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The NQ guide to winter bat maintenance

Alex Stockton delves into the mysteries of bat maintenance and explains what all the oiling and knocking is about…

The season’s over and, let’s be honest, it’s been a pretty good one. Regardless of whether your side won promotion or failed to win a competitive fixture, the weather held out for a change. The odd weekend was a little wet, but we were often blessed with hot, still days and perfect conditions for cricket. Batting averages went through the roof as the pitches became drier and people adapted to the rule changes, but the bowlers also benefited from the simple fact that washouts were few and far between. You can’t take wickets if the game’s been called off, after all.

Now, we enter the time of the year that many cricketers dread: the pre-preseason. Winter nets won’t have started yet for many, so it’s a case of kicking our heels until January.

With that in mind, let’s talk about the exceptionally important aspect of the close season that is bat maintenance. Last year, I wrote a piece on how to entertain yourself during the colder months, but now I’m focusing specifically on one aspect of that.

Firstly, not everyone can pull this off. Some of us aren’t exactly blessed with the “woodwork gene”, finding it easier to pay someone a bit of money to do this kind of thing for us. If that’s you, then don’t be ashamed. It’s easier and safer in the long run, and the art of looking after your own bat is a bit of a dying one anyway.

For those that are a little more adept at working with wood, though, it’s important that you get this right. Not looking after your bat in the close season can significantly reduce its lifespan and, if yours is one that’s brought you success, you’d probably rather keep it if possible. The basics involve sanding, oiling, and hitting, but we’ll go into a little more detail now.

Sanding
The first part of any winter bat work is to sand the blade. It keeps the wood fresh and, crucially, looking good. If you’ve got tape, or a plastic sheet on the at you’ll need to remove it, and then lightly sand the bat’s face and edges. This step is important because it cleans the bat and prepares it for the next stage.

Oiling
Arguably the most important step to get right, the oiling of a cricket bat controls its moisture levels, which is essential for any thing made of willow. Using linseed oil or a recognised cricket company’s own brand, apply a little oil over the whole bat (avoiding the splice), and leave it to dry overnight. You’ll probably only need one layer, unless you suspect that your bat may have dried out at any stage. Essentially, controlling the oil levels in a bat ensures that it doesn’t lose its effectiveness or break. If it’s too dry, it’ll crack, while a wet bat won’t hit the ball especially well.

Storage
The same principles apply when storing the bat. Don’t store it anywhere too dry or too damp – a sealed shed or garage is perfect. If you are going to leave it in the house, just make sure it’s not left next to the radiator or in the bathroom. Generally, a storage cupboard is perfect.

Knocking in
Provided it’s a case of refurbishing an old bat, the blade should already have been knocked in. It’s still important to spend around an hour with a wooden mallet knocking in all of the areas you’ve oiled, however. The change in sound from a dull thud to a crisper spring is what you’re looking for. The lighter ,springier sound indicates that part of the bat is ready to go. If you’d rather not suffer death by boredom by mallet, then hit some old cricket balls in the nets. Get someone to lob you some underarm balls and hit some hard drives … it’s more fun that way, too!

From that point on, your bat will be ready to go again. If you like having a cover or bat tape on it, then reapply that, and enjoy the new lease of life your handiwork will undoubtedly have given it. Winter well, and stay fit until the new year!

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