Friday, 12 September 2014

Column 28, 2014 – Knocking in

Printed in The Cricket Paper issue 100, Friday September 12, 2014.
[Full text below]

A month ago I trudged back from the middle and slumped down with my teammates, who wasted no time in telling me, pretty much as one, that my bat didn’t sound right.

Now I get quite attached to my bats. But it turns out I’m pretty fickle – I clearly didn’t like it as much as the idea of getting a new one, and very quickly I decided to accept their pronouncement as gospel, and embrace it as a perfect excuse to get a new bat.

I love new bats. There’s something deeply seductive about the unknown promise of classy runs from a pristine blade. It’s an illusion, of course. No bat will never boost your ability. Though it may boost your confidence, and that is a priceless commodity.

Knocking in a bat is a strange chore. There’s something arcane and ritualistic about it, like some mysterious rights-of-passage ceremony. It’s one of those things you can simultaneously both relish and wish you didn’t have to bother with.

You are supposed to knock a bat in for a minimum of two hours, which is quite an ask unless you live on your own with no neighbours. Get your bat mallet out in front of the telly, see how well that goes down. Or when the kids are in bed.

The repeated knocks with the rounded mallet produce little indentations on the blade, tiny petals of trauma on the surface, like a beaten steel drum.

It’s like deliberately scuffing a new pair of shoes, distressing them for both functional and aesthetic purposes. Broken-in bats have a comfort and fit-for-purpose feel about them like worn-in shoes. Part of that is the knowledge that they’ve done it before, it’s just another day, there’s nothing to worry about. Whereas new shoes and new bats can both split on you without warning.

This new one doesn’t have the clear plastic anti-scuff sheet (or ‘bat condom’ as a teammate called it) that is the norm these days. The business part of the blade is naked wood, which absorbs the blows of the mallet, the thin coats of linseed oil, and the red cherries as you graduate to old balls. Already it has character.

‘Pay close attention to the edges and the toe’, say the clipped nineteenth century instructions. Yes all right, thank you. Have they seen me bat? It reads like a snarky criticism of technique.

Has it helped? Maybe. Who knows? I like it. It feels nice. And the runs are coming, if steadily. Sunday I was cruising along nicely, just beginning to think, “you know what, a fifty about now would be a perfect way to finish off a column about a new bat,” when Pauly ran me out – again! – on 37. But on reflection, that’s probably a more realistic way to finish it anyway. It’s certainly a realistic way to finish me.

- ends 477 words -

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