Krakatoa, Power Blaster, Slayer, Ballistic, Oblivion, Atomic, Cannonball. Have Marvel Comics created a new team of superheroes to take on the X-Men and the Avengers? Is the Tenth Rate American Wrestling Federation coming to town?
Nothing that flash. These are all cricket bats, found in Richard Young’s Chiltern Sports shop at the Bucks Goat Centre on the Risborough Road just outside Stoke Mandeville. Cricket bats that tell a story.
My first cricket bat was a 1981 Geoff Boycott Slazenger. Strange choice for a ten year old who wanted to bash it like Botham. But the Boycott was in the sale, and it didn’t break when someone bowled a hard ball at it. Not like the Woolworths and Zodiac own brands that went before it.
The Boycott Slaz had one other defining feature. A white protective coating that looked like it was made of cloth covered in poly-filla. Poly armour was all the rage back then. It stopped the bat from splitting, even if it did start to peel off at the toe end if you used the bat in the wet too often. It also made a distinctive metallic sounding ‘chink’ when you hit the ball.
The bats that Pietersen, Cook and the rest will use to take on the Aussies this winter, make a dull, almost soundless thud when you hit the ball anywhere near the middle. But then again today’s bats are three times as thick in the edges as they used to be, and twice as thick in the middle.
Michael Holding, commentating on Sky Sports, once said that today’s bats no longer have edges, they have a front, a back and two sides. They look like the sort of thing that Clive Lloyd used to flay the Australian bowlers in the 1975, World Cup Final. But whilst Lloyd’s Duncan Fearnley weighed over three pounds, today’s bats only look like railway sleepers.
Pick up one of the Shahid Afridi Boom Boom bats in the Chiltern Sports show room, and you’ll see what I mean. Named after Shahid Afridi. The bat looks like there’s a lot of meat on it. When you hit the ball, it goes like there’s a lot of meat on it. But in your hand, when you pick it up (that’s cricket jargon for swinging the bat back ready to hit the ball) it feels remarkably light.
Bat makers these days craft their bats so there’s a big lump of wood in the middle, the sweet spot. They also go for big thick edges. But unlike the Clive Lloyd bats that were just big lumps of wood from top to bottom, today’s bat makers remove wood from less important areas of the bat.
The toe is often thinner, although if you pay enough money you can have a bat with a low sweet spot like South African captain, Graeme Smith. Wood is taken from the area either side of the middle giving most modern bats a snazzy concave appearance.
Some, have wood taken from the handle. Only a few ounces, but just enough to give the bat a lighter pick up, and allow the bat maker to put a bit more wood on the sweet spot. When Geoff Boycott began his career, cricket was played on uncovered pitches. Batters needed light bats to react quickly to uneven bounce and survive lots of sideways movement. Heavier bats came in, for some players, after pitches were covered in the late 1960s. Toady’s bats, however give the lucky batsman the benefit of both.
Big bashing bats for big bashing batters, light enough to deal with dibbly-dobblers on a wet day in June and spinners during on dry August heat wave pitches.
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l Crispin Andrews is an Aylesbury-based writer and journalist.
He writes for the Cricketer, Four Four Two, Inside Cricket, Readers Digest, Flipside and Engineering and Technology Magazine.
He has played cricket locally for 25 years, including stints at Aylesbury Town, Tring Park, Dinton & Buckingham Town.