The Wands of Magicians…Cricket Bats
The most fascinating aspect of a game of cricket is it batsmen. They are the ones that make you dose off on your couch or go to a doctor after the match because you have a couple of nails missing. It is their ability with a piece of willow against a 100 miles projectile that keeps us glued to the idiot box, or send a million people in a stadium go into mass hysteria. These are magicians of the game and they spin their magic with their special wands—the Cricket Bat.
I was talking to a dear friend and he suggested that i work on article that details the kind of bats that master batsmen use, specialty of their wands and i thought that it was a good Idea. But when i started researching on the bats, i felt i was unlocking a magical world. There was so much about that piece of willow that i never knew about, i thought will do a longer journey through the knowledge space, from the silent tree on English country side to the deafening cacophony of a magic wand in the hands of a magician in a packed arena.
I though it would be appropriate to start with the wand of the grand wizard of Cricket, Sir Don Bradman, more akin to the elder wand of the “Deathly Hallows fame”. It all started for Don with a “Duke and Sons” light weight,medium grain English willow Wand (Pic On the right). This is the bat that he played his first match. He made 18 Runs and got dropped from the team after that.
He later moved on to use bats made by Sykes and Son from Yorkshire and continued to use the four crowned Sykes bat till he retired.In a local match using bat on the right the wizard hit 100 runs in 3 over’s. This is one record that no mortal can ever break. (Well it technically not possible any more with 6 ball over’s)
So the question, What are these Wands Made of ?
After the COMBAT incident in WACA cricket ground in Perth in December 1979, where Dennis
Lillee used an aluminium bat and was unceremoniously disallowed, ICC ruled that cricket bat must be made from wood. English Willow is now the chosen favourite at test level. The cricket bat willow is a special hybrid of Salix Alba and is called Salix Alba Caerulae which may be a hybrid between white willow and cracked willow. English willow as it is called, is by nature a soft fibrous wood, with a “honeycomb” type cell structure. It is perfect for the manufacture of cricket bats, It is lightwood, strong, does not splinter, has natural moisture and its ability to be pressed in the manufacturing process to give great ball striking qualities. The fact that it grows quickly makes it commercially viable. Almost all of Salix Alba Caerulae population in England is commercially grown to manufacture Cricket Bats.
Kashmir Willow : At test Level English willow is considered a better choice than Kashmir willow. K-willow is considered to be heavy, harder and prone to cracking. It does not have the grain quality and structure of English counterpart. But if a bat is made by a master bat maker there would be no difference in the balance and lift of bat compared to an English willow bat. It is value for money and is considered better than buying a grade 3 or 4 English willow bat. K-Willow is recommended for beginners and enthusiasts but for more serious cricket, its english cousin is recommended. English willow is whiter in colour and grainy in appearance, whereas Kashmir willow is brownish in colour and less grainy
Most bats are made from English Willow which by nature is a soft fibrous wood, with a “honeycomb” type cell structure. It is perfect for the manufacture of cricket bats because of its natural moisture and its ability to be pressed in the manufacturing process to give great ball striking qualities. Starter and particularly smaller Junior size bats tend to utilise more lower priced Kashmir Willow… this is harder and therefore more resilient but generally gives less ball striking satisfaction
I mentioned Grade above. Grade is the visual quality of the wood. Once the tree is cut they are shaped into clefts. These clefts/blades are examined to determine the grade based on the quality of the grain and the coloration. Once graded, the blades are sent off to the bat-makers who then bring out the most out of the blade as they shape the bat from the cleft.
The grade of Willow has not proved to have affected the playing ability of the bat. It is the visual quality of the bat. A grade A bat is the most attractive bat that you buy, it does not imply that is the best playing bat. But most professional bats are Grade 1 or Grade 2 bats.
The Willow is available in three standards based on the Grain:Wide, Average and Narrow. A wide Grain will have 4-5 grains, an average grain will have about 10-15 and there will more than 20 grains on a narrow grain bat.The grain on the bat is dependent on the rate of growth of the willow tree. Each grain typically indicates one year.If the tree grew rapidly before it is cut it would have a wide grain. This is the kind of tree that is grown commercially. They have an average life span of 15 years before they reach their maturity. The narrow grain variety is generally cut after 25-30 years of growth. The bats that have a Narrow grain will be quicker and play better than the wide grain bats, but tend to have a shorter life span than the wide grain bats. Since the wood is not old in wide-grain bats they tend to be stronger and will mature to be really good bats.
If you want to read further on the topic there is a good article on it at the blow link. refer to the section Narrow grain or Wide Grain. http://www.middlepeg.com/cricketbatwillow.htm. For the more adventurous who like to understand how are the trees grown, the best reference would be J.S. Wright & Sons website, they are the authority on the subject.
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