Sujith Krishnan looks at the evolution fo the cricket bat and how it has transformed the game we know and love.
Every sport goes through a transformation phase wherein modifications are made to the rules of the game. Cricket and soccer are currently going through such a period wherein debates about the use of the DRS rages on in the former and in the latter, discussions continue in regards to embracing goal-line technology. Modifications are good for the sustenance of interest in a sport and taking a game forward. But why is it that in cricket, the ball has to be made conforming to stringent guidelines in terms of weight, material used and size, while there is more freedom to play around with the dimensions and weight of the cricket bat?
The law states that: “The bat should be no more than 38 inches (97 cm) in length, and no more than 4.25 inches (10.8 cm) wide. The hand or glove holding the bat is considered part of the bat”. With so much room to maneuver bats have evolved over the years and are meatier, heavier and more defining profiles than ever. Moreover, a batsman has the liberty to use a bat with varying handle lengths and can also add extra rubber padding on the handle for enhanced grip.
If we go back in time, we see that the bat has gone through marked changes ever since the game came into existence. Around the 18th century, the first cricket bat looked more like a hockey stick because underarm bowling was accepted. It was in the year 1820 that the rule of the round-arm bowling action was formulated and with this the shape of the bat changed.
With the lack of standard dimensions of the bat at the time, many batsmen opted for bats that shielded the stumps completely! To overcome this, the size of the bat was limited to 4¼ inches and this resulted in the emergence of both vertical and horizontal shots. With these revisions, it was imperative that the wood used could withstand the hard cricket ball. Subsequently, bat manufacturers used the much lighter white willow which yielded thinner but heavier bats and batting techniques underwent further improvisations and shots such as the cut, the late cut and the leg glance came into play.
At this point, batting was more about fine touches unlike the pure aggression evident in today’s game. The late 1920s witnessed the use of heavier bats by illustrious batsmen such as Sir Don Bradman, Jack Hobbs and Bill Ponsford. While Bradman preferred bats weighing just over two pounds, Ponsford’s bat weighed close to three pounds. In the 1960s, players like ‘Big Cat’ Clive Lloyd and Graeme Pollock used heavier bats weighing more than three pounds. However, the heavier bats stifled batsmen from playing finesse strokes such as the cut and the leg glance.
In order to cash in on the entertainment quotient of the Twenty20 format in the early 2000s, the bats manufactured had a longer handle and an abridged yet meatier blade so as to favor indulgence in attacking strokeplay in the game. In 2005, innovations with the bat continued and then came out a bat with a carbon fibre-reinforced polymer support to prop up the spine. This development was banned by the ICC as it allowed batsmen to pack more power into shots thanks to its industrial process. It was around this time that the ICC limited the materials that could be used amid doubts that technology would give batsmen undue advantage in strokeplay.
Ball vs the Bat
Whilst the bat has transformed beyond measure, the ball – besides its colour – has remained unchanged. This appears to add weight to the old notion that cricket is a batsman’s game. The transformation of the bat also muddies further the problematic field of comparing batsmen from different generations. This raises several questions: Would the current generation of big hitters be neutered if they were to use a bat made 20, 50 or even over a 100 years ago? Could Chris Gayle or Virender Sehwag thump the ball with the same ferocity?
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