What do you think of when you think of a Batmaker?
It’s one of those jobs that seem to come from a bygone age. Like Candlestick Maker. Surely all bats are made by a machine in one big factory in Pakistan these days?
The bat making art is alive and well in England and is producing handmade willow for cricketers.
John is one such Batmaker.
I found him plying his trade in what can only be described as a shed at the back of the UK base of Gray-Nicolls in a tiny East Sussex town called Robertsbridge.
With birds chirping in the hedgerows outside, he was surrounded by sawdust, willow, vices and partly made bats. In that shed it could have been any year between 1950 and 2010. The only giveaway was that at some point between now and then the radio had been upgraded to a DAB.
Bats have been made here since 1876. John started bat making in 1961 and despite being such a newcomer has become such a master of his art that his job is now to produce bats for Gray-Nicolls star names. And with players like Strauss, Cook, Rampraskash and Key on the books, he has a busy time.
It’s certainly not an easy job.
I bet the last bat you bought didn’t get quite so much personal attention as John gives the stars.
When he hears a player is coming to get some bats he gets to work making up 12 bats. That takes about a day’s work. He used to be able to produce around 100 a day but the modern trend for thick edges and a big ‘bow’ in the blade (the curve you see along the face of modern bats) means it takes longer to press the wood and he has slowed down.
The players will come in and try the bats out, picking the 4 they like best before John finishes the job.
Some players will be happy with what he has done while others are very picky, coming back 2 or 3 times to ask for an ounce or even a half ounce to be shaved off to get that perfect balance.
John doesn’t mind, it’s their livelihood after all. It has to be right.
Bat buying advice
As we chatted I got the impression that he had seen it all.
So what advice did he have about buying a bat for players without a professional contract and a choice of bats from his hand?
“It’s all about how it feels”. He revealed. “Pick the bat up in the shop and if you get the chance try it in the nets. The balance has to feel right in your hands and everyone is different so there is no way to know unless you pick it up.”
And what does he think about modern bat changes like thicker edges, smaller blades and big bows?
“It’s all fashion. It comes and goes. We were doing something similar to the Mongoose bat years ago called the Volcano.”
His advice was to ignore most of it. Pick the best grade willow you can afford then pick the bat up.
You will know if it feels right.
The rest is up to your ability no matter how good the bat is.
Nearly 50 years of experience went into that advice, so I’m going to believe it.
If you would like more information about Gray-Nicolls bats and equipment visit their website.