The West Australian      18 July 2001    

Willow Wielders a fickle lot

  • By John Townsend

WHEN Steve Waugh held his clean skin bat aloft after scoring a century at Edgbaston, it was a blade made by Fremantle podshaver Paul Bradbury.
    Ricky Ponting, who uses Bradbury willow with different livery, is hoping to do likewise at Trent Bridge.
    Two other Australian batsmen have recently road tested the bats and are now considering following suit.
    In the superstitious world of cricket equipment, where Waugh has carried the same ragged red hanky in his pocket for a decade, there should be no surprise that players are so critically interested in the tools of their trade.
    For all the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars they receive for endorsing certain bats, many players will use a rival product if it feels better and will bring them a few more runs.
    It is an open secret in cricket circles, with players happy because they are both being paid handsomely and using the bats they want. Manufacturers are content at the massive exposure that comes from their logos being shown on television, and the bat maker, though unable to make an impact on the mass market, is satisfied that the world's best players want his work. 
    "If a player comes to me and wants to buy one of my bats, I will sell it to him" Bradbury shrugged. "What they do with it is their business".
    Bradbury, who is still playing WACA grade cricket with Fremantle, has just returned to the place where his bat - making, or podshaving, apprenticeship started 11years ago under Julian Millichamp, another batmaker who 




stamp and log every bat made but this was a special request and we made it up for him".
    "Goodness knows what he wanted to do with it - stuff it in a vat of some sort of goo I suppose".
    Most sales are strictly orthodox, with Test or State players being good value because they often buy several bats at a time.
    Bradbury also has another iron in the fire and may stand to benefit from changes to International Cricket Council bat endorsement rules.
    Unlike his teammates, Steve Waugh's bare bat indicates he does not have a bat contract as he waits to see if the rules are relaxed to allow non - manufacturers to advertise.
    Brian Lara has already used a gambling company's logo on his bat while Sachin Tendulkar, who has a lucrative sponsorship with the Madras Rubber Factory, can use bats with their emblem because they set up a bat making arm simply to meet the ICC rules.
    Waugh knows that his potential market value is enormous and is prepared to forego a series without a sponsor in a bid to sign a bigger deal in the future.
    If a major company is then allowed to advertise on Waugh's, or other players', bats, it may be required to manufacture a certain number of bats - opening the door for the likes of Bradbury to provide the product.

went the opposite way by moving from Somerset to Perth. Bradbury and his wife Sally, who also make bats, have moved into the old barn on a farm at East Lydeard, just outside Taunton, where they spend half the year working to supply the English market.
    Bradbury is also playing league cricket at Exeter in Devon while the couple's three children are becoming accustomed to the jet setting lifestyle.
The Australian summer is spent at home in Fremantle where hundreds of more bats are turned out from the pods of willow he selects in England.
    Using ancient techniques - old cattle shinbones are used to provide the final
polish to the face of the bats - he turns rough chunks of wood into gleaming works of art.
    There is something aesthetically pleasing to the eye and hand about a pristine bat, its potential for cracking cover drives and meaty pulls still unrealised but its balance, or pick-up, promising plenty of both.
    Mind you, Bradbury has had one unusual request. That was from young British artist Damien Hirst, famous for his installations of animals in formaldehyde, who walked into the old barn and asked for a roughly hewn bat.
    "He wanted an unfinished bat stamped 666," Bradbury said. "We