With the UK hosting both the 2019 Cricket World Cup from May 30 and the five-test Ashes series against Australia in August and September, it promises to be a thrilling summer for cricket enthusiasts. The passionate sporting rivalries will no doubt provide inspiration aplenty for the many amateur outfits that abound, from the sociable club sides of the Chelsea Arts Club and The Groucho to the scores of off-duty journalists, bankers, accountants and police officers who turn out for a gentle village eleven – and take their summer matches every bit as seriously as the household names. Professionals and amateurs alike know that the quality and timbre of their bat is as important as that of a musketeer’s sword. Do they want a flashing blade like India’s captain Virat Kohli? Or do they want to strike the ball right out of the ground like England’s Jos Buttler or the West Indies’ Chris Gayle?
Real cricket devotees appreciate that nothing quite enhances the whole experience like having a bespoke bat made solely to one’s specifications. The best and most respected maker in England (and one I can wholly recommend) is John Newbery, based at the Sussex County Ground in Hove. This family-owned business, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, crafts one-off cricket bats (from £700) in the finest English willow. Newbery begins by building the bat online, tailoring it to each customer’s age, weight and height and depending on what kind of bat face and handle shape they prefer. They will also recommend their bespoke “softs” – meaning batting gloves and pads – the best of which have leather palms and are made by Pittards in Somerset.
For those who want to go the extra mile, James Laver, an Englishman now based in New Zealand’s Hawkes Bay, is known to create the finest handmade cricket bats in the world. A passionate woodworker who loves the feel of a plane and a draw knife, Laver’s techniques differ little to the craftsmen of 100 years ago. His clients have included legends like Viv Richards and Ian Botham, as well as enthusiastic amateurs across the globe. He makes a limited number of his Signature bats (from NZ$1,400, about £708) each year, which are tailored to specific clients, and aficionados swear by them. Each comes with an exact replica in a slightly lower grade of willow, so that the Signature can be spared from mere practice wear and tear and kept for those special cricketing occasions.