The most fundamental components of the game of cricket are a bat and a ball. While the cricket ball has remained almost the same both in size and shape ever since the beginning of the game, there has been a major transformation in cricket bats over the years.
A cricket bat is shaped like a paddle consisting of a long handle, which is cylindrical in shape. This widens into the blade of the bat, a wider wooden block which is flat on one side with a V-shaped ridge on the other side. The rationale behind the V-shaped ridge on the back of the bat is to shed the wood in places where it isn’t that necessary and to leave more wood in the middle of the bat, the area from where the ball is generally stroked.
The width of the cricket bat was set at four and one quarter inches by the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), the framer and copyright holder of the Laws of Cricket, in the 18th century. The law governing the width of a cricket bat has remained the same ever since. This law, stipulating the width of a cricket bat, was brought about due to the notoriety of an Englishman, who once used a bat as wide as the stumps in a local game in England.
Cricket bats have historically been made from willow wood, from a variety of White Willow to be precise. This willow is very robust, thus preventing the bat from splintering when striking the cricket ball with a high bat speed. The one drawback of bats made in the 1800s was the fact that bats back then were extremely heavy. The weight of those bats on an average was an enormous 5 pounds.
The solution to the issue was found in 1890 when C.C. Bussey, an English bat manufacturer, experimented by making a bat with the sapwood of the willow tree. He found that the bats made from the sapwood of the tree were much lighter than earlier. Thereafter, the practice of using the heartwood of the tree was shelved once and for all.
There is a marked difference in the cricket bats of today from the cricket bats which were used during the game’s inception. A cricket bat is believed to be first used way back in 1624. Back in the 17th century, though, they were more reminiscent of modern hockey sticks.
This was because of the fact that the ball was rolled along the ground rather than flighted in the air. Hence, in order to hit the cricket ball, one had to employ an exclusively horizontal motion and the designing of bats like hockey sticks made it easier for the players to do so. But all that changed, for the better in my opinion, when the Laws of Cricket started permitting over-arm bowling.
Getting heavier and heavier
The beginning of the 20th century saw the game of cricket becoming much more professional than it was earlier, and that was also the time when some legends of the game like Sir Don Bradman, Wally Hammond and George Headley emerged. The shape of bats has not changed too much since then, but what has changed is the weight of bats.
At that time, bats used to weigh around 2 pounds 2 ounces. Batsmen preferred the lighter bats as heavier bats were too bulky to wield. That is no longer the case, though, with the weight of bats on an average being around 3 pounds today. It doesn’t burden the players because of the light pickup of present bats. The appearance of modern day bats is deceiving as it seems like it will be impossible to lift, let alone play with. But the fact is that these bats have a light feel and provide extreme comfort.
The trick in modern-day bat making is the amount of times the wood is pressed these days. The bats are pressed much lesser nowadays than they were even two decades ago. In the earlier days, bats were pressed extensively so that they could last for a considerable period of time. But the fleeting nature of contemporary bats isn’t a concern for today’s cricketers. Pressing the wood less results in superior efficiency of the bat and that is the overwhelming demand of current players. As a result, it has become quite common for professional cricketers in the present generation to go through 10-12 bats in a season, a rarity for past players.
Effect on the game
The evolution in the process of bat making has brought about a paradigm shift in the way the game is played today. The game is a lot more entertaining because of the high percentage of runs being scored through fours and sixes. This is not just the case in the shorter formats of the game but also in Test cricket, a format where quick scoring is not a priority. This has in turn led to all sides around the world achieving scoring rates of 3.5 runs per over in Test cricket, a rare occurrence even a decade ago.
The one downside, though, to the bats being used today is the fact that bowlers are being increasingly marginalized, especially in limited-overs cricket. Spinners especially have got accustomed to the ball sailing past the boundary ropes, when they have actually got the better of the batsmen through deception in the air.
The introduction of T20 cricket has accentuated the imbalance existing between bat and ball. The strength and repertoire of strokes that modern-day batsmen possess is by itself enough to cause headache for the bowlers. The fact that bat manufacturers are constantly coming up with bats, specifically designed, to aid a batsman’s performance in the slam bang format of the game like the Mongoose and the Gray-Nicolls Kaboom only adds to the bowler’s problems.
Technology has engulfed most aspects of life, and that is the case as far as the process of bat manufacturing is concerned. The bats of today are unrecognisable from the bats in use even a few years ago. With bat manufacturers constantly coming up with new methods to improve their product, there can be no doubt that cricket bats going forward are only going to get bigger and stronger.