The age old questions "What grade is this?" is always one of the first questions we get asked whenever a customer walks in to our store or is inquiring online. Chances are most people when looking for a bat are wanting a higher grade of willow. What is that exactly? what is willow grading? and what is it based off? and is it the most important factor when getting a new cricket bat?
JS Wright & Sons who are the worlds largest willow suppliers, responsible for almost 80% of the worlds bats meaning if you have a cricket bat sitting next to you the chances are it's come from these guys. Although there is no set determined and officially regulated grading system according to JS Wright & Sons there are 4 grades of English Willow and according to those grades, plus from the stock we've seen and what we've seen from most manufacturers, the grades closely follow the criteria below.
A Grade 1 is the best looking blade, though it will not necessarily play the best. There may be some red wood evident on the edge of the blade. The grain on the face will be straight and there will be a minimum of 6 grains visible. There may be the odd small knot or speck in the edge or back but the playing area should be clean with maybe the odd very minute speck/pin knot or slight wobble in grain being noticeable only from a close distance.
A Grade 2 blade is also very good quality and normally a larger amount of red wood can be seen on the edge of a blade, this has no effect on the playing ability of the bat it is purely cosmetic. Again there will be at least 5-6 grains on the face of the blade with some blemishes, pin knots or “speck” visible, also the top 2% of the excellent quality butterfly blades get into Grade 2.
This is a middle grade that is produced in much higher numbers than the top grades and it offers very good value for money. A Grade 3 Blade has up to half colour across the blade which again has no direct relation to the playing ability of the wood, it just has less visual attraction. There will be a minimum of 5 grains on the face of the blade which may not always be perfectly straight. Again some knots or butterfly stain may be present with sometimes more prominent “speck”.
A Grade 4 Blade is normally over half colour or contains butterfly stain. It will still play as well as the other grades. Any number of grains are possible with often only 4 grains, the willow containing ‘butterfly’ stain is very strong, there could also be more “speck” and other faults.
"I keep hearing of this players grade what is a Players Grade Bat?" Players grade is essentially the cream of the crop of grade 1, so although not technically its own grade of willow it's become a common term these days amongst manufacturers and sellers to essentially say well these are made from the best of the best of grade 1 English willow.
The characteristics from what we've seen is in most players grade what is seen is tighter grains around the 9+ mark and evenly spaced with minimal marks or blemishes on the playing area and through the toe with some specks or marks visible on the back but generally pretty clean. They also tend to be made from lower density of willow making for very light bats for their size as most professionals use around 2lb 9oz - 2lb 10.5oz whilst still maximizing the MCC Regulations of 40mm edges and 65mm spine and at the same time allowing for a full profiles with minimal to no concaving making for a bigger hitting area.
DURATION & GRAINS
More grains means the quicker the bat will reach peak performance but on the other side means the bat will not last as long. That is why a lot professionals go for this option as they want their bats reaching performance quicker and are not fussed about replacing them as in most cases they're getting their bats for free or they can afford to buy many bats in one time as those are the tools of the their trade.
With lesser grains means it'll take longer to reach it's peak performance and sometimes could end up wasting a whole season or maybe even 2 with something with too wide a grain to get it to reach peak performance and that to after taking care of it to a tee. The average cricketer doesn't have the means or want to buy a new bat every month and would want something that would ideally in this day and age last about 2 seasons and perform to it's peak early on in those 2 seasons.
The trick would be to find something in between optimal range. What we've found is anywhere between the range of 6 to 10 grains is optimal if the bat is pressed well, this will ping just as good as anything and is more likely to last a good amount of time. It shows that it's not always about spending more = better bat, it's about knowing exactly what to look for or trusting us to do that for you
MORE GRAINS EQUALS MORE PERFORMANCE?
Not always the case as wood is a natural material that even on 2 pieces of wood, with the same number of grains and blemishes completely raw untouched, untreated will perform and rebound the ball different due to the natural variations in the growth of each individual piece of wood.
Generally you do find that the more grains/cleaner grains feel softer and more effortless when rebounding the ball off the bat but not always the case as we've seen many hidden gems in mid-lower grades sending the ball cannoning off and exceeding the more expensive bats in performance and that's purely down to pressing in the factory and the natural make up of the wood itself.
That's why it's important to tap up a bat and not dismiss looking at lower grade bats when purchasing a new bat as you never know where the canon is lying hidden away! & that's exactly how we select our bats for our customers especially those online who can't come instore.
SO WHAT DOES MAKE A GOOD BAT?
As JS Wright said their Grading is based purely on looks and not on performance and at the end of the day a cricket bats job is to send the ball a long way and not sit there and look pretty.
Yes grains are important to a degree but to get a good cricket bat as a whole its dependant on how well it's pressed, the the natural make up & the craftsmanship put into the bat to allow it to feel great in the end users hands and perform according to expectations and when you're buying a bat all of that should be considered priority over looks whether that be you doing it yourself or trusting us to that for you as it's not just a simple case of more money = better bat.
You should be asking yourself when picking a bat. Is it the right shape for my playing style? does it feel good in the hands? does it rebound well? Is more likely to last? and then worry about looks after you've answered those questions.