The sweetest sound in cricket is not the auctioneer bringing down his hammer to signal the sale of a player for a huge sum of money to a deep-pocketed Indian Premier League team, but that of the middle of the bat hitting the ball. The better the bat, the better the sound and experts say that this is the true worth of a willow (as the bat is sometimes called, in honour of the wood used to make it).
Two varieties of willow go into bats—Kashmir and English. International cricketers generally prefer the English variety because it is lighter, durable and more solid (which means the ball gets hit better) than the Kashmir variety.
It is also considerably more expensive, although that shouldn’t matter to the average international pro.
Cricket bat willow, or salix alba caerulea is grown in the UK, almost exclusively for the production of bats. A tree must be at least 20 years old before its wood can be used for bats. The tree is typically cut into clefts (bat-shaped chunks 21-21.5 inches long) and exported to cricket-playing nations.
Essex-based JS Wright is considered to be the world’s largest English willow supplier. Rakesh Kumar Mahajan of BD Mahajan and Sons, the Meerut-based company famous for its BDM bats, says that there will be a scarcity of English willow soon.
Here’s how a bat is made:
1. Clefts arriving from England are etched with the term “English Willow” to distinguish them from the local wood. Cane for handles comes from Singapore and Malaysia because these are considered superior to local varieties.
2. The clefts are scraped and cut to size. A V-shaped grove is then cut into the blade for the handle. The bat is then shaped from the back and polished.
3. The handle is now fixed on to the blade. This involves pasting nine strips of cane with a rubber sheet between each. A rubber grip is put on the handle with a tape holding it in place. Finally, the logos are pasted on to the bat and it is given a plastic coat.
Text and photographs by Manoj Madhavan