The MCC cricket committee has recommended that there be a restriction in the depth and edges of cricket bats. Many have welcomed this, they feel that these “big bats” have made it easier to hit boundaries and means that the “balance between bat and ball” is adversely affected.
The problem here is there is no evidence that modern bats are the reason for the increased number of big hits. Maybe they have made a difference, but no one has done any scientific research. They haven’t even spoken to bat manufacturers who are adamant that the difference between modern and old-fashioned bats is minimal.
It appears that a group of old pros looked at modern cricket bats, said they have bigger edges than in their day and decided that this is the reason why the ball is going further. No science or tests have been involved, just some anecdotal chitter-chatter.
The fact that batsmen are fitter and train to hit sixes is ignored. If you are lucky enough to watch a net session by a professional cricket team, you'd see that they spend a big chunk of time trying to hit the ball out of the park. There are consultants that work with cricket teams and spend hours with teams working on techniques to help batsmen to go big. Perhaps bats do make a difference, although that is far from proven, but they are far from the only reason that cricket is evolving.
As much as anything else, the difference with modern batsmen is intent. From ball one of their innings they are looking for opportunities to go big. If you try to hit more sixes you, will hit more sixes. It is important to recognise that the bats aren’t any heavier, the difference is how they are pressed. They are bigger as the wood isn’t compressed as much. It is this pressing process that has made the sweet spot in the middle more pronounced. The question is whether this makes a massive difference or, and this is something that is all too often overlooked, if that difference is a bad thing.
Chris King, the Gray-Nicolls batmaker in their Robertsbridge workshop, has been very vocal on Twitter about this issue, saying that as the bats are the same weight, basic physics tells you that they are no more potent. He tweeted the following:
“Batsmen believe they're more powerful, bat makers don't. If same weight then size doesn't add any more power. But it does absorb shock which means you get ‘I hardly touched it but it went mile’ illusion. Mostly it’s just confidence.”
Maybe King is right, maybe he isn’t, but before we start making changes to the equipment that batsmen use, let’s do some actual research. Cricket is spending a fortune on testing whether elbows bend more than they should, surely there are some scientists that can devise a way to answer this question once and for all, and surely the ICC have the money to pay for it.
But let’s assume that bats have made the ball go further, that despite stronger batsmen that have the intention of hitting sixes and who train to do just that, it is unpressed cricket bats causing the difference. There is a big debate about whether it is a bad thing that just isn’t being discussed as it should be.
The advent of T20 cricket with its big hits has had a positive impact on every other form of cricket – 50 over games have rarely been this entertaining, what is achievable is rewritten on an almost daily basis. In Test cricket we have seen far more positive results, as increased run rates have allowed teams the time to take the 20 wickets needed for victory. If bigger bats have helped cause this positive change why is this a bad thing?
There has been a lot of talk of the thick edges carrying over the boundary, and some have in recent times, but by the same token there are outside edges that wouldn’t have carried in the past going to the hands of a fielder. Every positive has negative aspects that come along with it.
The biggest fallacy that is used to describe this perceived issue of more runs and boundaries, is that there is no longer a “balance between bat and ball.” This is to fundamentally fail to understand cricket. It is not a game of batsmen versus bowlers, it is a game of teams of batsmen and bowlers taking on another team made up in the same way. Both teams have these bats – bats that are making cricket more entertaining.
Wickets are still falling, Test matches are still being won and lost. We are not seeing 600 plays 550 Tests. And if we do, the reason for it is the pitch not the wood that is being used on them. Cricket is looking for a solution to a problem that just doesn’t exist.
This is yet another example of the backwards looking nature of cricket. It is a sport that is obsessed with the past to the detriment of the present. We are so fortunate to live in a time when the likes of AB de Villiers, Virat Kohli, Steve Smith and David Warner are redefining batsmenship, and rather than sitting back in wonder at what we are being treated to, the sport is looking for a way to fix its greatest asset.
We still have the ball swinging, we still have spinners getting turn, we still have days were a side is shot out for 60 on the opening morning of a Test. People want to watch 30 ball hundreds, they want to see Ben Stokes scoring 200 runs in a session and a half. Cricket is not less of a spectacle because batsmen hit big shots – the exact opposite is true.