If you’ve learned anything about cricket bats, you’ll know that there is some debate over pretty much every aspect of bats, and what is suitable for each cricketer.
Luckily, one of the “standard” properties of a bat, and one we can measure and agree on, is the grade of the willow. So what does cricket bat grading entail? How do the grades of cricket bats come into play on the pitch and when buying your next bat?
What Willow Grades Mean
Both English willow and Kashmir willow have grades. These are intended to be a simplified method of understanding the quality on offer with each bat. As you might expect, grade one is the highest, and therefore the best quality, but there are plenty of other grades that are absolutely suitable for use. A grade three cricket bat is not suddenly a “bad” bat.
The grade helps to dictate the use of a bat, for instance, whether it is good enough for professional use.
If you were to go and buy a grade one cricket bat, expect it to cost you a small fortune, but this is a bat that is going to be suitable for use by everyone, including professionals. When you watch a big test series on TV, you are going to see a lot of high grade bats.
There may be some myths out there about cricket bats and their grades, and we take a deep dive into the different grades, their meanings, and what is suitable for you in this guide.
Why Does English Willow Cost So Much?
At The Village Cricket Co., our bats are made out of high-grade Kashmir willow.
A Kashmir willow bat tends to be much more affordable, and makes the ideal choice for a village cricketer.
English willow is known around the world as a gold standard, but that’s not to say that Kashmir willow should be ignored. Top professionals including Sir Viv Richards and Sachin Tendulkar have used grade one Kashmir willow.
Speaking in general terms, a grade 1+ Kashmir willow plays the same as grade two English willow.
English willow costs vastly more due to the fact that the wood is not so abundant, and the fact that the willow gets exported to India to be turned into a bat before being imported back into England, or on to Australia. This is all adding to the cost.
Willow is a commodity, and like all commodities, many different factors can impact upon the price.
English vs. Kashmir Willow
We have created a full guide to English willow vs. Kashmir willow here.
Who are we to talk? Well, we’ve certainly done our research. Our team has:
- Read around 300 articles comparing the types of willow and what their properties are, including consumer reviews.
- Tested bats made from both English and Kashmir willow and tried out all of the different grades of each.
- Used the bats in a variety of different conditions, outdoor and indoor.
Kashmir willow has some significant differences.
It’s denser. Though the willow tree itself is identical, the fact that it is grown in different conditions in Kashmir makes it harder and denser. This can actually lead to the bat lasting longer than English willow.
Colour. You can see the difference between the two types of willow. Kashmir willow is darker, again, this is due to the conditions in which it is grown.
“Ping”. The Kashmir willow might lack a little bit of ping off the bat when compared to English willow, which is renowned for helping top players hit huge boundaries. The key term here is “top players” – the vast majority of amateur and village cricketers will not be able to benefit from this.
Generally speaking, we would say that Kashmir willow needs to be one grade above English to perform similarly. A grade one English bat is roughly the same in terms of quality as a grade one Kashmir bat. Of course, cricket bat willow grades aren’t the only thing that goes into the character of the bat.
Who Grades Willow For a Cricket Bat?
The bat maker will select the wood used for a cricket bat, and they’ll grade the pieces of willow according to some physical characteristics (more on this below).
Though there isn’t an ‘independent cricket bat grading’ profession, and it is down to the manufacturers, the big bat makers are all pretty good at reliably marketing their bats as the correct grades.
In the industry, there are some accepted properties that make up each of the grades.
The most expensive, and the best looking of all the cricket bat willow. There are at least six straight grains that are visible on the face of the bat, and while there are occasionally small knots or specks on the back of the bat or around the edges, the actual playing surface will look clean as a whistle.
Grade two is still a very high-quality blade. It might have more red wood visible than grade one, but we really don’t think this makes a big impact to the playability of the bat at all. The number of grains tend to be pretty similar to grade one bats too, but there may be the odd blemish.
Many manufacturers say that grade three is their best-selling type of bat. It tends to have a tint on the front of the wood but this doesn’t mean that it isn’t playable. In fact, these bats can be almost as good as the above grades when it comes to “ping” though there’s some debate on whether they’ll last as long. It’s likely there will be some specks around the face.
Grade four tends to be pretty discoloured in general, but the playability isn’t affected. They often only have four grains running along the face, and they may have more butterfly marks and specks.
Grade five tends to have a lot of stain in it, and doesn’t look great in comparison to even grade four wood, but it is still playable, especially for practicing.
Wood Grade and Appearance
There are some general “rules of thumb” when it comes to buying a bat, but there are always exceptions.
For instance, higher grades of wood almost always perform better. However, the factors such as where the wood is grown also make a massive difference.
A grade one wood will perform better than grade three or four in general, but the difference between one or two grades may not be hugely noticeable at a village level.
Look at it this way; Jos Buttler might be able to hit a ball 65 meters with a grade three bat, and a grade one bat might make the ball fly an extra few meters or make slightly better contact. These are some of the fine margins we’re talking about.
The look of the bat is definitely something that is considered when grading bats. It’s the main clue for manufacturers regarding whether the bat is going to be up to scratch.
Appearance doesn’t always make or break a bat. For instance, wider grain bats might be a great piece of willow after a bit of playing in, but a lot of people search for thin grain bats.
Did you know that a grain is generally regarded as a year in the life of the tree? Eight grains has often been discussed as the perfect amount for a bat, but this hasn’t necessarily held true. Some types of wood reach maturity quicker.
Bat makers evaluate things like how many grains are on a piece of wood, the distance between them, how straight they are, and how many blemishes or discoloured sections there are.
The truth is that you don’t necessarily know for sure whether a bat is for you until you pick it up and start to have a hit with it. Even then, it might require some time to bed in.