Revered, adored and - when you get out to a mistimed drive - hated. The cricket bat is the icon of of batting. It stands to reason you should spend a lot.
Except, what if cost is not tied to quality quite as closely as we all assume? And if that's true; how much do you really need to spend to get a "gun" bat?
We have all heard stories of the extremes. Your mate bought a second hand plank and it turned out to produce 1000 runs in a season. A friend of a friend bought a top-of-the-range branded beast that had a smaller middle than a supermodel on a crash diet. You don't want to spend extra if there is no need, but you also want to make sure you get enough. So, here are the things you need to consider when checking out your next blade:
Willow quality is no guarantee
You might be surprised to learn that the grading system is not a solid way of deciding bat quality.
A Premium Grade 1 English willow bat is the top-rated type (and the most expensive), but a Kashmir Grade 3 will be just as likely to ping out of the middle. The differences between grades (1-5) is more about appearance than how well the bat deals with a thick edge. The higher the grade, the straighter the grains and the lesser the blemishes on the face.
Usually the better the grade, the better the bat, but it's more of a general guideline than a hard and fast rule. You can get away with dropping a grade if you want to save money.
Design is about branding
Beyond the wood itself, there are plenty of different bat designs that vary the cost. While there are some cricketing reasons for good design, a bigger factor is the emotional impact of the brand.
What do I mean by "emotional impact"?
Think back to your favourite ever bat. You can probably tell me exactly what it was like from memory. There is a high chance you can tie it in to a great batsman or innings that you admired and wanted to emulate. If, say the adidas Sachin Tendulkar Master Blaster or the Fearnley 501 spring to mind then you have nothing but warm memories born from ideas that go far beyond function and into style.
Of course, there are functional reasons to buy a certain design of bat: The "forgiving" area where you just miss the middle can be high or low depending on profile is one example.
Really though it's about how you feel when you hold it. You look down at the thick edges and the curved face and you become Tendulkar, or Kohli, or Root, or whoever. You hold the Sword of Grayskull and all you need to do is raise it aloft to become He-Man
It's important to realise that this is not just marketing.
If you hold a bat that feels like it is designed for your batting style, you gain confidence. When you gain confidence, you get runs. Emotional impact is crucial to your choice.
Specs matter, but not to price
Technical specs of a bat are not related to price.
You can buy a 2lb 10 bat for a huge variation in price. So, when it comes to weight, all you need to consider is that it is not too heavy (a common mistake in younger players) and that it feels good when you pick it up and play some shots with it.
You can also buy cheap bats that last for years and expensive bats that last for 200 runs. You can argue that better bats are designed to give more performance but bring it at a cost of lasting much less time. That is certainly true. The question is, why would you do that if you are not sponsored? You would have to have a lot of money for bats.
What's the cost?
So, what does that mean to your wallet?
It means there is no single answer as to how much you spend apart from to say: Spend as much as you can afford to make sure that you get a bat that makes you feel like you will get runs.
A cheap, unbranded Kashmir blade is exactly as effective as a Gray-Nicholls Legend if you feel like you can score a bucketful of runs with it. That's because good batting is very little about the differences between blades and mostly about the big differences between your ears.