When the weather is too hot to do anything else watching cricket is the perfect activity. I’ve wasted many a summer day, blinds drawn against the beating sun, beer in hand and fan on high, watching Australia thrash another member, or former member of the Commonwealth. And I have to say that in all of this time I’ve never given much thought to where cricket bats come from. I knew, of course, that they are made from the willow tree and that fact had earned me a few extra points at trivia. However I’d never given much thought as to where, how and the money making potential of the humble cricket bat. Nor was I aware of the worldwide shortage of quality cricket bat willow.
That was until we drove past the plantation of perfectly spaced trees about 20 minutes outside of Swan Hill in North Western Victoria. I love symmetry and after trekking through mud in inappropriate shoes to take photos; curiosity got the better of me. When I got home I looked up the company website.
The Australian Cricket Willow Bat Project is an investment opportunity based on the scarcity of quality willow. There are two types of willow used to make bats, the superior Salix Alba ‘Caerulea’ and the more common Kashmire willow. According to the website there is a worldwide shortage of Salix Alba ‘Caerulea’ willow, more commonly known as ‘Cricket Bat Willow’ and the vast majority of the world’s supply is grown in the United Kingdom. This variety of willow is said to be of a higher quality because it is light, strong and does not splitter easily. Its pale colour is also more visually pleasing. Caerulea willow is used exclusively by first class cricket players in both the UK and Australia.
There is also more to making a quality cricket bat then I had ever considered. One willow tree will yield about 30 clefts, essentially a piece of truck which can then be shaped into a bat. The process of shaping a cleft is called Pod Shaving and while it can be done by machine; superior bats are shaped by hand. The name given to the person who does this is, “Master Bat Maker”. Grandiose names and English traditions go hand in hand.
Now I just have to hope that the next time I’m at trivia a question comes up about cricket bat making. I might actually be useful when the sports section comes up for something other than going to the bar.