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The wood form English willow trees is best known for being used in making international quality cricket bats. While several bats are also made from Kashmir willow aka salix fragilis, those made out of English willow aka salix alba are usually more durable—and expensive.
Kashmir willow bats are made from willow trees grown in the wild and they tend to vary in quality. On the other hand, English willow bats are made from trees that are grown in plantations with the specific aim of making cricket bats.
In fact, the variation of English willow used to make cricket bats (salix alba caerulea) is grown as a specialist timber crop. The 10 to 30 meter trees that are used in cricket bat manufacture tend to have a fast-growing single straight stem.
As a result of the controlled environment it's grown in, English or white willow is softer than Kashmir willow, which tends to be dryer, and therefore, more brittle. Apart from that English willow also happens to be lighter, and the grains on it are more pronounced. This is one of the main reasons why international cricketers almost exclusively use English willow bats against the regulation leather ball.
This is why even Indian bat-makers like SG, SS, BDM, etc make their high-end bats using English willow. Although many of these bats are made in India, the wood used in them comes from England.
As far as the bat-making process goes, the willow is treated, molded and polished according to certain specifications. Even after it's out of the workshop, a willow bat needs to be mended by way of knocking with a mallet or a used leather ball. Doing so, compacts the soft fibres of the willow. This helps bats stay intact for longer periods by preventing snapping.
-Picture courtesy Thinkstock-
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