The willow whisperer: The young Aussie some of the world’s best cricketers call to fix their bats

By Andre Leslie

Updated October 28, 2018 14:31:35

Josh Gavan is bent over a bat in his workshop, sanding carefully and focussed intently on his work.

Cluttered around him are bats in various states of repair and completion. A fine coat of wood dust covers every surface and, on the ground, wood shavings are piled up shin-high.

Today, he’s freshening up two bats for New South Wales state cricketer Nick Larkin, repairing scratches and dents and smoothing the front face, so the bats look and feel like new.

“With bats, you really need to be confident with the piece of wood,” Josh explains as he works. “It has to actually help you perform and not hinder you in any way.

“For instance, if you don’t quite hit it, you still want it to get over the fielder, instead of it just going to them. It’s about those one-per-centers.”

Just recently, Larkin’s NSW teammate Moises Henriques — a former Test player — dropped in, on the eve of a practice match.

“He just wanted half an ounce taken out of his bats,” says Gavan.

“He said that his new ones felt a bit heavy. They were a bit bottom heavy … which I picked up on.”

An early starter

From a small garage in the backstreets of Bondi, Gavan has become one of the premier bat fixers in the country. His customers — from park cricketers to international players — come to him from Western Australia to Queensland.

But his business started modestly, off the back of a teenage love affair with cricket bats.

A keen cricketer throughout his youth, things really came to a head when he went to India for a family holiday.

“Mum took me to the temples, the touristy places, and I took her to all the bat factories,” Gavan says.

“Going to the factories was all I was interested in.”

He first sensed that making and fixing cricket bats could be a potential career when he returned to India a few years later, just days after completing his HSC. In the northern cities of Jalandhar and Meerut, he made 40 bats in a fortnight and learned how to use the planes and other tools needed to sculpt a block of willow into a bat.

On his return to Sydney, Gavan started repairing bats for friends and cricketing mates. Within six months he was making them too — just a few at first, and then more and more each summer.

“It did all start rather early,” Gavan’s father, Tim, admits of his son’s interest in bat making. “It didn’t really surprise me though, because I am a bit of a handyman myself. It made sense to me.

“We renovated the garage to make it soundproof and turned it into a specialised workshop.

“It has definitely evolved since then.”

Bat repairer to the stars

Gavan’s big break came during the 2015 World Cup in Australia.

He’d managed to wrangle Chris Gayle’s mobile number and wandered up to West Indies team training to see if they needed any bats repaired.

Gayle introduced him around and the rest, as they say, is history. Some of that team remain loyal customers to this day, especially when they are Down Under during the Big Bash season.

Henriques says that Gavan is “super easy to communicate with” on bat repair matters and particularly good at doing some of the trickier things demanded of him, like redistributing weight or adding wood grafts.

“No task or request is too hard,” Henriques says.

“He’s a fantastic small business and an extremely hard worker.”

Dotted around Gavan’s workshop are bats and items of playing gear from various famous cricketers. On one wall hangs a set of old bats: some broken, some heavily used, all of them featuring a famous autograph.

“This is one of Shane Watson’s bats,” Josh explains, picking it up and spinning it in his hands. “He used it in the IPL, broke it at the bottom and he didn’t want it fixed. He just said I could have it.”

Gavan’s reputation has since spread throughout the cricketing scene, especially across Sydney.

He says it was still a surprise, though, when he recently got an SMS from Steve Smith, asking if he could drop off some bats to be repaired.

“He gave me 18 cricket bats to clean up and put fresh stickers on,” Gavan recalls, adding that he had “heard stories” that Smith was fussy about his bats.

“When you sand a bat, you take a little bit of the weight out, so with his bats I made sure I was extra careful.”

“I thought, ‘Don’t take too much out, he’ll notice. He’ll dead set notice.’ He hasn’t come back, so maybe I did something wrong. I don’t really know.”

Growing the business

Although more than half of his business income comes from bat repair work, Gavan’s company, trading as JPGavan, has now expanded to include custom bats, pads and gloves. His Instagram and Facebook pages drive a lot of his trade, he says.

He also sponsors women’s national team player Nicola Carey and a handful of state cricketers across the country too.

“This month I’ve had one day off,” Gavan says. “I have to work weekends because that’s when customers want to come in. But I love it, that’s the thing, I enjoy my work.”

Still an active cricketer himself, Gavan doesn’t have much time now to play with his club, the University of New South Wales, in the NSW Premier Cricket competition. When he does take to the field, he always uses one of his own bats, but they’re seldom his best work.

“I just can’t give myself the really good ones,” he says. “I want other people to have them.”

As for his future plans for the business, Gavan’s goals remain modest. He says he’s keen to always be involved hands-on, with bat making and repairs.

“I don’t really want to become too big. I want to do it myself, forever, and I’d like to make it work at this level.”

“I will obviously have to move out at some stage though, I can’t work in my parents’ garage forever.”

Topics: cricket, sport, bondi-2026, nsw, australia

First posted October 28, 2018 07:05:15

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