Big bats and the evolution of cricket

 

On Offsiders last Sunday, I held a 1984 Gray Nic single scoop (from the Harms museum) face to face with a contemporary Gunn and Moore to show the difference in the size of the edges. The vintage scoop is rather fine by comparison.

G. Whateley then asked me whether I thought the improvements to cricket bats had had an impact on cricket.

It came to me that there was no better illustration than the career of Gideon Haigh to make the point. So I went with my little story:

In the 1980s Gideon could hardly get the ball off the square. He patiently waited in the hope improvement would come from somewhere. As bats got better during the 90s, he started to find the boundary from time to time. As technology influenced the craft of bat-making even further, by 2006, at the age of 41, Gideon struck his first-ever six, clearing the cow corner boundary at Jackson Reserve in Coburg off a bowler he can’t remember.

By the time I returned to my desk in The People’s Republic of Northcote, an aged cricketer had contacted me:

Dear John

I was highly impressed by your visual demonstration on Offsiders this morning of the difference between the crass wallopers wielded by today’s batsmen and the elegant blades we gentlemen made do with in golden days past. Holding the two side on, face to face certainly made the point.

Am I correct in assuming that the older item was a personal possession, probably now housed in a little visited corner of the wardrobe?  What led me to this suspicion was the number of vivid red marks on what would have been, for a right hander, the outside edge of the bat, each perhaps signifying another humiliated retreat.  On the basis of the available evidence you were thus in a poor position to cast aspersions on the fastidious elegance of the batting of the (absent) Gideon Haigh.

Cheers,

Jim (Young)

 

I had to defend myself of course. Although I am a fan of Jim Young’s brilliant book (Any Old Eleven), and his conversation at lunch, I felt obliged to point out he had not been privy to all of the information.

I wrote back:

Dear Jim,

It was my brother’s bat.

Regards

JTH

 

Jim spotted the complete absence of character in the dastardly response, describing it as “willowy”.

Back in the day, Jim’s second bat probably had Bradman’s signature stamped onto it (at 15/6 an impression after commission to the agent). His first bat may have had Trumper’s.

Ours had Norm O’Neill’s. It must have been Dad’s old blade – and it was a blade which we oiled and knocked in after each restoration with glancing blows of a hammer handle. That turned into a beautiful hammer handle as well.

The next bat we had (as a family) was a Shaw and Shrewsbury (size 5) then a Slazenger Polyarmour (a beauty) before Viv came on the scene and I spent my life-savings of lawn-mowing money on an SS (short handle).

After that, a Grey-Nic (my brother’s no-scoop), a Duncan Fearnley (c1986), a Symonds (chunky) and various other Grey Nics (including Exhibit A from Sunday).

Having played in oldies’ matches where everyone had the same bats (and high cut boots as well) they’d been using at the time of their retirement from fair dinkum cricket for some years, I eventually was invited to use one of these new-fangled swizzle-sticks which looked enormous lying on the ground. Yet it picked up so light. Out in the middle it was pure and, importantly, forgiving. Beaten by the pace of a decrepit trundler when looking to pull, I thought bugger it, I’ll just swing. I mistimed the shot completely, yet the Kookaburra went sailing over the umpire (that would be the umpire at the bowler’s end) for a straight six. It was the Gerrrgggg feeling it gave. Yes, there is a difference.

Timing is still important, but no longer vital. (Evidently!)

I can remember days when all the thrashing in the world couldn’t pierce the field. Once, when I had made three while the supremely gifted Rumbo Martin reached 50+ at the other end, he sauntered down at the end of the over (my fifteenth or so) and suggested that, given my natural inclination was to play for the team, my best contribution would be to get myself out. Which I did.

But it wasn’t just me. The absence of form was not camouflaged by bats in those days. You could tell from the sound of bat on ball, and from the way a shot raced away, whether the batsman was in good touch.

Even at the top level.

Not so long ago ABC2 broadcast some re-runs of the 1982-83 Ashes series. The great G. S. Chappell’s flourishes did not always find the pickets. Indeed, he was prone to the occasional ‘Clack!’ which, despite the attack on the ball, would roll away for a couple.

In those days, batsmen had their natural games where they kept, what is today called, their ‘shape’. However, to clear the fence they changed their approach. They really did ‘open their shoulders’ and ‘take the long handle’ to the bowlers. Sometimes they even slogged. (“Go the slog son!”)

Modern willows allow players to entertain a more aggressive sensibility, because the risk is not as it once was. The mis-hit lofted shot is a pretty good chance of clearing the inner ring, and may even get over the fence.

In recent times hot-spot has shown inside edges that still cannon into the fence – in front of square! (Physics helps me understand why they might behind square, but in front!)

Ahh, cricket bats.

Although the game continues to change, however, a bat remains a magnificent present for youngster.

Thanks, Jim, for your response.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au. He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo13, Anna11, Evie10. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.

Comments

  1. Brother’s bat indeed! Here is an interesting article by Russell Jackson on the topic after speaking to a Gray Nic bat maker: http://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2015/feb/05/cricket-bat-size-debate-russell-jackson . The suggestion being that it is not necessarily a magical transformation in bats, rather an evolution of bat design in terms of weight distriubtion and willow density (that and Dave Warner’s forearms).

    My first serious bat was a Gray Nic powerspot – boy I loved that bat. It weighed a ton but, with by far the biggest sweet spot of the bats I tried, allowed me to reach off side boundaries rather than pitching balls somewhere into the outfield.

    No doubt bat changes have impacted upon cricket but I think I’m in the camp that describing it as ‘technology’ might be adding unncessary mystery / menace to what is actually happening.

  2. John

    I had a Norm O’Neill as my first one, the edge of that one would be conservatively about a sixth of the Warner Kaboom.

    It has string going around the handle, about half of which is left. It hurts my hands when I face the boy in the nets sending down left arm bullets.

    Loved the comparison on Sunday am

    sean

  3. Yes, Dave, but who thought to put the trampoline in there?

  4. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    JTH,
    Was hoping to see a demonstration on Offsiders, seeing you had them handy.
    Didn’t Clive Lloyd use a GN Scoop? Maybe it’s the bowlers sometimes.
    Viv Richards’ SS was my fave when having a slog in the tail. Nice middle and forgiving edges.

  5. Would have to be Ricky Ponting, John – ‘trampoline: you know what I mean’

  6. Luke Reynolds says

    Was hoping the aged cricketer who contacted you was G.Haigh. Would love to hear his reply. Have often wondered how many runs in ODI’s my boyhood hero Dean Jones would have made with a modern bat instead of his toothpick-like Kookaburra Ridgeback. As well as the ultra flat pitches and roped in boundaries.

  7. Mine was a Les Favell autograph. Don’t remember the maker. Stuart Surridge maybe?
    Though having your own bat in the 60’s and 70’s was a bit of an affectation, and you were generally regarded as having tickets on yourself.
    Women and cricket bats have a certain symmetry, Dave Warner uses the Candice Falzon model. A lot of pneumatic lift.
    I’m with Phil D – I prefer the Avenging Eagle myself – nice middle with forgiving edges.

  8. Malcolm Ashwood says

    My 1st bat was a sleazenger . I scored for Kensington as a kid and so got to no a lot of the players , Peter Sleep gave me his bat which he made his 1st shield 50 with a
    Rapier bat ( no longer made ) I was shattered when it got broken at school it is now in the SACA museum . When I was a bit older , John Inverarity gave me a Newberry bat which was the best bat I ever used ( still got it ( . No doubt bats now and as Luke points out flat wickets and shorter boundaries have changed the game for ever and not necessarily for the best as on most occasions not a fair contest between bat and ball

  9. The new bats make a difference. Technology and all that. No doubt. But the hormones in the chickens are also having an impact. In these modern days, even the small blokes (and women) are big.

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