Knocking in your bat is a traditional but often bewildering part of playing cricket, says Ed Kemp in Gear This Week.
We all know the drill: you go and buy a beautiful new bat, you get it home, and then spend a total of about an hour-and-a-half whacking it with a mallet. In the process, of course, you’re likely to make yourself extremely (or even more) unpopular with your parents/partner/neighbours/teammates. All this is a given.
And yet, and yet. There are questions. Even the keenest of kit keenos are exercised by the doubts and the concerns: what is the best preparation for a particular blade? Am I doing more harm than good with my well-intentioned bludgeoning? Discussions on the Custom Bats Forum are evidence enough of this.
One answer – you might think – would be to have your bat pre-knocked in by the manufacturer. Although this provides some level of guarantee (if it breaks, a manufacturer can’t claim the customer failed to knock it in properly) it’s a murky business. It’s a service you have to pay for – and it’s a pretty intangible thing: customers are asked to take a company’s word for it that someone has spent the appropriate hours lovingly knocking in your prized purchase, toughening up the wood ready for play.
Naming no names, I was recently sent a bat, a brand new bat, that I was told had been knocked in for 90 minutes. I went out to use it. There seemed simply no way it can have been knocked in for that long. The indentations made by such soft, blancmange-like cricket balls were so pronounced it started to look more like the surface of the moon than the face of a brand new, anti-scuff protected cricket bat. Pre-knocking in is a good way to go, but you still might want to give it a bit of treatment yourself before taking it to the middle.
Which brings us to an interesting question from last week’s Ask The Bat Maker chat with James Laver of Laver & Wood. AOC reader Charlie asked, quite reasonably: “Why don’t bat makers offer all bats fully knocked in – there aren’t many things you pay over £200 for then spend an hour-and-a-half working before you can use it…”
Laver’s response was this: “Fair question! The reality of most bats is that the time between manufacture and the bat being in store and arriving with the customer could be up to six months or so. Therefore if the bat has been knocked in in the factory the willow still has a lot of time to settle and recover from the process and hence I would always recommend knocking it in again if the bat is bought off the shelf.
“Even with our processes the bat has been fully knocked in but, again, it can settle and recover from the process. We recommend having a couple of net sessions/throwdowns with the bat, mainly to help you get a feel for the new bat but also to make sure that the timber has not thrown a curveball at us by recovering from the knocking in process too quickly. It is a natural product and does not always do exactly what we’d like it to.”
I suppose that’s part of their beauty. And after all, a winter spent knocking in a new stick is a great way of building up a bit of forearm strength to help you nail down that potentially glorious pickup over mid wicket.
Click here to read full highlights of Ask The Bat Maker – top tips and discussion points – in Gear Last Week