Batting is an essential part of cricket. As a batsman, it is vital you are able to identify good cricket bats to use during match play. In this article, I will examine what makes a good cricket bat. I am not concerned with selecting the right cricket bat for any individual or choosing the best cricket bat for you (if you like, you can read my posts 12 Ways to Decide What Cricket Bat to Buy – Things to Bear in Mind Whilst Making Your Selection and 13 Points to Consider When Deciding What Cricket Bat to Buy – What You Need to Know for more information on that), I am looking solely at what qualities the bat should have to operate at the very highest levels of performance.
1. The Wood
Cricket bats are made from willow. Willow is a naturally fibrous wood, giving rise to clearly visible grains in the blade (more on grains later). Bat manufacturers will try to find the best quality of wood for their products to provide high quality and bat performance. There are two types of willow used in the construction of cricket bats: English Willow and Kashmir Willow.
English Willow – This is regarded as the best material to use for making bats. The timber is soft and fibrous, and as a result, has superior power and performance in terms of striking the ball. This wood is the preferred choice of all bat manufacturers
Kashmir Willow – This Indian wood is largely used as a cheap substitute for English Willow as the performance is not as good. Kashmir Willow is harder and less springy than English Willow, so the ball tends not to ‘ping’ off the bat so quickly. Kashmir Willow is only used in the production of lower priced, low range bats.
Due to the nature of Kashmir Willow it is unlikely that an adult player playing at a decent standard of club cricket would use a bat made of it. English Willow has easily the best performance.
If you are looking for a high-performance bat, always select one made from English Willow.
Some bats come with a transparent protective coating and others do not. They will appear different on each cricket bat, but you will still be able to see the grains through the covering.
I would suggest that the protective coating is advisable as this will add protection to the face of the cricket bat, which will be subjected to 90+ mph impacts from the hard leather cricket ball and will, eventually, succumb to damage. The coating also helps prevent moisture being absorbed into the bat and keeps surface cracks bound together for longer.
Look for a bat that comes with a protective coating.
3. Grains / Grade
English Willow comes in the following grades:
Grade 1+ [A]
Grade 1 – G1 [A]
Grade 2 – G2 [B]
Grade 3 – G3 [C]
Grade 4 – G4
Higher grade bats are more expensive because they tend to perform much better generally but that IS only a generalisation. Lower grade bats have some blemishes and/or flaws in the grain which can affect performance.
A lower grade bat could have blemishes which are purely cosmetic and might perform just as well as a more expensive bat.
For example, the Kookaburra Kahuna Short Handle 600 is made from grade three unbleached English Willow but is considered to be premier league quality. It is the preferred bat of former Australia test cricket captain Ricky Ponting, who is also Australia’s all-time leading run scorer in both test and ODI cricket! That’s some endorsement.
Indeed, England’s former opener and highest ever test cricket run scorer Alistair Cook always liked to have some knots or butterflies in the face of his bat as the ball can ping off these and race away (you have to be highly skilled to pull this off mind you!)
Let’s take a look at the grains and how they might affect a bat’s performance. In general, the more grains (10+) the better the performance, particularly in the early part of the bat’s life but it won’t last as long. Fewer grains (6-) mean the bat will last longer but won’t perform so well. While 6-8 grain bats provide that balance between performance and durability, if it is pure performance you are looking at, you will want more grains – the more the better!
Go for bats with 10 grains or more in the face.
Normally a matter of personal preference and dependent upon playing style, the profile of the bat encompasses the shape, size, edges, bow and sweet spot.
These days players tend to prefer bats with a larger bow and thicker edges. I would suggest that with this kind of profile, it is easier to loft the ball over the infield for scoring vital singles and twos, while still retaining the mass to smash the big shots to the boundary.
The thicker edges also allow for the chance of edging the ball past the slips and down to third man for more runs, especially since the third man area tends to be vacant in the modern game, and avoid being caught out in the slips.
Even so, the bat profile should be selected according to playing style and pitch. The position of the bow (lower or higher on the bat face) affects the pickup of the bat, with a larger bow having a heavier pickup.
Low bouncing pitches, such as those in the north of England and in India, would likely suit a lower bow.
A good handle will absorb the shock of a hard impact from the cricket ball.
Handles can be round or oval in cross-section, and while the common consensus is for personal preference (everybody has different sized and shaped hands is the theory here) I would suggest that oval handles are much, much better.
This is because the oval shape adds strength to the splice (where the handle is joined to the blade), provides a better directional feel to the controlling bottom hand and improves the pickup.
As well as an oval handle I would also use two grips. The reason for this is that the oval handles are thinner than the round handles and the two grips also provide a lighter pickup. If your hands are small, you can stick with one grip.
Select a bat with an oval-shaped handle and apply two grips.
In my opinion, a square toe is a much better option than a rounded one. Some bats have rounded toes, where the manufacturer has shaved the wood to lose some weight off the bat. To me, this is a waste. There are other ways of manipulating the profile to give good distribution, power and swing weight while keeping the weight manageable.
Also, when tapping the ground, the square toe doesn’t slip like the round toe does, offering more stability when taking guard at the crease. Nevertheless, the toe on all bats is prone to cracking and breakages. Some bats come fitted with a toe guard to help prevent this.
Look for this feature in the next bat you purchase. If it doesn’t have a toe guard, fit one yourself.
7. Treatment and Knocking In
Some bats are pre-treated but, in my experience, even supposedly pre-treated bats often require some or a fair bit of knocking in. In this sense, it is probably best to purchase an untreated bat and treat and knock it in yourself. If you don’t know how to do this, use a specialist knocking in service like talent cricket (https://talentcricket.co.uk)
Know What You Like, Know Your Own Game but Know What’s Best
Here’s where some readers will be saying, “It’s all down to your style of play/size/strength/individual tastes/etc. Okay, ultimately, it’s down to personal preference, how the bat feels, the pickup… I get that. But my point in this article is to highlight what I feel are the attributes common to all high-performance bats, regardless of the players’ individual differences and needs. But, of course, you, my avid cricket-loving readers, will undoubtedly have your own opinions. Feel free to express them in the comments section below and I will do my utmost to answer everyone. Thanks for reading.