50 not out for the cricket bat man

NOT many cricketers can boast that they use a bat they have made themselves with willow from trees they personally planted. But Buckden’s Tony Cook can.

Sadly, however, he admits: “I’m not much good with it. I have a grand total of six runs this season.”

That may be so but, as a bat-maker, he is 50 not out.

Tony, now 65 but still turning out regularly behind the stumps for the village cricket club, joined Hunts County Sports, as it was then, as an apprentice straight from Buckden School in 1960.

“I was just thinking the other day, as I was sweeping up the rubbish at the end of the day, how little has changed. That’s exactly what I did on my first day.”

Before he left school at 15 – shortly before compulsory schooling was extended to 16 – he was asked by the careers master what he wanted to do in life. “I said I was interested in sport and woodwork. He said there was an apprenticeship going at the firm in Little Paxton. I went for the interview, and I’ve been here ever since.”

The chores may not have changed in half a century and, unlike tennis racquets and hockey sticks, nor has cricket bat technology.

Most Read

“The basics are still very much the same, even if fashion changes a bit,” said Tony, who has been involved in making hundreds of thousands of bats over the decades.

Customers have included cricketing legends, such as West Indians Ritchie Richardson and Gordon Greenidge, not to mention current Test bowler Jimmy Anderson and England Ladies captain Charlotte Edwards, who used to work for the company, now called Hunts County Bats and based in Huntingdon.

Contrary to popular belief, another high-profile customer, the explosive all-rounder Andrew (“Freddie”) Flintoff does not use a particularly heavy bat. “He likes them big, but not colossal. Like Botham, he just hits the ball very hard,” Tony mused.

Hunts County Bats does not need to look far for local legends. Company chairman Martin Stephenson and Bernie Facer, who joined as an apprentice shortly before Tony started, were both stars of the successful Cambridgeshire team in the 1980s.

Mr Stephenson said: “He enjoys the top players standing next to him when he makes their bats.”

Tony may have been less exalted, but he is still playing. “I get behind the stumps most weekends, though I wouldn’t describe myself as a wicket-keeper,” he said modestly. “But I won’t play if that would keep a youngster out,” he said before taking half a day off work to mow the outfield.

One of his bats – “it’s a bit tatty now, but it’s not my only bat” – is made from willow Tony planted years earlier on the island that set the firm in the bat-making business at the turn of the last century, in the Great Ouse at the back of the Samuel Jones mill.