It has been a few years now since I last played club cricket. I has been a few years more since I last played a full season of club cricket, and that would be going back to my Colts days at Three Bridges Cricket Club in Crawley, West Sussex. Back then I was considered an all-rounder, but I never really took to batting. Sure they made me open because I had a strike-rate that would make Jonathan Trott impatient, but I always preferred bowling. That’s right, I was then what James Franklin is now. But after moving to Essex, I didn’t play cricket for a while, and then when I did, this time playing a few Sunday League matches here and there for Dunmow CC, I had realized that I couldn’t hold a bat anymore, more over score runs. I also realized that by this time that I genuinely disliked batting and felt more confident with a ball in my hands rather than a blade. I hated waiting for the next delivery, I hated the bowler and I hated the ball that all of a sudden became the size of a fly and twice as hard to swat. Despite all this, I still possess an innate fondness for cricket bats and the way they are made. I once had a debate with a good friend of mine about whether a car could have ‘a soul’. Although I do agree now that they can, back then I argued that a car was an inanimate object and could not have a soul. Technically I am still correct, cars do not have character unless we delve into the realm of anthropomorphism, hell there is still debate whether animals have souls (to which I would argue that they do). But my friend who is a big on cars, pointed out to me that he looks at cars at the same way that I would look at a cricket bat. And so I understood what it meant to look at a car and see everything in it that we see when we look at another human being – the good and the bad. Jeremy Clarkson once said (in one of those brief instances when he wasn’t being a total oaf) that for a car or a plane or a boat to have a soul, it must have one of the most fundamental of human characteristics – a flaw; something that stops it from being completely perfect in every way. And so it is with cricket bats. No one bat is the same, no one bat will perform to its best on every surface. Of course the bat is only as good as the player wielding it, but that is not to say that the characteristics of a bat is only given to it by its owner.
So I come on to my Kookaburra Sword 4000. Bought for me back when I was an U-15 player for around £80 from a shop in Hastings whose owner had come to Three Bridges one day with an array of bats and equipment. I’ve always been a Kookaburra fan going back to the days when Sanath Jayasuriya brought bowlers to their knees with this Bubble and Aravinda de Silva carved up attacks with his Aussie blade. This bat of course isn’t the same standard of willow as those but it has its perks. Harrow sized with the distinctive yellow grip, now tattered and torn, it has quite a high profile ridge (something that wasn’t as common back then as it is now) to aid the backlift. It is roughly 11.5cm in width and with a middle about 30cm from the toe and oh what a middle it is. Still to this day the ping you get from it just bouncing a ball on its quite rounded face is glorious. I’m sure people who have played cricket to any level will know the feeling that travels up your arm and down your spine when a cricket ball hits a good piece of willow in your hands. The ball feels great wherever it hits the bat to be honest, provided it doesn’ hit the splice or the shoulders. I even remember the best shot I ever played with it. Away against Roffey U-15s I came forward to a well pitched up delivery. Intending to just prod it back into the covers for a dot or maybe even a cheeky single, my usually erratic timing was on this occasion spot-on, my feet usually so plodding got right to the pitch of the ball which smacked straight into the sweet spot. My wrists had twisted the handle so the bat face gtuided the ball through the gap in the infield and the ball raced away for four. Even the umpire applauded the shot. I was out soon after and I’m pretty sure we lost that match but this particular blade had never has and never will play a finer shot. The Sword is great for colt players. It is quite wide-grained (this particular one has 4) and so will last a long time, provided it is taken care of. I must admit to not knocking it in as much as I should have and I have the cracks to prove for it. But overall it is a fine piece of willow and has guided me through many a hostile spell of bowling.
I’ve often thought about buying a new bat, but I think a return to cricket would have to precede it first. If I do though, I am unsure as to what I would go for. Of course I’d love to wield one of the £300+ monsters with high grades of willow but not being flush with cash, I think I would have to restrict my budget to £200, maybe £250 if I like something in particular. I don’t even know if I will go with Kookaburra again. The reason their bats appealed to me was that coming from fast, bouncy Australian pitches they are light and easy to manoeuver the ball as opposed to the big, meaty bats of the sub-continent. There is plenty of choice in the Kookaburra range. Blades like the Kahuna, Recoil and the Menace are all available for reasonable prices at lower grades of willow. Certainly the Kahuna is one of the most popular ones on the international circuit with players like Ricky Ponting, Ed Joyce and AB De Villiers wielding it. Michael Hussey, Brad Haddin and Simon Katich use and have used the Recoil and the only player that I know of who uses a Kookaburra Menace is Ian Bell after he made the change from the Adidas Incurza. The Menace probably has the thinnest edge of the three. The Kahuna and Recoil both have fat edges and flat faces. They are probably better looking than the Menace as well, although I do not approve of Kookaburra‘s new bat stylings. Would rather they go back to the old-fashioned ‘swoosh’ across the face.
There is also a fantastic range of bat makers, here in the UK outside the likes of Gray Nicholls and Gunn Moore who make some quality products. Newbery in Sussex provided Murray Goodwin with his Uzi that made him one of the finest County batsmen of all time. Money no option though, out of the Newbery range I’d opt for the Mjolnir for its straightforward profile. Thin edges (my edges usually go to the slips anyway, so no point trying to score off them) and quite a long middle and as someone who prefers to drive the ball off the front and back feet, I reckon something like the Mjolnir would suit me. Either that or something off their new Tomahawk range, because everybody loves a bat with badass curves. Newbery also manufacture the Cenkos; which at £1,000 is a bat that I’d not want to take out to the middle with me. Ever.
Another UK bat manufacturer who deserves more credit is Salix. Not only is naming your bat making company after the latin for ‘willow’ a stroke of genius, but in my opinion Salix do make some of the prettiest blades you can find anywhere in the world. Certainly the Pod and Praestantia are fine examples of the range. Lovely graining down the blade, which I prefer to be slightly rounded and with a long running middle to help in driving the ball. I prefer oval-handled bats as well. If money really was no object, I’d look at some of the beasts made by Hammer Cricket too. In particular the Beserker range which showcases everything that is good about Hammer bats. Close to 10 grains on it, thick edges and essentially great for walloping some hapless trundler like me into an imaginary press box. Alternatively for cheaper bats in the same mould, Shark Cricket do a pretty cool range of bats. Used by Dwayne Smith (and Chanaka Welegedera) to consistently clear the ropes. Love the stickering on it too (people who don’t like stickers on their bats should check out Blank Bats). If cost really is a problem then I don’t think you’d want to look further than the Bulldog Basher. Plenty of graining down the middle means less knocking-in and a shorter life, but at £95 a pop, it presents fantastic value for money.
Alas it turns out my tribute to the Sword has digressed on to other bats that I most likely will never own. I’m no expert on the matter and there are plenty of places you can go to get informed opinions before buying bats. Check out Cricket Store Online and their Youtube channel, likewise ItsJustCricket‘s channel as well as other places. I know there are loads of other bats I have missed out so if you have a suggestions, please comment below.