Viking aims for a lengthy innings

At the crease: Jeff Wilson launched Viking Cricket three years ago and wants to preserve the art of making bats by hand. Picture: Tony Johnson.
At the crease: Jeff Wilson launched Viking Cricket three years ago and wants to preserve the art of making bats by hand. Picture: Tony Johnson.
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A start-up cricket brand is looking to preserve the art of bat making by taking on apprentices to learn the trade.

Silsden-based Viking Cricket was launched around three years ago by Jeff Wilson and hand crafts bats for people of all ages using English willow.

Edged: Bats hand made at Viking Cricket. Picture: Tony Johnson.

Edged: Bats hand made at Viking Cricket. Picture: Tony Johnson.

Currently, Mr Wilson has experienced bat maker James Dollive crafting blades from English willow. He hopes to take on apprentices in the near future.

Mr Wilson told The Yorkshire Post: “It’s an interesting story in itself, bat making. I wouldn’t say it’s a dying art but you certainly don’t get many bat makers in the UK.

“One of the things we would like to do at Viking in the near future is to get an apprentice and then maybe a couple of apprentices to let James carry on the tradition.

“James was an apprentice himself many years ago. We’d like to, in the not-too-distant future hopefully, take on an apprentice so that we can start building the business together. To learn how to make a bat is not straight forward. It is an art. There is a craft behind making a cricket bat.”

Cover drive: Jeff Wilson's Viking Cricket is about to enter its third season. Picture: Tony Johnson.

Cover drive: Jeff Wilson's Viking Cricket is about to enter its third season. Picture: Tony Johnson.

While there are large brands producing bats en masse, they tend to be made by machine. At Viking Cricket they still make the use of machines but there is a more hands-on approach to the process, Mr Wilson says.

Bats made by hand in Yorkshire are popular with customers abroad. The business ships as far afield as Australia and New Zealand. It is also enjoying trade in non-cricket playing nations such as the United States.

Mr Wilson himself started playing the game at an early age due to the influence of his headmaster at school and his grandfather.

While serving in the RAF he played for the cricket team there. He also has England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) coaching badges and a son who has taken up the sport. It was while coaching that Mr Wilson noticed that there was an opportunity to launch his own range of cricket bats.

Cricket craft: James Dollive at work, crafting Viking Cricket bats.  Picture: Tony Johnson.

Cricket craft: James Dollive at work, crafting Viking Cricket bats. Picture: Tony Johnson.

He said: “While I was still doing my coaching quite a few parents would ask why isn’t their son improving.

“I would show them the difference between the bat that their son was using and a bat that I knew was a decent bat in their son’s hand.

“The son would play the same shot but the bat would make a difference.”

Viking Cricket, the name is inspired by Mr Wilson’s Norse heritage, is increasingly seeing interest from professionals.

Hit for six: Viking Cricket is continuing to grow. Picture: Tony Johnson.

Hit for six: Viking Cricket is continuing to grow. Picture: Tony Johnson.

The game itself has seen huge changes over the years with the introduction of shorter formats. This has meant that bat makers have had to change as well. The faster pace of matches and need to score quickly has seen Viking introduce it’s Thor range, which has bigger edges allowing players to strike big.

Mr Wilson said: “Bat makers are trying to be forward thinking. I know James is always trying to thinking of tweaking things. You can’t just stand still otherwise you get swallowed up because cricket is changing.”

A big hit in the sport

-Viking Cricket is entering its third cricket season.

-Jeff Wilson set the business up after his mother-in-law gave the family £2,000 to use together.

-The willow for Viking Cricket’s bats is grown in Suffolk.

-The business has now started to expand its range of products by offering protective gear such as leg pads and gloves.

-While cricket faces challenges with a lack of young people staying in the game, he believes there is still a future for the sport and just debating its future is a testament to that fact.