Batting in cricket is all about decisions. Do you play or leave the ball? Go forward or back? Attack or defend? But perhaps the most important decision is made off the pitch. What bat should you use?

The right bat will give you confidence as you walk out to the crease. Choosing the best willow is a difficult task. Bats that weigh the same can be totally different. Everything is in the pick up – how it feels in the hand. It all comes down to knowing your game. If you open the batting and face fast bowling, you might want a light bat, allowing you to make slight corrections more easily. Down the order, those who hit the ball hard and far might favour a heavier one; even the best bat-makers can’t overcome the laws of physics. Nor those of the MCC who introduced a new law on bat dimensions, limiting the edges to 40mm. Lastly, everyone wants that bat with the perfect straight grain, because they just look better.

Bat-making is an arcane art, and the bat-makers are a rare breed. Knowledge is passed down, and smaller companies emerge from the larger ones. Some of the global sports brands produce bats, good ones even. But not all the bats you’ll see in the international arena are what they purport to be. Here, we have mostly focused on the smaller companies that make their own bats by hand. These brands do not spend large amounts of money sponsoring professionals, and so you can get a better and cheaper blade as a result.

Bats are as expensive as they’ve ever been. The willow from which they’re made is all grown in England and has risen in price. The clefts are graded – grade one is the very best, but two and three can offer good value. The most sought-after willow has the straightest grain and fewest knots or blemishes, all signs that it has grown at a regular rate and will therefore perform better.

In this review we have set an upper price limit of £310. If you are spending more, you might as well get a custom bat made to your precise specifications. Those bats may look and perform that little bit better. But nothing lasts forever, and the amateur player cannot justify spending more than he or she scores.

Salix SLX Select Cricket Bat: £207, Pro:Direct Cricket 

Salix takes its name from the willow used to make bats. And as you might expect, the focus is very much on the beauty of the wood. The finish is second to none, the extra sanding making the wood feel unbelievably soft – and the performance is excellent too. The SLX would suit front-foot players, and the generous edges will help the weaker ones too. The bat picks up extremely well and feels extraordinarily light in the hands, thanks to a slightly shorter blade. Andrew Kember is one of the best bat-makers around, founding Salix in 1990 after stints at Newbery and Gray-Nicolls. This was the bat we most wanted to hang onto.

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Woodstock Tour de Force LE: £310

Woodstock is a small bat-maker based in Shropshire. Like others before him, John Newsome learnt his craft at Newbery before setting up Woodstock in 2010. You may not see its stickers on the international circuit but its bats are firm favourites with the knowledgeable club player. The Tour de Force LE is the first and most popular model from the manufacturer, winning a number of awards. It picks up and performs well and looks beautiful. The minimalist stickers showcase the grain and finish of the wood. This was a close second to the Salix.

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Newbery Quantum Player: £275

John Newbery founded his company in 1981, having learnt his trade at Gray-Nicolls and from his bat-maker father. Newbery is based in the Sussex county ground at Hove, and its showroom is well worth a visit. The bat range has recently been revamped and the Quantum Player offers an enormous sweet spot, with weight having been shaved off high on the spine of the bat. Newbery also offers a cheaper Performance range – and at £119.99 their Phantom is one of the best-value bats around. 

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Millichamp and Hall Heritage Hybrid Mk II: £300

Millichamp and Hall also operates from a county ground – Taunton in this case. If you stop by its workshop you will see some of the most beautiful and expensive bats available – and there may be a plain one or two awaiting collection (and restickering) by a pro sponsored by a bigger manufacturer. The Heritage Hybrid Mk II is its cheapest model and emerged from its Solution and Signature bats. It has a low middle, ideal for slow English pitches where the ball rarely gets up above waist height. So if you like getting on the front foot and hitting the ball back past the bowler, this is the bat you want. This is not an understated bat – with its retro green stickers and a finish so smooth you almost won’t want to let the ball hit it, it is very much more gentlemen than players, so you’d better make some runs.

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Kookaburra Kahuna 600 Cricket Bat: £185, Pro:Direct Cricket 

The Kahuna has been Kookaburra’s flagship model for 17 years and has been used by the likes of AB de Villiers and Martin Guptill. With its elongated spine it will particularly suit the back-foot player – Ricky Ponting helped develop it after all. A good all-round cricket bat, this version (made from grade three willow) provides excellent value for money. The top-of-the-range model retails at £574.99, but in testing the ball cracked off the middle of this one. The fielding side always looks for clues as to a batsman’s competence, and we don’t recall seeing many useless batsmen coming to the crease with a Kookaburra.

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The Verdict

If you can afford it, the Salix is the bat to go for, with its sensational combination of performance and craftsmanship. The Woodstock has this too, with a bit more heft. With either of these in your kit bag, you will approach the cricket season with extra confidence.

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.