricket Bats - The Buyer's Guide
Cricket Bats are fundamental to the game of cricket. Good cricket bats are expensive. However, a large proportion of players, mainly amateurs and children, are playing with the wrong size and/or weight cricket bat to the detriment of their game. Read on to learn exactly what you need to know when selecting the right cricket bat.
Materials & Manufacturing
Cricket bats are carved from willow, which is a naturally fibrous wood. Each cricket bat manufacturer will seek to select the best woods for their products to ensure high standards and overall product quality. The two types of willow used for bat making are English Willow and Kashmir [Indian] Willow.
English Willow: This is a soft, fibrous timber. This type of willow is the preferred choice for the majority of bat manufacturers due to its high performance effect when striking the ball. Regardless of type however, willow will become damaged and prone to breakages over time. The cricket bat can become scarred, bruised and dented due to the nature of the game and the frequent high intense impacts of the ball hitting the cricket bat.
Kashmir Willow: Kashmir willow comes from India. This is largely utilised by cricket bat manufacturers as a substitute for English Willow. The Kashmir willow is regarded as a harder wood and in comparison to English willow does not have the same performance effect i.e. a player will not experience the same "sweet spot" when striking the ball. Kashmir willow will only be used for lower range and priced cricket bats. It is unlikely that a regular adult player, playing at a reasonable standard would choose to use a Kashmir willow cricket bat.
Carbon Fibre - Some cricket bat manufacturers insert additional carbon fibre into the handle of the cricket bat to make the bat feel lighter in the hands. The insertion of carbon fibre also allows more power to be generated in shots and increases the shock absorption in the handle from high impact balls.
Titanium - Due to recent technological advancements and innovations, this material is can be inserted into the handle of cricket bats to add reinforcement and provide more power in the hitting zone.
Manufacturing - How are Cricket Bats Made?
Time - The process of making a cricket bat takes a relatively long period of time compared to many other sporting products. Before any manufacturing can take place, trees have to be specially planted in selected areas of the UK [or India in the case of Kashmir willow]. 15-30 years after plantation, the trees are chopped down with two more planted thereafter.
Clefts - The trees are then chopped into logs and are then split into wedges called clefts. Each bat manufacturer then carefully selects the clefts they want before waxing the clefts at each end to prevent the loss of any water moisture and splitting. The clefts are then placed in drying rooms. After 6 months the clefts are removed from the drying rooms as they will have reached the required moisture levels.
Cutting - The clefts are then cut into the basic shape of a cricket bat with the correct width and length. At this point in the manufacturing process, the handle and toe ends of the bat are established, with the blade selected from the best end of the willow to ensure a quality cricket bat and better performance.
Pressing - After machining and grading, the willow is pressed. This strengthens the willow so it can withstand the impact of a cricket ball. The pressing stage of the process has to be done very carefully, to avoid the cricket bat from being compressed too much.
Fitting the handle - The next stage is to fit the handle to the cricket bat. The handle is usually constructed of cane and rubber strips, but with recent technological innovations and advancements, titanium is sometimes utilised. The handle is constructed of such materials to add reinforcements and provide more power in the hitting zone.
Shaping - When the handle has been fitted, the cricket bat is nearly complete. The bat's craftsman then places the bat into a vice and shapes the blade using a draw knife with the majority of wood left in the middle of the cricket bat (some manufacturers will use machines to achieve the same outcome). Some cricket bats are crafted with lower or higher middles depending on the player's batting style and the types of pitches they play on. The craftsmen will shape the blade to enhance the pick-up and weight of the cricket bat and to ensure a good overall balance to the bat. The shoulders of the bat are shaped and blended to give the correct shape and structure to the bat.
Final touches - The cricket bat is then sanded twice, with the shoulders shaped again and blended into the handle of the bat. The cricket bat is then finished using a horse's shin bone to polish the surface of the bat. This compresses the cricket bat further, provides a nice polished finish, and increases the overall presentation of the cricket bat. Once rubber grips and the manufacturers logo are added the cricket bat is now complete and ready to be sold.
Bear in mind that at this stage the cricket bat isn't entirely finished as you will have to do some preparation to your bat prior to using it, even where stickers state the bat is pre-prepared
Cricket bat manufacturers must stay within the rules. You will find that all brands stocked in reputable specialist retailers will meet these rules. For your information, the MCC's (Marylebone Cricket Club) Law 6 states the following:
Width and Length - The bat shall be no more than 38 inches/96.5 cm in length. The blade of the cricket bat shall be made solely of wood and shall not exceed 4 inches/10.8 cm at the widest part.
Covering the Blade - The blade may be covered with material for protection, strengthening or repair. Such material shall not exceed 1/16 inches/1.56 mm in thickness, and shall not be likely to cause unacceptable damage to the ball.
In addition to materials and size specifications, you should also consider the following design features when selecting cricket bats:
Covered or Uncovered Face
The uncovered look means that the grain of the cricket bat is showing, whereas the covered look means that the blade of the bat is not immediately showing [although you may be able to see the blade through transparent protective coating]. Each of the above will appear differently on cricket bats, but most importantly of all, you should note that the bat's performance will not be hindered. Protective coating [anti-scuff] is, on balance, advised in most cases in order to add maximise protection to the face of the cricket bat. This should prevent additional moisture being absorbed into the wood, as well as to help bind surface cracks together.
The Number of Grains on the Bat
There are many views surrounding grains on a cricket bat. Generally speaking though, the number of grains on a cricket bat is something that can be left to the discretion of the individual. The number of grains will often differ from bat to bat. A cricket bat between 6 and 12 grains is a good indicator of quality willow. Cricket bats with 6 grains, for example, are likely to be slightly softer than 10-12 grains and therefore take longer to knock-in and reach optimal performance initially. However, please note there are some extremely good premium range bats with lower grains.
- Grade 1+ [A]
highest quality of English willow, historically used for the manufacturer's sponsored players, but increasingly being rolled-out to top end bats for the public across specialist stores. The grains are straight and even, the wood unbleached and there should be minimal to no marking or discolouration on the bat face.
- Grade 1 - G1 [A]
top quality English Willow. Good straight grain structure and unbleached with minimal marking or discolouration in the face.
- Grade 2 - G2 [B]
Unbleached English Willow with some irregular grain patterns and some blemishes/colouring across the blade.
- Grade 3 - G3 [C]
Usually unbleached English Willow with irregular grain pattern and some marking and discolouration in the blade.
- Grade 4 - G4
English Willow usually bleached and often non oil with a covering to the face of the bat.
The Shape, Size and Bow of the Cricket Bat
This is normally a matter of personal preference. Some players prefer crickiet bats with a large bow where as others don't. Increasingly, professional players' preference for a larger bow and thicker edges to better meet the rigors of the modern game, is being reflected in the designs available to the general public. The size of the bow can have an impact on the pick-up of the cricket bat, as an increased bow can often result in the cricket bat having a heavier pick up. Some bows are higher or lower down the bat depending on batsmen's hitting style, or to reflect the pitches which you play on. A low bouncing wicket in Northern England or India may suit a lower bow compared to the dry climate and bouncy pitches of Perth, Western Australia.
A Toe Guard
The toe on all cricket bats can be vulnerable to breakages. It can be better prevented through fitting a toe guard. Many cricket bats now come with a toe guard already attached. A cricket bat is designed to strike the ball 6-8 inches up from the toe, in the centre of the blade. When batsmen face "Yorker" deliveries at the toe end, the impact of a moving bat meeting the speed of the ball can be very high, thereby causing the wood to dent or split. As a result it would be advisable to fit a toe guard to reduce the risk of breakage.
A Natural Finish
This is similar to an uncovered face, with the willow not covered by an anti-scruff cover or face tape. Most of the top-end bats offer this natural, traditional finish. Some of the lower grades of willow maybe bleached to artificially replicate the colour of high-quality willow.
Twenty/Twenty Style Cricket Bat
This cricket bat has been designed for bigger hitting, particularly in 20/20 matches. The cricket bat has a shorter blade and a longer handle to allow batsmen increased leverage to make those big shots required for this format of the game. Mongoose are the market leaders in this niche area. Other brands use more subtle techniques, including longer blade/shorter handle bats, or narrowing width of cricket bat slightly to further reduce weight and increase bat speed.
When you are trying a cricket bat, position yourself in your normal stance as you would at the crease. Then simply pick the cricket bat up as you would as if the bowler was about to deliver the ball. When you pick the cricket bat up, note how the bat feels in your hands, i.e. is it light? Is it heavy? Where is the balance of the bow? Is it a lower middle or a higher middle? More generally can you hold the cricket bat in one hand, when stretched out in front of you?
This has implications on your choice of cricket bat as you may want a heavier cricket bat for striking that feels like it has a comparatively light pick up. It is unlikely for instance that you would want to follow the great Sachin Tendulkar by choosing a 3lb plus cricket bat. Unless you have strong arms and wrists, your speed to pick-up and follow through may become too slow with such heavy cricket bats.
When trying out cricket bats, it would be advisable foy you to wear a pair of batting gloves. That way you gain a reliable insight into how the cricket bat actually feels in your hands. It would also be advisable for you to practice some shots without a ball, to see if you can use the bat effectively.
Short or Long Handle
When looking at senior cricket bats you will see that they come in two forms; Short Handle (SH) or Long Handle (LH). It would normally be advisable for players to choose a short handled cricket bat for increased control. However if you are tall, i.e. above 6 foot 2 inches it might be advisable for you to select a long handled cricket bat, they are however, much less readily available in the shops due to niche demand. Indeed, many tall players are opting for Short Handles. Junior sizes range all the way from size 1 (smallest) to size 6 (largest) with a transition "harrow" size for teenagers not yet big enough to take a short handle. Some manufacturers also offer an "Academy" size which offer an extra step between the traditional Harrow and Short Handle.
When using the Cricket Bat Size Chart please note the following abbreviations may be used.
|SSH||Super Short Handle|
Please use the following cricket bat size chart as a rough guide to cricket bats sizing on the basis of height, but be aware that strength is an equally important factor. Only ever select a cricket bat that that you can comfortably hold at arms length horizontally in front of you.
|Cricket Bat Size Chart|
|Bat Size||Approx Age||Height of Batsmen (feet)||Bat Length (inches)||Bat Width (inches)|
|1||4-5||to 4'3"||25 3/4"||3 1/2"|
|2||6-7||4'3" - 4'6"||27 3/4"||3 1/2"|
|3||8||4'6" - 4'9"||28 3/4"||3 3/4"|
|4||9-11||4'9" - 4'11"||29 3/4"||3 3/4"|
|5||10-12||4'11" - 5'2"||30 3/4"||4"|
|6||11-13||5'2" - 5'6"||31 3/4"||4"|
|Harrow||12-14||5'6" - 5'9"||32 3/4"||4 1/6"|
|Full SH||15+||5'9" - 6'2"||33 1/2||4 1/4"|
|Full LH||15+||over 6'2"||34 3/8"||43/4"|
Points to Consider Prior to Purchase:
- What's your budget?
How much are you prepared to spend on your cricket bat? This is obviously a pivotal point to consider when selecting cricket bats. Those without budget limits can targets the players, limited edition, and similar top end senior ranges that range from about 350-500 RRP before any additional discounts [2011/12 prices]. However you can still buy high quality senior cricket bats between 200-350 if you have budget constraints. Similar top-end junior cricket bats is likely to range from 150-200 RRP, with mid-value for money ranges between 100-150 RRP.
- What cricket bat have you used before?
This is a question worth bearing in mind as you may want to choose the same cricket bat manufacturer again or maybe you have a loyalty towards a certain brand. Decide whether you were happy with the last cricket bat you purchased in terms of quality, personal performance and overall satisfaction. If you are satisfied then maybe consider purchasing a cricket bat from the same bat manufacturer.
- Growth as a factor.
If you are a child looking to purchase a cricket bat or are buying a bat for a child, it would be worth considering growth as a factor. When your child is growing quickly, particularly during his/her early teens, selecting a cricket bat is a whole lot harder. If this is the case, it would be advisable not to spend large amounts of money on a top end cricket bat that could potentially only be used for half a season.
- How serious are you as a cricket player?
The level you are playing at will determine how frequent you will be using your cricket bat. If you are playing at a high level, you will probably be netting and playing multiple times a week against high quality, quick bowling. Therefore you may well require a high quality cricket bat.
Preparation and Maintenance
Preparation and maintenance is the key to a long bat life. Once you've purchased your cricket bat, the next step is to prepare it for action and then maintain it. Preparation comes in two phases: (1) Oiling and (2) Knocking it in.
Part 1: Oiling Your Cricket Bat
- Using a soft rag, apply a light coat of oil to the Face, Edges, Toe and Back of the cricket bat. AVOID getting oil on the splice of the bat as it may undermine the glue holding the handle and blade of the bat together!
- Avoid over oiling the cricket bat.
- After the coat of oil has been applied, leave the cricket bat in a horizontal position to dry over night.
- On the next day, apply a second coat, following the same directions as the first one. Leave to dry.
- After oiling the cricket bat, the next phase begins - Knocking In
- Try and oil your bat regularly to keep the fibres of the wood supple and prevent the face of the cricket bat cracking.
- If applying anti-scuff oil only once, very lightly.
A number of cricket bat manufacturers indicate that over half of the bats sent back to them for repair, have not been sufficiently oiled or have in turn been over oiled. A balance needs to be struck, with a light coating as the main instruction provided by bat manufacturers.
If the cricket bat you have just purchased has an anti-scruff cover, the face will not need oiling. However the back of the cricket bat will need oiling.
Part 2: Knocking Your Bat In:
After purchase, all cricket bats should be knocked in to prepare them for use in competitive matches. The edges, toe and blade of the bat all need to be sufficiently knocked in, as these areas face large amounts of impact from the cricket ball, therefore making them vulnerable to breakages and damage. Knocking your cricket bat in is an effective way of ensuring that the bat has been compacted enough to prevent impact damage. As the knocking in process is a very important aspect of preparing your cricket bat for action, it cannot be rushed and must be done carefully. Knocking your cricket bat in is effectively ensuring that the wood of the bat is compact as the fibres are compressed and knitted together. Consider the following steps when knocking in:
- Using a hardwood bat mallet, gently strike the face and the edges of the cricket bat, simulating what the ball would do in a competitive game situation.
- Repeat the above on multiple occasions, gradually increasing the power. Use the same method as above to round the edges of the cricket bat, but be careful. Avoid using too much power to begin with as this could result in unnecessary damage. Note: Do not hit the edge directly with the mallet, gradually round the cricket bat off. It is important to knock the edges of the bat in as they can often be vulnerable to damage during competitive matches and net play.
- After 2-3 Hours of knocking the cricket bat in, you can take it to the nets and hit some short catches using an old ball. If seam marks or small indentations appear on the face of the cricket bat, it would be necessary to return to the first step.
- After continuing to knock the cricket bat in and completing some close catching sessions, you could try the bat in your normal net practice.
- After a few net sessions, your cricket bat should be ready to use in a competitive match.
After knocking your bat in, you may wish to add a protective cover to the cricket bat. This should be positioned and fitted approximately 3-5mm from the toe of the bat, with the cover running up the face of the cricket bat and finishing just below the bat manufacturers labels.
What about pre-knocked in cricket bats?
Bats that come "pre-knocked" in or "pre-prepared". This means that the manufacturers have employed some special machinery to compress the bats and mimic the "Knocking-in" process. However all manufacturers will still recommend cricket bats be knocked in for a short duration. Instead of knocking the bat in for long periods of time using a hardwood bat mallet, you could conduct some short practice slip catches using an old cricket ball. Knocking the face in further will be beneficial in developing the cricket bats overall performance.
- Inspect your bat regularly for any signs of damage or dryness due to a lack of oiling. This way you can utilise preventative measures before your cricket bat breaks.
- When in the nets, ensure that the bowlers are using high quality cricket balls; this will avoid damage being caused to your cricket bats.
- Avoid getting the toe of the bat wet during matches and net practice.
- If cracks appear on the face and the edges of the cricket bat, sand them out and apply a covering of oil.
- During the course of a season, sand the blade and edges of the cricket bat twice using sandpaper. Then apply covering oil.
It must be remembered that the cricket ball is supposed to contact the cricket bat's blade in the middle of the bat. Any occasion where the ball strikes the bottom or edges of the bat is deemed as a bad shot and any resulting damage cannot necessarily be attributed to the blade being faulty.
ALL cricket bats will encounter some damage when the ball is struck on the edge or bottom. However, it must be accepted that a badly miss-timed shot can cause damage to the bat, and this is usually obvious on examination.
Problems with Cricket Bats
Cricket bats will break at sometime or other mainly due to the fact that they are manufactured from raw materials and are therefore naturally fragile. When you've purchased a cricket bat it would be nice to think that the bat would last forever, but unfortunately due to the fact that they are manufactured from a natural product they decay as time goes on making them more vulnerable to damage and breakages.
This can often be caused through general wear and tear and can therefore sometimes be unavoidable. In some circumstances the handle of the bat can be replaced by some bat manufacturers largely depending on the extent of the damage.
Breakage to the Blade
This can be caused by dry willow. When the willow of the bat becomes dry, the cricket bat is made considerably weaker therefore making it more vulnerable to damage and breakages.
Surface cracks to the face of the Blade and the edge of the Blade
Again, this can be caused by general wear and tear and more often than not poor bat maintenance. Cracks to the face and edges of the blade will not affect performance but will make the bat more vulnerable to further damage over time. It would be advisable for you to utilise bat tape to prevent any further damage from occurring.
This can often be unavoidable due to the nature of the sport and the sheer impact of the ball hitting the cricket bat. This is often attributed to striking the ball at the base of the blade when facing a Yorker type delivery.
Some of the most common breakage causes with cricket bats are:
- Dry willow
- Letting the bat get wet
- Playing poor shots regularly
- Poor preparation in terms of oiling the bat and knocking it in
- Poor maintenance
- Poor storage
- Excessive oiling
- Using cheap hard balls at net practice
Playing in wet, damp conditions can be detrimental to the quality and performance of your cricket bat, as water is transferred up through the toe and into the bat. When the bat then dries, the bat can be prone to splitting. This can be avoided through using an old bat if you are forced to play in wet conditions or not tapping your bat on the wet ground in your stance.
When using your cricket bat on multiple occasions in a week during the course of a cricket season, the bat can become more prone to the above problems. Therefore it might be advisable to use an old bat at net practices, although many players prefer to maintain on and off-field consistency in order to better reflect match conditions.
Too many people, store their cricket bats and other pieces of cricket equipment poorly. Your cricket bat should ideally be stored in the shed or the garage where the willow can absorb moisture in a natural environment. Avoid leaving cricket bats in the car, as during the summer months temperatures can rise substantially which can dry the bat and reduce the presence of moisture. You should also avoid storing your bat close to radiators, fires and in airing cupboards.