"Sanath Jayasuriya was one of the pickiest" : James Laver [Exclusive Interview]

Cover Drive

Senior ODI Player
Aug 12, 2009
PakPassion.net presents an exclusive interview with world's finest batmaker, James Laver.

James is head batmaker at Laver&Wood since 1999 and before Laver&Wood James worked at Millichamp & Hall. Over the period of time James made his name in cricket bats field by making impressive bats for likes of Steve Waugh, Brain Lara and many many more.

Below is the interview PakPassion.Net did with James Laver.


PakPassion.net: Is bat making a dying art?

James Laver: I think it is a huge shame that a lot less bats can now be called ‘hand-made’. Unfortunately big business demands large profit margins and it is cheaper for many big companies to make bats in different manners. Having said that there are some absolutely superb bat-makers around doing their thing so I think that the art of the pod shaver will never disappear.

PakPassion.net: What is the most unusual request for a modification in a bat you were asked for?

James Laver: Aside from profiles, handles seem to be the part of the bat that customers are most ‘fussy’ about. We have many requests for different shapes, different materials, very specific grip set-ups etc. Recently we have had quite a few people asking about counter-balances as a few pro players have started using them.

I guess the most recent, very strange request came from a customer here in New Zealand who wanted a copy of the old Lance Cairns Newbery Excalibur. He insisted on it being the same shape and dimensions as well as the weight being identical to what Lance used to use – 3lbs 5ozs. I simply cannot understand how someone can use it effectively – but each to their own!

Another bat I have made is one the full 38” long for a player in the UK who had a bad back and could not bend. I can’t think of too many other reasons for using a bat this long though as it slows down your bat speed considerably.

PakPassion.net: Are bats made lighter by shaving wood off or a lighter wood is used?

James Laver: To answer your question – both techniques are used. I will certainly use a lighter original cleft for a bat that is to be finished at 2lbs 7ozs than one that is to be finished at 3lbs.

However it is not always as simple as starting off with a very light cleft. For a very light bat I will also have to take wood out of certain areas to make sure the finished weight is accurate. Making sure a bat performs well at a lightweight is one of the most difficult aspects of the job but one that challenges and motivates me.

PakPassion.net: Are grains really that important on a bat?

James Laver: It depends exactly what you refer to as important. In terms of performance – not really. Many of our best performing bats come from willow graded by our merchants as Grade 2 and therefore do not have perfectly straight and even grains.

Essentially it comes down to the fact that tightly grained bats (12 or more) perform better initially but do not last as long. Bats with what we refer to as the optimum number (7 to 10) last much longer. This is important for our bats as they are known to continually improve over time.

Obviously, the longer a bat lasts, the more opportunity it has to develop. Therefore tightly grained clefts may perform well to begin with but after half a season or so bats with fewer grains will begin to out-perform them.

PakPassion.net: Do pressed bats last less than bats knocked in with a mallet?

James Laver: As far as I’m aware nearly every single bat made by a skilled bat-maker is pressed prior to being crafted.

If you are referring to being pressed once finished as opposed to being knocked in by a mallet then we certainly recommend using a mallet. We always recommend doing something by hand rather than using a machine as human interaction with a natural product is incredibly important. If you knock in a bat by hand you can make sure you spend more time on the important areas (toe and edges) than the sweet spot. The toes and the edges are the areas most prone to breakage and therefore need to be knocked in to a greater extent.

PakPassion.net: Who in your opinion makes the best bats (apart from Laver & Wood).

James Laver: There are many great bat-makers around the world but having trained under him, I can say that Julian Millichamp does make some very special bats.

Having seen some of Tim Keeley’s work along with a few of the smaller bat-makers in the UK I think the general standard out there is very high.

I have also seen some beautiful bats coming out of the large manufactures in India and Pakistan – the ability of some of the bat-makers there is excellent.

PakPassion.net: You've made bats for some fine players, who was the picky one of the lot?

James Laver: One of the pickiest was certainly Sanath Jayasuriya. I made a bat for him in 1998, which lasted him roughly four hours and 200 runs! Ever since then he was insistent on making every bat I made for him as close as possible to that specific one. It was difficult at times to get the bats identical but I enjoyed the challenge

PakPassion.net: Which bat in world cricket impresses you the most? One that you haven't personally made?

James Laver: At the moment I am really impressed by the GM Flare profile. It seems to allow for a large hitting zone whilst also retaining good balance and pick-up.

PakPassion.net: What's your opinion on the Mongoose cricket bat?

James Laver: I think that the ‘Mongoose’ style bat certainly has a place in world cricket. It is all about making the hitting zone as powerful as possible so that you can consistently clear the boundary. I have made quite a few similar ones in the past and think they all stem back to the Newbery Excalibur used by Lance Cairns in the 70s and 80s.

PakPassion.net: Have you ever made a bat for Sachin Tendulkar?

James Laver: Unfortunately due to sponsorship agreements I cannot say which current players I have made bats for/am currently making bats for. It is safe to say that I have made bats for a lot of the best cricketers in the world over the past 20 years – take from that what you will!

PakPassion.net: Any new innovations in bat making like the Mongoose MMi3? A bat specially made for T20 cricket?

James Laver: We are always on our toes looking at new ways to make bats that hit the ball even further. There are so many different aspects to bat making that there is always room for trial and improvement. I am hugely dedicated to experimenting and trying new things so keep an eye out on our website's special offers page- as there are likely to be some prototypes on there in the near future.

PakPassion.net: Which type of bat do you gain most satisfaction from producing - a large heavy bat or smaller lightweight? Which one is easier to produce?

James Laver: Making every single bat is a challenge and therefore satisfaction comes with every single one that leaves the workshop. The challenge of making a light bat that performs well is matched by the challenge of ensuring a heavy bat is balanced well and picks up nicely.

Overall though lights bat takes more time to produce and is trickier. This is down to the fact that you need to be very careful where you take the wood from so that the balance and performance is kept superb.

PakPassion.net: What are your views on the heavy bats cricketers use nowadays?

James Laver: Cricketers are always looking for ways to hit the ball harder and further. Many have decided that heavy bats are the way to do this whereas some think that bat-speed is more important and therefore want lighter bats.

Essentially it comes down to the fact that each player has their own preferences and will stick with what suits them. My personal prediction is that as time goes on I think we will begin to see fewer players using ultra-light bats (2lbs 6ozs or under) as well as few players going for extra-heavy ones (2lbs 14ozs or more). I believe most of the best bats out there are in the 2lbs 9ozs to 2lbs 13ozs range.

PakPassion.net: When you are pressing a bat, what role does adding or removing moisture play in creating / enhancing ping?

James Laver: This is a very complex question that could take hours to answer! I’ll give it my best shot at keeping it simple!

We try and keep the moisture content of our bats at around 12% as this is a good balance between performance and durability. To an extent, the ‘drier’ a bat, the better it will perform and the ‘wetter’ a bat, the longer it will last. That is a huge generalization but it is important to note.

If a willow cleft is dried to below the 10% moisture level then it will obviously weigh less than one at 12%. Therefore you will get a larger bat for the weight. This will increase performance. The less obvious way low moisture content improves performance is down to how ‘full’ of water the willow cells are.

The best analogy I can come up with here is a balloon. If it is full of air and you push the side with your finger there is little indenting and therefore little rebound. However, if it is only half full of air then there is more indenting and therefore more energy comes back towards your finger in returning the balloon to its original shape.

I really hope that makes sense!

PakPassion.net: Is the 'ping' of the bat a result of the cleft itself or pressing?

James Laver: It is a combination of both. You will never get a top-performing bat out of a bad piece of willow but bad pressing can also turn a good piece of willow into a plank. Both aspects are incredibly important to the quality of a finished bat.

PakPassion.net: Do you press your clefts before or after you cut them to size (4 1/2 inch face, toe etc)

James Laver: We cut the cleft to width before pressing but then cut the bat to length afterwards.

PakPassion.net: How did you learn your secrets to pressing a bat? How long did it take you to learn?

James Laver: I learnt the pressing processes I use over many years and in some ways I am still learning now. I have used many different presses in many different ways and it took a good few years before I got to the stage where I am perfectly happy with my technique.

PakPassion.net: What scientific testing do you perform on clefts? What advancements have been made in cleft selection? What advancements have been made in cultivation of English Willow? Any ideas regarding GM for enhanced qualities?

James Laver: I have a few specific tests that I do on the clefts at various stages of the bat-making process to check their performance and structural integrity but I would prefer not to go into too much detail.

In terms of the cultivation and selection of willow I really leave that to the guys at JS Wright & Sons as this is what they do best. There is a reason that they are the biggest and best willow merchants in the world and I leave it all down to them. I am lucky that they have always been good to me with the willow that I buy!

PakPassion.net: What are the causes of low-density clefts?

James Laver: Low density is simply a natural property of certain willow trees. It comes down to the conditions in which the specific willow tree grew (weather, sunlight etc) as well as how quickly it developed.

Once again, the actual willow merchants would be much more qualified to discuss this than myself.

PakPassion.net: What is your opinion of heartwood in clefts?

James Laver: Genuinely, the tests that I have done have shown that there is only a very marginal difference between heartwood and sapwood. Therefore whether a bat is all sapwood, all heartwood or half and half tends not to influence my selection too much. Some people do have preferences though and so I would of course look at those when selecting.

PakPassion.net: What is your opinion of high density / low density cleft bats? Which is preferred and why?

James Laver: It is simple enough to say that as long as low-density clefts are structurally sound then they are preferential. A low-density cleft is lighter than a high-density one and will therefore produce a larger bat at a given weight.

PakPassion.net: What role does CAD / CNC play in bat manufacturing in the future?

James Laver: I think more and more CNC machines will make bats in the future. The demand for cricket bats the world over means that not all bats can be made by hand. I am confident though that many companies will stick with the handcrafting process as it certainly leads to more consistent top quality bats.

PakPassion.net: What is your opinion on handles? What handles do you use in your bats (which type of cane) how many pieces? What do you make the rubber from?

James Laver: Our handles are made from Manau / Sarawak cane with rubber inserts and some are assembled in India and some here depending on the supply of cane. The rubber sheets are made in India. The handles mostly have 4 pieces but some we do use multi laminates for.

We also conduct quite a large amount of R&D into handles and have been known to use some of our own designs when we decide they are good enough!

PakPassion.net: How does this affect the performance of a bat? Do you use lighter and heavier handles?

James Laver: Handles are very important when looking at the performance of a bat. Not only are low quality handles prone to breakage but they can also lead to a loss of power by vibrating too much. The more a handle vibrates the more energy is lost and therefore less goes back out through the face of the bat. The handles also do vary a lot in weight and so we do make sure that the right one is matched to the right blade.

PakPassion.net: Do you play catch up with bat design? Or are you the one leading the way with bowing in the face and sculpting of the back and the trend towards larger shoulders and smaller spines?

James Laver: I like to think that the effort we put into trialing new designs and processes means that we are one of the most forward thinking companies out there. Having said that, we are certainly interested in other companies’ products due to the fact that improving our products and ourselves constantly motivates us.

PakPassion.net: Should you get your bat pressed or rolled after purchase as "recommended" by some retail outlets? How would this affect performance?

James Laver: We always recommend preparing your bat before use. This only needs to involve knocking in and using the bat against softer, older balls prior to introducing it to a brand new cricket ball. More information on knocking in can be found here;


Generally I am not a fan of rolling the bat after it has been made as it is very easy to destroy the performance. The force the press putt on the face of the bat is much harder to control after it has been made.

PakPassion.net: What on earth makes your bats special apart from the fact that they are "traditionally" made and that they have "selected" willow like every other L.E bat?

James Laver: I’m not going to say that every bat I make is better than any other bat available out there. What I can say is, due to the fact we look extensively at your game and work out what specifications would suit you best, in the vast majority of cases we will produce one of the best suited bats you will ever use. 9 times out of 10 a bat that is custom made for you from top quality English Willow will suit you better than a bat purchased ‘off the rack’.

PakPassion.net: Making adjustments for different batsmen i.e. getting the balance correct, does that affect the power delivered from certain parts of the bat?

James Laver: We discuss this with the vast majority of our customers. We find out what is more important to them – balance, performance etc – and produce the bat to match what they’re looking for. If balance is the absolute most important aspect then the performance in certain areas may not be quite as good as with a bat designed purely for top performance.

PakPassion.net: I prefer an oval handle to a round one, are there any other variations in the handles dept.??

James Laver: Pretty much every handle can be classed as oval, round or a mixture. The majority of handles we produce are oval or semi-oval. I don’t think a triangular or square handle would really work!

PakPassion.net: Where do you obtain the willow and which is the finest source in your experience?

James Laver: We purchase all of our willow from JS Wrights in the UK (www.cricketbatwillow.com) and they are far and away the best merchants we have ever come across. There is a reason why they are the biggest in the world and look after all of the major companies.

PakPassion.net: Do any of the players actually play with the commercially sold bats, for instance, Gray Nicholls or do they all play with custom willows?

James Laver: It is difficult for me to comment on this as I have not dealt with all of the players around the world. All I can say is that a lot of players do source custom made bats with their own specifications.

PakPassion.net: What have been the main changes to bats in recent times?

James Laver: Until the recent MCC law amendments the main changes to bats involved all of the different materials being used – titanium, graphite, carbon etc. Recently a lot of companies have begun using different length blades and very different profiles – the Mongoose springs to mind here.

PakPassion.net: Every brand has different way of grading clefts, what is Laver & Wood's method? How do you grade a cleft into a Reserve for example rather than Private Bin?

James Laver: We grade on three main factors – looks, performance and durability. If a cleft is superb in all three areas then it will be a Grade 1 (Signature, Reserve or Private Bin), if it is not superb in one of the areas then it will be a Grade 2 (Special Reserve or Heritage) and if it is not superb in more than one area then it will be a Grade 3 (Legend).

The difference between the Reserve and the Private Bin essentially comes down to the density of the cleft. If the cleft is classed as being Grade 1 in all three aspects but is not low density then it will be a Private Bin, if it is low-density then it will be a Reserve.

PakPassion.net: People say that traditional bat making is dying. Is it possible to teach and nurture a new generation of bat makers from a young age to preserve the art for another generation to come?

James Laver: I whole-heartedly believe that it is possible to teach young bat-makers the skills needed to keep traditional bat-making alive. As long as an individual has the determination, talent and desire to be a success then there is no reason why they cannot become a top bat-maker. I have worked with quite a few apprentices in my time and it is easy to see the ones who will make it – mainly due to their attention to detail.

PakPassion.net: True cricket enthusiasts around the world are well aware of the brand name Laver & Wood. Tell us why Laver is so well regarded as one of the best bat makers in the world with negligible advertisements?

James Laver: I sincerely believe that it is our dedication to getting everything spot on for our customers that sets us apart. We are not satisfied with making a mediocre bat for someone – we want them to consider our bat the best they’ve ever used. We think that it is this drive and determination to getting things spots on that makes our customers happy!

PakPassion.net: How do you keep up with brand names like GM who rely on technology for precision bat making?

James Laver: We are always looking at new ideas and trialing new profiles inn the attempt to keep up. However I also think that our tried and tested methods help us succeed. The fact that we know what we are doing and have gone through the process thousands of times before means we can be trusted to get it right. By constantly adjusting methods and doing new things people can make mistakes - by sticking with what we know and making only slight changes to our process we can keep consistent and that is what we’re aiming for.

PakPassion.net: How do you differentiate yourself from Newbery and Salix who are also known for hand made bat making?

James Laver: It is all down to the different processes. Our pressing is very different, as are many of our other systems. For obvious reasons we can’t go into too many details about our processes but our bats are quite different to most out there. The fact that James Laver handcrafts every single one of our bats is also pretty unique.

PakPassion.net: Since knocking is just compressing the bat willow, why does a hard-pressed bat need more knocking/playing in to open up?

James Laver: In reality the harder pressed bat will often take a long time to finally feel good as it is undertaking a long process of ‘loosening up’ This can sometimes take years of use. Often a harder pressed bat never feels right.

PakPassion.net: Also, why isn't it possible to over knock a bat? Wouldn't it over compress the blade and cause it to lose ping?

James Laver: It is certainly possible to over-knock a bat. The last thing we recommend is for you to knock your bat in too much. We prefer to make sure the toe and the edges are structurally safe and sound and then let the bat develop by using it for what it is designed for – hitting cricket balls!

Over knocking can significantly reduce the ping of a bat and wear it out quicker and it therefore not recommended.

PakPassion.net: How much time/effort do you have to put in for creating each bat (in general)?

James Laver: Approximately four hours of manual labour is put into each bat. This four hours consists of many different processes – edging, pressing, cutting the splice, crafting, sanding, polishing, binding, finishing and knocking in but to name a few. It really is quite an intensive process!

PakPassion.net: Laver & Wood bats tend to have exaggerated spine but not much meat around the toe or splice, in your opinion how does this style/profile of bat cope if the ball does not hit the middle? Have you tested this style of bat much to ensure it is as cable as more traditional styles/profiles?

James Laver: What you are referring to here is what we call our ‘Special’ profile. The aim of this profile is to produce as large a hitting zone as possible whilst retaining good balance and pick-up. The sweet spot is kept as large as possible by, as you say, taking wood from around the toe and the splice. This means that performance is not amazing from around the splice and the toe but this is the case with all bats. We counter this by talking with our customers and making sure the sweet spot/hitting zone is in the best place for them.

We tested this profile extensively before making it available to our customers and are confident that not only is it incredibly well suited to well balanced, top performing bats but it is also structurally sound. This is proven by the fact that we barely get any reports of broken bats.

PakPassion.net: What made you choose this line of work? What are some challenges associated with your job?

James Laver: In all honesty, I f fell into the art of bat making. It wasn’t a job that I grew up dreaming of doing as I started out as a Construction site engineer. I was not enjoying this line of work as it was in a recession, I had met Julian Millichamp and made as application to Millichamp and Hall for the job of an apprentice. They were looking for someone to learn quickly as they were very busy at the time Julian was looking for an apprentice and I was keen to give it a go as it looked like a job I would enjoy. It was a job that suited me really well and so I had a fantastic experience working with Julian until 1994 when he moved to Perth, Australia. I then moved to New Zealand in September 1998.

Challenges are the main motivation for me in my job and I face them every day. The constant one is trying to get the wood, a natural material of course, to do what I want it to. Certain willow clefts will not work for certain shapes and it is up to me to select the most appropriate cleft for each customer. Sometimes I get this wrong and have to start again but experience has certainly helped. Getting the weight down and getting the balance spot on is tricky but is a challenge I love!

PakPassion.net: Some good tips on how to increase the longevity of one's bat?

James Laver: Good preparation, good care and close attention are paramount to increasing the longevity of a bat.

Knocking the edges and toe in properly is incredibly important as these are the areas most likely to break. By ensuring these areas are structurally sound you are half way to making sure your bat lasts a good amount of time.

Regular sanding and addressing any cracks is also very important. If you let a crack open up then that could mark the beginning of the end for your bat. Superglue is crucial for any bat-maker – fill up cracks and sanding off the excess will ensure your bat stays solid.

We recommend light oil each month during the season and then a good re-furbish before each season. Take off any facings, sand down the surface and glue any cracks before re-applying the facing. This will make sure your bat is back in tip-top condition for the following season.

A good quality adhesive facing is also very important to protect the face of your bat.

PakPassion.net: James, on behalf of PakPassion I thank you for your time.

James Laver: No problem, it was pleasure doing an interview with PakPassion and the fans.

I would like to thank James for taking time out of his hectic schedule to do interview with PakPassion.Net, thanks James!

I must say it was pleasure interviewing James and he is one of the top blokes I have ever come across alongside Andy :).
Thanks very much for the interview, really enjoyed reading that.

I thought he made a genuine attempt to answer the questions as best as he could I thought.

I was a little disappointing with some of the answers, I wonder if he doesn't know or wont share all his knowledge / secrets.
Brilliant interview Uzair!
Awesome job and thanks for including my question in it :)
He would never reveal his pressing secrets, because that's what make's Laver's pretty special and unique.
What a fantastic and insightful interview

Lovely to hear about the art of bat making, which we rarely ever hear about.
CD bhai, thanks for including my questions.

Very interesting interview, great job!
He would never reveal his pressing secrets, because that's what make's Laver's pretty special and unique.

No one is asking him the pressure and angle he uses to press a bat.
I'm talking more about moisture and ping. First he says the less moisture the more ping, then he says more moisture more rebound. Which one is it?

Handles, he doesn't even know the type or amount of rubber in a handle? Why three springs in better. What benefits from using 4 piece or 12 piece handle, whether using laminated cane (crossing the direction of the grain) is better than non laminated cane. How important fit is, if the splice is too tight it affects performance, what the role of the handle is. What weights different handles come in and how that affects the bat.
I don't think anyone would ever reveal there pressing secret because pressing is most important and that is most important factor when it comes to performance. And I believe pressing is what make these batmakers famous because pressing is not in everyones cup of tea. Mike Brimble once told me that Nick Keeley who have worked at Newbery for a while still doesn't know to press as good as Tim.

I am glad you guys liked the interview, don't worry we will hopefully have plenty of these coming!

Next in line would be very interesting too! It won't be of a batmaker but someone who has been in cricket equipment field for a while :D
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I thought I would bump this for newcomers..

do these batmakers charge the pro players??

Definitely no they don't charge them.

Sometimes I wonder that we pay them for top of the line bat yet sometimes we don't get the best of best so why do they give pro best of best and that too for free ?
I thought I would bump this for newcomers..

Definitely no they don't charge them.

Sometimes I wonder that we pay them for top of the line bat yet sometimes we don't get the best of best so why do they give pro best of best and that too for free ?

Not entirely true. If they sponsored the player, then the player wouldn't have to pay or only pay a certain amount (depending on what level of sponsorship), but if it is a player who is sponsored by a big brand, then they would have to buy the bat as there is no way that L&W would give it away as they wouldn't be getting the publicity for the bat as the player will just sitcker it up to whatever brand they are sponsored by. Not 100% sure, but I'd imagine it would go like that.
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I could be wrong.

Tom once said players have accounts with companies and amount of account depends on how big the player is etc.

Not too sure either
Very enjoyable read.

Regarding sponsorship. In most cases, standard pro player X is sponsored say £3000. He then has an account with said company, he then debits his limit buying his pads, bats etc at rrp from them.
Someone posted this else where and it is in my brain since then. They said that cricket bat making art is really dying. It was John Newbery who passed on knowledge to likes of Julian, Andrew, Tim and others whereas it was then Julian who passes on knowledge to James etc.

So now days there is no one passing the knowledge to anyone.

I was watching Tim Keeley's show yesterday which came on BBC and the host did ask this question to Tim but he never answered that question really :(
I would think the art is alive and well in the subcontinent. Would be interesting to trace the heritage of some of the Pakistani and Indian bats seeing majority of he bats used in the world are made in a handful of cities. Sialkot in Pakistan and Meerut/Jalandhar in India.
I don't think there is any doubt with the art in subcontinent it is pretty much alive there, what is more interesting is that they have not learned it from likes of Julian, Andrew, Newbery etc. I have heard that after partition most of the good batmakers stayed in Pakistan, in fact, Meghana Ram is also from Pakistan.
James Laver: It is certainly possible to over-knock a bat. The last thing we recommend is for you to knock your bat in too much

Newbery site: However it is important to remember that cricket bats can never be over knocked-in and so the more time that is spent preparing the bat the better the performance will be and the longer the bat will last

What to do, who to believe.....
Hmm nice find, I would say I will go with James Laver because it makes a lot sense.

A bat certainly have a life and after sometimes it will die and its ping/performance starts to deteriorate.
I also think that James is right...

However, its still important to knock in a bat around edges and toe.