Quantum Cricket explains cricket bat willow.















A large majority of the English cricket bat willow used throughout the World is supplied by J.S. Wright & Sons, some of the information on this page has been taken from their website (click the picture above to visit their site), but most of it is the result of our many years of experience in the cricket bat industry. Hopefully you will find this informative and interesting and it will help you to decide which bat is the best for you.

Last updated: 29.11.2009 - 16:25.
Everything you always wanted to know about willow.....
Hopefully !            But were afraid to ask?
Many types of wood have been used in the manufacture of cricket bats but history has proven only one type - WILLOW - provides the necessary springyness, strength and compression liabilities to make the perfect cricket bat. Avoid at all costs bats made from other woods like poplar (often used in low priced beach cricket sets) which are simply not up to the job for a proper cricket bat. There are essentially three types of willow used today to make cricket bats; English willow, nurtured abroad English willow and Kashmir willow;
ENGLISH WILLOW
 
ENGLISH WILLOW
NURTURED ABROAD

 
KASHMIR WILLOW
English Willow - of the genus Salix Alba 'Caerulea' is the traditional material used in the manufacture of cricket bats. Grown exclusively in the UK, usually in low laying wetland areas, along river banks and in coppices. The material of choice for the best cricket bats. It takes a lot of skill and many years to turn a willow sapling into a tree suitable for felling and turning into cricket bats - there are a small number of UK companies producing English Willow for the entire World market.

  The material of choice for the best cricket bats - available in different grades - see below for more details.
 
English willow nurtured abroad is exactly the same genus as English willow but the trees are not grown in the UK. Generally these fall into two types; willow grown in India/Pakistan or more recently grown in Australia. Generally these clefts are not of the same quality as English willow, the soil conditions and moisture levels in the growing countries are not the same as the UK and in turn this effects the moisture levels in the prepared clefts, also there is not the hundreds of years of growing knowledge, tradition and skill. Often these clefts have brown markings and wavy grains, and can be excessively dry. Nevertheless as techniques improve these bats offer a low priced alternative to English willow for the budget conscious.
 
Kashmir willow is a very close relation to English willow but is native to the Kashmir region of Pakistan and India and is thus a very inexpensive raw material for the manufacture of cricket bats in those Countries. The wood is often drier, harder and browner than English willow and the wood lacks the durability of English willow but very cheap functional cricket bats can be made from it. Often used in low priced childrens bats, or indeed low end adult bats.

  Generally the lowest quality of willow but still suitable for use in low priced markets or say as a net bat or bat to use in the rain or when slogging in an evening match.
Weeping Willow - a hybrid from the same family, very decorative but not suitable for cricket bat manufacture.
OK, so we've explained the three types of willow available in the market but what about the grade?!  Each type of willow is graded, clefts are often graded on appearance, ie number of grains, how straight are the grains, is there any brown/heart wood, are there any knots, marks or blemishes. Unfortunately there is no universal grading system, each supplier of willow and maker of cricket bats will offer their own system. What follows can really only be a summary of the various characteristics often used in the market place. JS Wright state a grade 1 willow cleft shall have a minimum of 4 straight grains, now if we sold you a grade 1 bat for £200 and it came with only 4 grains would you be happy?  No, I thought not .........................................
GRADE I
Grade 1
 
GRADE II
Grade 2
 
GRADE III
Grade 3
 
GRADE IV
Grade 4
 
GRADE V
Grade 5
Grade 1 willow is surely the most popular  - everybody wants a grade 1 bat don't they? However it's never quite as simple as that.....
Is there anything better than grade 1?  Well yes, sometimes you will see the word Premium or test grade willow, these are usually the very best of the grade 1 clefts.
For a grade 1 cleft I would expect 6-7 straight grains and a white blade with no marks, fleck, blemishes or knots in playing area, you may get a small amount of brown/heart wood (less than 2cm) down one edge of the bat.
For a premium cleft you would be looking at 8+ straight grains, typically 10 or more, again with an all white blade or slight brown edge. Generally these premium blades are also lighter and offer big profiles on lighter weight bats.
 
Grade 2 bats I would say 6-8 grains, with maybe some slight grain wobble outside of the main hitting area. A white blade or less than 3cm brown wood down one edge. You should expect a few blemishes or insignificant marks outside of the main hitting area.
 
Grade 3 - now we start to get into the mid-range, typically 5 or 6 grains, some blemish is possible and possibly some minor marking anywhere on the bat, some slight grain wobble again anywhere on the blade.
 
Grade 4, any number of grains, but rarely less than 4 grains. Upto half the bat may be brown heart wood, fleck, mark, stains and blemishes will be present but nothing too serious in the playing area, grain wobble is likely.
 
Grade 5 - anything goes! Any amount of brown wood, any amount of grains, any type of markings, blemishes and stains. These are sometimes bleached to remove some of the brown colour and markings, but this just improves the cosmetics, it doesn't do anything for the playing characteristics of the blade.
Remember this usually applies to English willow only and is not definitive - it is a rough guide to the various systems in use.
Note from this grading system the playing characteristics of the cleft are not considered at all - most grading systems are based on the appearance of the blade with the logic being the best bats are those with white blades, more grains, very straight grains and no markings in the wood. To some extent this is true but it is not the whole story, willow is a natural material and grows with an infinite number of variations, it is perfectly possible to get an ugly looking grade 5 cleft that plays better than a beautiful looking grade 1 cleft. By buying a higher grade you are paying for appearance and also playing the percentages to obtain a better performing cleft of willow.
English willow clefts ready for bat making.
       FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions

1) What about Grade A, B, C that I've heard something about?

Grades A,B and C are nothing to do with the quality of the willow. These are new regulations brought out by the ICC to cover the increasing use of non-wooden materials in cricket bats. The basic laws of cricket state a bat must be made of wood, however recently more and more manufacturers are using other materials (eg, kevlar, carbon fibre and titanium) in their bats and also facing and protecting them with rubber toe guards and plastic faces. The grade A,B,C regulations limit these extras per category. Only bats conforming to the grade A regulations may be used in Test Match and First Class cricket, grade B is a half way house for use whilst grade C bats can be made of almost anything (with primarily a wood chassis) but can only be used in club cricket. Full details are available from the ICC website and the various custodians of the laws of cricket.

  Grade A bats must only have a wooden blade, material for protection and repair is allowed to a minimum thickness, the handles must be traditional cane with less than 10% of non-wooden material. Rubber toe guards are allowed. Most of the bats we sell are Grade A bats, however as most of our sales are for club cricketers we don't classify our bats to grade A,B,C as it really doesn't matter. If you intend to use a bat supplied by Quantum Cricket in professional cricket please ask for a specification check before you purchase.

2) Is a grade 1 bat always better than a grade 2 which is better than a grade 3 etc?

The simple and to some surprising answer is NO. We are talking approximations, the physical appearance between a low end grade 1 and high end grade 2 bat can be very similar and it is hard to tell which one will be best. The willow is only the starting raw material - the skill of the bat maker makes a huge difference to how a cleft of wood performs.  Some clefts that look to be lower grade perform better than those that look better, performance also changes over time. Most clefts tend to get a bit better with age as they settle into their job, then as they get too old they tend to dry out, start to crack and loose the springyness that creates a good bat - this is normal and expected - no bat lasts forever. Some blades also perform better in different areas, most bats will perform if you time the ball out of the middle, thats how they are designed, some however give better rebound higher up the blade, or lower down the blade or can be more forgiving and responsive to edges and mistimed shots - this can be a result of the profile or just the natural variation of the wood.

  So in summary, by buying a higher grade bat you expect and would normally get a better performing bat (from within a manufacturers range), but not always and this does not constitute a fault, this is down to natural variation. Higher grade bats cost more to buy and grading is done on appearance by most systems. The skill of the bat maker is just as important as the appearance of the wood, each maker has their own skills, their own equipment and methods of pressing the bats to create what they believe is the optimal product. The real skill comes in the retailer and the purchaser matching those specifics to the player, and thats how you will get the best bat for you.

3) What is a grain?

A grain is the thin line that runs vertically down each cleft, usually a dark brown in colour, this is the growth ring of the tree. Every grain is the equivalant of one growing season (ie a year of growth), so a bat with 6 grains comes from a tree that is at least six years old, usually more than this as a couple of grains are normally lost during preparation of the cleft. A tree that grows straight upwards at a uniform rate will usually produce nice straight grains except in the lower portion where the trunk usually fattens out to support the tree. So the gap between grains indicates how quickly the tree grew in that year. This is the basis of dendrochronology, the study of the age of wood by investigation of the ring structure.

4) What is brown heart wood?

Brown heart wood is the centre of the tree where the wood is older and often harder. The white wood is the sap wood from the outer part of the tree. By the time a cleft has been pressed and turned into a cricket bat the brown wood usually plays just like sap wood, except it can be a bit harder on the edge of the bat and produce a slightly different sound and rebound if you edge the ball - this is the basis of the old fashioned notion of a right and left handed bat - some prefer a brown inside edge, some a brown
outside edge, some no brown at all !!!  Generally it is a cosmetic
issue with brown wood being less pleasing to the eye whilst having
minimal impact on the performance, so brown wood is often
bleached white to try and make the bat look like a higher grade.

5) What is multi-grain / Pro-series / high grain willow?

This is a particular type of willow that has very close grains, 15-20 or more grains is not uncommon and almost always about half of this is the brown heart wood. This type of willow is usually graded as grade 4 or 5 due to it's apperanace but is much prized for it's immediate high performance. These type of bats play well immediately but sadly don't last very long as the willow tends to be weaker due to all the grains. Some makers sell these as high grade custom bats whilst others sell them as lower grade and lower priced bats, as the customer you should pay your money and take your chance - expect excellent performance but you won't get a long life span.

6) Why do some bats have knots?

A knot is basically a place in a tree where a branch has started to grow. Commercial willow produces carefully cultivate their trees and remove shoots as soon as they appear to give trees with tall branch free trunks to maximise the willow crop and reduce the number of knot marks in their clefts. So clefts with knots usually come from the higher parts of the trees. A skilled craftsman will produce clefts with knots in specific areas to enable the bat maker to put the knot in the back of the bat or maybe cut it out altogether from the edge or back of the bat. On low grade clefts some knots are filled with a white paste to strengthen and disguise them. You wouldn't expect to find a knot in the playing area of a cricket bat, but a knot in the back or shoulder is not usually detrimental to the performance of the bat. Branches can also produce "water stain" or
"shadow marks" across a cleft, these can sometimes be unsightly but don't normally adversely effect the quality of
a bat, indeed these areas are often a little bit stronger than normal and can produce a great performing bat,
sometimes thay can also produce a 'deadspot' with lower performance due to the wood being excessively hard. This is
the beauty of willow - a natural product with a lot of variations, a skilled buyer will look at these imperfections with
objectivity and maybe try bouncing a ball on the bat to see if the marking has any effect on the bat either positive or
negative.

Watermark
staining
<-Serious knots
Pin knots->
7) What is a Butterfly Stain?

This a blemish in the bat that resembles the body of a butterfly, hence the name. Nobody is 100% sure how they develop, some think it is down to some hybrid wood mutation, others a wood bourne infection or indeed one suggestion is even shotgun pellets embedded in the tree trunk allowing water ingression which creates the patternation. Bats containing these are often much prized as being quite unique but also the staining seems to impart incredible strength into the wood and these clefts normally produce strong powerful bats even if they do look a little ugly or beautiful depending on your interpretation! These bats are becoming far less common these days - perhaps the control on shotgun ownership is having an effect?
8) What is fleck?

Fleck are little brown marks that run vertical in the wood, mostly less than 1cm in length. These marks are caused by the soil conditions in which the willow grows, gravelly or stoney soil. What happens is a tiny particle of rock is drawn up the wood dissolved in the water, if this comes out of solution it lodges in the wood and can be pulled upwards creating the 'scratch' mark. The particles are normally microscopic in size. This type of mark is only cosmetic and doesn't effect the performance or life span of the bat.
Any other questions?  Feel free to ask anything else you like - if it will be of use to other users we'll post it and the answer on here.
<- Butterfly stains ->
"Fleck" marks ->
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