Willow is a soft wood, that when pressed, provides the rebound qualities required to strike the ball. Some small cracks are bound to occur on the bat, due to wear and tear, these will not affect its performance.
Cheap Balls - Cheap balls are less resilient than well made, reputable brands. To use them is false economy. Basically, cheap balls will damage your bat in a very short time.
Use Protective Facing - This is a prime example where modern technology provides an exceptional solution to an old problem. In the OLD days, oiling with linseed oil over a prolonged period of time, married with countless hours of knocking in was required to prepare and season the willow prior to match play. We do not recommend more than one very light coat of oil. When this is dry, apply a protective facing. Then begin the knocking in process.
Bat willow is soft and light, but hardens when subjected to pressing with rollers, or hand hammering. The knocking in process aims to gradually stretch and press the fibres of the willow.
Here is how to ensure you buy the correct bat and get the most out of your bat.
Cricket bats are graded in the following manner
- Grade 1 - This is the finest willow, the cleft will be unblemished with tight straight grains, and there may be a small amount of red wood running along the side of the blade and small knots in the back or on the edge, but the playing area should be clean. The grain on the face will be straight and there will be at least 4 grains visible.
- Grade 2 - This is a very good quality cleft with tight straight grain but having small visual blemishes or a larger amount of redwood can be seen on the edge of the bat, neither of these slight defects will affect the blades performance, as it is purely cosmetic. Again there will be at least 4 straight grains on the face of the bat with maybe some blemishes, pin knots or “speck” visible.
- Grade 3 – This is the probably the most popular grade as it offers very good value for money. A grade 3 Blade has up to half colour across the bat and is sometimes bleached, again this has no direct relation to the playing ability of the wood, it just has less visual attraction. There will be a minimum of 4 grains on the face of the bat which may not always be perfectly straight. Again some small knots or a little “butterfly” stain may be present with perhaps more prominent “speck”
- Grade 4 – A grade 4 blade is normally over half colour or contains butterfly stain. This wood is also normally bleached just to make it look better, but it will still play as well as the other grades. Any number of grains is possible and the willow containing “butterfly” stain is very strong, but there could also be more “speck”.
What makes a good bat?
The answer is that it depends entirely on the individual taste of the customer and the skill of the bat maker. A bat should always be chosen on “feel” and not merely what it looks like. There are bound to be small knots or blemishes on the bat, as it is a natural product and cannot be expected to be perfect with no faults at all.
The main differences are in the grade of the willow and the varying degrees of brown wood and / or butterfly stain plus the number of blemishes or knots on the bat. Generally the more colour in the bat the lower the grade, but the difference in playing ability is negligible. It is purely a perception that if the bat looks good it will play well – this is definitely not the case. Butterfly stain (the stain resembles the shape of a butterfly) used to be very popular for its superior strength and playing ability. Not so these days, as if the bat does not look “clean and white” people tend not to buy it. It does however make very good bats that are very strong and perform well.
Selecting Your Bat
It is important that you select the correct size and weight of cricket bat. In many cases junior cricketers purchase bats too large and heavy for their size and build in the belief that the larger the bat the further the ball will travel. In practice the blade is too cumbersome and the young cricketers timing, which is critical to developing a good technique, is way off and the performance suffers.
All uncovered bats should be oiled and ‘knocked in’ prior to play. This procedure should be followed even if the bat comes from a manufacturer that markets the bat as ‘Pre-knocked In’ and ready to play.
- A small amount of raw linseed oil should be applied to the face of the bat. It should then be worked into the face and edges of the bat using an open weave cloth. Do not oil the splice area (where the handle joins the blade) of the bat as this may soften the glue around that area.
- Stand the bat vertically, if oil runs down the blade you have applied too much and should wipe off the excess to leave a light film. The bat should then be kept horizontally on its back for 24 hours so as to allow the oil to soak in.
For bats with a protective cover, oil should be applied as explained above, but only to the back and uncovered edges.
It is important that you do not over oil your bat. More bats are spoilt by over oiling than under oiling.
As stated above many bats are pre knocked in. This DOES NOT mean that it is ready to play immediately. It does mean that the majority of preparatory work has been done.
- We advise that you start the knocking in process by using an old cricket ball that you methodically tap down the edges and along the blade of the bat for up to 2 hours. If you prefer to use a bat mallet for this stage, using an old sock to soften the blow. Ensure that all areas of the bat receive attention.
- Repeat the process the following day or after a break. Hit the bat firmly with the bat mallet for short periods, don’t just tap it.
- It is important that you make sure the toe and edges of the bat are well knocked in.
- This process should last at least 2 hours after which the blade should be very hard and the edges slightly rounded.
Further Knocking In
After the initial Knocking In process has been completed, we recommend that you play the bat in gently in a net session. Get a friend to bowl or throw an old ball at the bat trying to hit the ball in the middle of the bat. At this stage you should get a feel for the bat; where the sweet spot is, how it drives and does the ball sound good off the blade. The old ball should not leave any large indentations, if it does return to the bat mallet.
In addition we recommend that you take further precautions to make sure that your bat is well protected from being damaged. For uncovered bats, we suggest that you place a clear protective covering over the face. It is also advisable that you place a strip of edge tape along the inside and outside edge of your bat.
To maintain your bat in peak condition we recommend you follow this simple advice:
- DO NOT expose your bat to extremes of temperature. Avoid prolonged spells in the car boot or interior.
- DO NOT over oil or stand your bat in oil. It is more dangerous to over-oil than to under-oil.
- DO NOT allow your bat to become damp.
- DO NOT misuse or treat carelessly off the pitch, for example at nets, or in changing rooms.
- DO NOT use cheap hard balls; these will damage your bat.
- DO NOT continue to play with a damaged bat; this will aggravate the damage to a point where the bat may be beyond repair.
- DO prepare your bat carefully
- DO store your bat in off-season in a cool dry atmosphere away from excessive heat or damp.
- DO re-oil your bat after any prolonged period of non-use. It’s particularly important to remember to do this prior to using in pre-season indoor nets.
- DO inspect your bat regularly for any damage.
Bat Repairs and Service
In normal use superficial face and edge marks with slight surface cracking will occur. This is to be expected, although it does not detract from the performance of the bat and may be ignored.
Other damage such as splitting of the toe as a result of hitting a Yorker or damage caused by a miss timed shot can, more often than not be repaired and the repaired bat will continue to give excellent service.