Cape Town - Finance, Economic Development and Tourism MEC Alan Winde has braved the bowling of some of South Africa’s best cricket stars in support of local business.
Winde padded up and took to the crease at the indoor cricket nets at local bat-maker D&P Cricket yesterday – staring down Proteas Vernon Philander, Rory Kleinveldt and Dane Piedt, the up-and-coming star with the Cobras.
Winde said of the experience as a batsman: “It’s easy to act very bravely behind a TV set watching our guys. When you’re having to face them yourself it’s a very different story.
“We have huge respect for our cricketers, and when you face them, that respect just grows.
“I was very grateful to have pads all over me.
“The coach came along and told me: ‘C’mon, hit the ball.’ Sometimes you just need to be brave and face what’s coming your way. I also worked out today that I’m a bit better at legislation and the economy than being a professional cricketer…”
Philander, while not bowling at full tilt, joked: “It is not us who hurt batsmen, it’s the ball.”
The small Cape Town company has for 15 years been quietly crafting bats for the best in the world.
Their timber comes from JS Wright & Sons, a company born around 1894.
They target mature willow trees, 15 to 20 years old, with trunks with a circumferences of 142cm, at 142cm from the ground.
Their preferred species is Salix alba Caerulea which has tough, lightweight wood that does not splinter easily.
Each trunk should yield three to five bat lengths of 71cm each, and the trees are purchased standing, with all felling, extraction and clearing down to JS Wright & Sons.
They are then cut into clefts and each end is waxed to prevent splinting.
The clefts are dried naturally and then under lights, before being sent around the world.
The company supplies 90 percent of the world’s willow, and 80 percent of it goes to factories in India and Pakistan.
But several paletts of clefts are also delivered to Ottery into the hands of D&P Cricket, and its founder, Paul Borst, an Englishman who settled in Cape Town in 1998.
After being hammered into shape, the company produces about 1 000 bats a year, with specifications strictly adhering to rules imposed by the MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club), the historic home of Lords cricket ground in St John’s Wood in London.
Unlike mass-produced bats, the timber is compressed by hand-operated presses, after which the bat-maker will strike the face with a wooden mallet, listening for minute, for tell-tale differences in the “clunk” sound to ascertain whether the timber is hard yet flexible enough in the right places – much like a piano tuner.
“Every piece of wood is different. The longer you spend with each piece, the better. Pressing is essentially the most significant, controllable aspect of determining the ‘response’ and lifespan of each bat,” Borst explained
An Indonesian cane handle, laminated with rubber or cork, is then spliced into the willow, with its own characteristics for strength and flexibility.
The bats are then hand-shaped with a draw knife and every bat is given uniquely shaped edges, toes and shoulders, crafted by master bat-maker Kevin Heuvel, before being sanded, oiled and tested – often with their new owners checking in at the factory to watch their bats being born.
The company also produces a wide range of cricket gear, and counts among its sponsored players the trio whose bowling Winde faced yesterday.
Winde said, after touring the factory: “It was great to see the skill and artistry.
“This is not mass production with programmed milling, but personal shaping of willow. It was amazing to watch. Every bat has a unique feel to it.
“Their label has their brand on it, as well as the words ‘Cape Town’, and that’s great, having our world-class products used by our heroes around the world.
“But, most importantly, it’s quality, home-made – and this is how we’re going to grow our economy,” Winde said. - Cape Argus