Cricket is one of the most popular sports in the world. It has a huge fan following and extreme rivals that come face to face almost every year. As opposed to what many people think, cricket is more like an art. You need to exercise not only your physical abilities but mental as well.
Much of it has to do with the bat. Over the years, the cricket bat has undergone several transformations and players even today opt for different types depending on their preferences. So let’s take a look at how the cricket bat has evolved over the years and the science behind different types.
The History of the Cricket Bat
According to history, the earliest record or observation of the cricket bat dates back to 1620 when a batsman using a bat hit the fielder to prevent him from catching the ball. At the time, the bat was similar to modern hockey sticks since rolling the arm was not practiced.
Then, in the late 1700s and 1800s, the bats started to take a rectangular shape. It was also the time when certain laws had been revised or changed and the bowlers were allowed to roll their arms just the way it is done in modern cricket. Additionally, at the time, there were no restrictions or limitations pertaining to the shape or size of the bat.
The bat’s width was set at four and a quarter inches by the Marylebone Cricket Club, who in the 18th century was the copyright holder of the Laws of Cricket. It was in 1771 that English batsmen representing Ryegate walked to the pitch with a bat that was as wide as the stumps.
The price of the bats was around 5 pounds at the time and were made using English Willow trees. The heartwood portion in particular was made using the English Willow trees since it appeared darker and was dense. In the 1800s, the materials and processes used for the manufacturing of the bats changed when CC Bussey, a bat manufacturing company based in England used sapwood trees. As a result, the bats became light and more easier to make.
Furthermore, more and more manufacturers started making the bats using sapwood termed as ‘white willow’ at the time. Come the 20th century, players like Vijay Merchant, Don Bradman, and Wally Hammond jumped into the scene. Although the players used bats of the same size but the weight varied.
The average bat weighed around two pounds and two ounces. However, Billy Ponsford used a bat that weighed 2.9 pounds called the “Big Bertha”. By the 1960s, the players like Graeme Pollock and Clive Lloyd began using bats that weighed more than three pounds. As a result, the players found it quite difficult to play certain shots. Hence, players opting for lighter bats.
The Great Ranjitsinhji discovered a light bat, which would allow the players to pull off almost every type of shot, unlike a heavier willow. By this time, cricket had spread across the globe. This also played an important role in the development of bats. Manufacturers began experimenting with different types of woods with Australia and New Zealand failing to grow the English Willow.
Similar to football, cricket bats have only been getting better considering the advancement in technology and injury concerns of the players. Back in the day, it would take days if not weeks to create a perfectly finished bat. However, today, manufacturers produce several a day according to the standards and rules and regulations set by governing bodies.
The Distribution of the Weight and Sweet Spot
The mid-1990s was the beginning of the big bat revolution. In both India and Pakistan, the Kashmiri willow became popular since they weighed the same as the English kind, however, they were thought to be less durable. The actual change came when manufacturers began experimenting with weight distribution. As a result, the “Super Scoop” bats were born thanks to Gary Nicholls and John Newberry who pioneered this movement.
Bats at the time were hollow at the back, while the edges had more timber. This weight distribution brought the ‘sweet spot’ into question. At the time, the sweet spot existed in the middle of the lower half of the bat. This was where timber was dense, allowing the players to induce maximum strength on the ball.
Light and Powerful Bats
Now that the sweet spot concern was settled, it was time to make the bats lighter. Players like Lance Klusener and Sachin Tendulkar used monstrous bats that would result in back injuries. Considering that such key players were getting injured simply due to bats being heavy, work started on creating lighter bats that produce similar power.
The first development came in the form of removing moisture from the willow. It made the bats comparatively lighter while maintaining the same efficiency and power. Therefore, the manufacturers began drying the willow before using them to manufacture bats. Modern bats as compared to the bats used in the 1960s are relatively lighter but feature greater depth and bigger edges.
At the time, several other materials were also used to manufacture bats such as aluminum and Rickey Ponting using a graphite-reinforced bat. Unfortunately, the bats did not last.
Durability Vs Strength
In the 1990s, the bat’s durability was a huge concern. However, today that is not the case. Players are known to carry multiple bats and can even use more than 10 bats per season. Moreover, Herschelle Gibbs once stated that he had used more than 47 bats in a season.
The thing with bats is that their efficiency is influenced by the number of times the wood is pressed. The more the bat is pressed, the less efficient it becomes but more durable. Modern cricketers do not prefer pressing their bats much, which makes them more effective but less durable.
Observing the drastic changes in the size and weight of the bats, the MCC intervened and called for developing a standard. Today, the players use bats with slightly varying features but are strictly governed by the ICC. Each player depending on their preference and needs opts for a particular type.
Cricket as a sport has evolved a lot over the years. Players utilize different techniques to hit a shot and deliver the ball. However, the watchdogs are comparatively more stringent when it comes to implementing the standards of the game. The modern bats should not cross the provided limitations and restrictions that were not so common back in the day. This means that the bats today are more refined and are only destined to become even better.