Friday, 1 May 2015

Column 12, 2015 – 'Bats these days'

Printed in The Cricket Paper, issue 115, Friday May 01, 2015.
[Full text below]

To hear commentators talking about ‘the size of modern bats’, you’d think cricketers were all wielding telegraph poles. Cricket bats are allowed to be 38 inches long and 4¼ inches wide. There are no restrictions on depth or weight.

The misconception is about size. A bigger bat is not more powerful. Only a heavier one can deliver more power, and the truth is that most bats are lighter now than they were in the seventies and eighties, when Clive Lloyd wielded his 3lb 4oz Duncan Fernley Magnum, the SS Jumbo left no doubt as to its selling point, and the Slazenger V12 evoked weighty profligate power.

So what is the problem, all of a sudden? The problem is that today’s bats are simply better than yesterday’s. How they got to be better is partly science, partly batmaking skill. By way of explanation, let’s briefly visit another sport.

What should you do when there’s thunder and lightning on the golf course? Hold a one iron above your head. Because even God can’t hit a one iron. Anyone who’s played golf with old blades will understand this ancient gag. Tiny thin faces with sweet spots the size of a pea, they were almost impossible to hit.

In the late sixties, Karsten Solheim of PING made his fortune building up the edges around the back of the club face. This ‘perimeter weighting’, made a crucial change to what is known as the MOI, or moment of inertia, which basically in this context means its propensity to twist. Off-centre strikes cause the face to twist, robbing the shot of power. Perimeter weighting reduces this tendency, making it more forgiving, and effectively increasing the size of the ‘sweet spot’.

And this is basically what’s happened to cricket bats. Bigger edges means better middles, and a bat’s middle has always been the measure of its worth. Modern bats taper towards the top and bottom, removing wood where it’s not needed, leaving more for the middle.

Elegant slender neck and shoulders extending in graceful curves along the sweeping spine towards the swollen sweet spot – this is the language we use for bats these days. No wonder we’re seduced by them.

If the trend is more Marilyn than Twiggy, more Scarlett than Kiera, it’s because with those curves, you can middle a cricket ball more often, and get better results when you don’t. Which is even more seductive. We love big bats, and we cannot lie.

The downside is that to be both big and light, the water-hungry willow is dried out so much – moisture content can be reduced below 10% – that durability suffers. Bats break constantly. A pro’s might not even last an innings.

Bats for amateurs are necessarily less extreme (new bat every year, maybe; new bat every game, maybe not,) but they’re following the same principles. Friends of mine have started, making custom spec bats for club cricketers. They could be on to a winner.

- ends 491 words -

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