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Old-time carves ‘Stradivarius in willow’

Old-time carves ‘Stradivarius in willow’
Laver works in relative anonymity in the hamlet of Waipawa on New Zealand’s North Island, hand-carving bats for his boutique Laver & Wood label while also supplying some of the world’s top players.

But elite batsmen inevitably have lucrative endorsement contracts with major manufacturers, so the bats he makes for the stars appear with the sponsor’s name on, rather than Laver’s. Laver explained he has an understanding with major manufacturers that he can talk about retired players who have used his blades, but not those who are still playing.

The result is polite evasiveness when trying to determine the level of Laver’s involvement in Sunday’s Cricket World Cup final between New Zealand and Australia. Can he confirm his bats will be used in the decider at the Melbourne Cricket Ground?: “Yes”. Can he say who will be using them?: “No,” he replies with a twinkle in his eye. “But they’ll be on both sides. People often ask if I get frustrated that my name’s not on there but it’s not like that. I know my bats will be used in a World Cup final regardless, and that’s quite cool, in a way,” he said.

Drifts of wood shavings reach knee high in the corners of Lavers’ factory, where bats of every kind line walls and shelves, from rough-hewn “clefts” of imported English willow, to split, battle-scarred blades sent by clients around the world to be replaced.

After one half-formed bat has gone through a mechanical press, two tonnes of pressure to compress the wood and harden the face, Laver administers a quick “thwack, thwack, thwack” with a mallet. “You’re listening to the bat, every bat has a different pitch. A close grain might have one sound if it’s a good bat, but if it’s not so good it’ll be different. Also, you’re getting a feel for how well the blade bounces and what it’s going to do,” he says.

Laver originally trained as a construction engineer in his native England but wound up serving an apprenticeship with batmakers Millichamp & Hall. After marrying a Kiwi, the 44-year-old moved to New Zealand and set up Laver & Wood in 1999, keeping alive century-old practices that have disappeared elsewhere in the face of mass production.

Each bat is handmade after customers provide details such as height, batting style, favourite shot, most common dismissal method, type of wicket played on. The factory produces about 1,800 bats a year, compared to 700 a day from major manufacturers. Laver said about 60 per cent of his customers were Indians who look for individually tailored bats to improve performance. Each bat takes about four hours of labour and goes through a week-long process of curing, shaping, sanding and polishing.
Agencies

Agencies

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