“Leather on willow”: it’s a phrase that epitomises the British summer – and is driving a growing industry fuelled by one of our country’s most sought after trees. Cricket-bat willow is a fast-growing, moist and straight-stemmed tree, which produces a uniquely resilient but lightweight wood. From Lords to Australia via India and the West Indies, there’s nothing better for hoisting a cricket ball over a boundary rope.
Cricket-bat willow sits at the heart of a growing British industry, with high demand for quality bat timber from these shores6. India and Pakistan alone import £2 million-worth of cricket-bat willow every month, and with 138 trees likely to earn around £40,0007, it can be a very profitable tree to grow. Some forward planning is required, though. Trees need to grow for twenty years before they’re ready for harvest.
After being split and shaped into bat shapes or ‘blades’, the wood is sealed at the ends and air-dried before being graded. Grade 1 being the finest, creamy, blemish-free wood; Grade 4 a little less perfect. All are then passed on to bat makers who press the wood at a pressure of up to 2,000 lbs to strengthen its fibres. A cane handle is spliced on before the blade is finally ready for shaping by hand, sanding and waxing, and preparing for its moment of glory.