James Laver, the head bat-maker at Laver & Wood is incredibly proud of his workshop. It is here that he takes a simple willow cleft and turns it into your brand new, world class cricket bat. It is here that James has created bats for thousands of players throughout the world using processes including pressing, drying and sanding.
Making cricket bats is a traditional and highly skilled job that has changed little since the game began. The finest quality cricket bats require the careful selection of the world's best raw materials.
Salix alba var. Caerulea
The Laws of Cricket state that the cricket bat blade has to be made of wood. The stipulation came about when Australian cricketer Dennis Lillee used an aluminium bat in a test match against England in 1979. After only a few deliveries, Mike Brearley complained that the bat was damaging the ball, resulting in the umpires instructing Lillee to replace it. Lillee declared that the bat was "the thing of the future", however the cricketing world agreed that it "just wasn't cricket". Soon after, the M.C.C. amended Law 6, banning the use of any other materials other than wood.
There is no restriction on the type of wood that should be used within the laws of cricket. Many timbers have been experimented with, but Salix alba var. Caerulea has been found to be the most suitable. Salix alba has the common name of White Willow, with the specific var. Caerulea commonly known as Cricket Bat Willow.
Image: Salix alba var. Caerulea plantation
Willows grow to a maximum height of 21-27m (70-90 ft) with a diameter of 0.9-1.2m (3-4 ft). The tree will be encouraged to branch out at about 3m (10') from the ground and are generally grown in plantations at about 12 yard centres (10 yard centres if they are on river banks). Trees grown for manufacture of cricket bats are felled when they reach a circumference of about 56".
Cricket Bat Willow grows well throughout the world, but for cricket bat making purposes, the British climatic conditions are best. The British climate is perfect for growing Cricket Bat Willow; not too hot in the summer, not too cold in the winter, with an ideal rainfall, as well as with favourable soil types.
Image: Field symptoms; Salix alba var. caerulea killed by the disease. Both the trunk and the stump show watermark stain in the outer wood. John N. Gibbs
Since the beginning of the twentieth century, the Cricket Bat Willow, Salix alba Caerulea, has been subject to a serious infectious bacterial disease, known as Watermark Disease, and is characterised with the infected wood having a dark watery stain. Watermark Disease results in the crown of the tree dying back, but rarely brings about the death of an entire tree.
Trees of any age are liable to infection, but those under five years of age seldom show any signs of attack. The disease is easy to recognise by the stain in the wood, but the external symptoms are sometimes confused with those of the honey fungus Armillaria mellea, which slowly kills the tree without staining the wood, and with die back due to various causes including drought or bad drainage.
Trees infected by Watermark Disease present with certain visible symptoms. In England the first signs that a tree has the disease come about during the third or fourth week in April and into early May. The first leaves, which by then have appeared, lose their grey colour, wither, and turn reddish.
Why English Willow
Image: Graded clefts
English Cricket Bat Willow is regarded by batmakers worldwide to be of the highest quality. The growing conditions in England allow Salix alba var. Caerulea to grow at the ideal rate, especially in the warm, wet summers, which means the wood remains dense.
Dense willow provides the best balance of performance and durability, which is highly sought after by batmakers. Willow that grows too fast often won’t have the required density, lacking the performance or durability for making the best cricket bats.
Cricket Bat Willow grows all over the world. Unfortunately only willow growing in England has the right climatic conditions and soil types to produce willow used for high-grade cricket bats.
To find out more about why Laver & Wood uses only English Willow, check out Laver & Wood’s Cricket Bat Lore Volume I on Amazon.
This blog post is Part 1 of a four-part series exploring the art of cricket bat making, as told to us by the world-class makers of customised cricket bats, Laver & Wood. Be sure to read the other posts in the series:
- Laver & Wood: Cricket bat lore – Part 1
- Laver & Wood: Cricket bat lore – Part 2
- Laver & Wood: Cricket bat lore – Part 3
- Laver & Wood: Cricket bat lore – Part 4
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