Why cricket forced batsmen to give up scientific advances

Technological innovations in bats have hugely altered the balance between batsmen and bowlers, which makes the authorities' action this week long overdue, writes Angus Fraser

Remember the bat Graham Gooch used when he amassed 333 against India at Lord's in 1990, the highest Test score posted at the home of cricket? It was a Stuart Surridge Turbo and the deliveries sent down by Kapil Dev, Manoj Prabhakar and Ravi Shastri pinged off its face and raced to the boundary with unerring regularity, even when it failed to hit the middle of the blade. The score will for ever remain on the honours board in the home dressing room at Lord's, but the laminated bat has since been banned.

Cricket administrators, like those in all sports, are attempting to come to terms with technological progress, whether it be through using television replays to aid the decision making of umpires or the kit the players use. In most areas the game is happy to embrace the advances. The number of decisions referred to a third umpire sat in a booth at the back of a stand is only likely to increase, and the clothing England's players will sport this summer is lighter, more comfortable and more effective than any worn before. It removes sweat from the surface of the body and transports it to the outside of the garment, where it evaporates.

Yet progress is not being happily embraced where the balance between bat and ball is potentially compromised. One major concern is the bat, the most important piece of equipment in the game. Bats have changed enormously in the last 30 years, as can be seen by a visit to the museum at Lord's. On show are pieces of willow used by W G Grace in the late 1800s, Jack Hobbs in the 1920s, Brian Lara when he struck 375 in 1994, all the way through to the modern day.

The transformation is amazing. Gone are the thin little 2lb 3oz blades used by batsmen such as Don Bradman. Players of his generation relied on touch, dexterity and placement to score runs. The unpredictability of uncovered pitches meant that skill levels were high, with a light tool being easier to handle. Cricket continues to change and it is fast becoming a power game played by big, strong men wielding big, heavy bats that effortlessly clout the ball over the advertising boards and into the stands. Batsmen are no longer worried about placing the ball between fielders; they now look to hit it through or over them. And, with the ever-growing prominence of Twenty20 cricket, the trend is only set to grow.

And this is where the problem lies. The balance between bat and ball is fundamental to the game. Inevitably, there will be times when conditions allow batsmen to have a better time of it than bowlers, and vice versa, but it is not in the interests of the game for one component to dominate the other totally. It is meant to be an even contest.

Golf has similar problems, although they do not concern one element suffering a disadvantage. Modern clubs and balls are reducing many of the world's greatest courses to nothing more than a pitch and putt, and in an effort to keep up with technology and preserve relatively high scores the game's administrators are having to amend courses. Holes are being lengthened and the layout changed by placing bunkers and water hazards in unfavourable positions.

Cricket does not have such luxuries. Most grounds are arenas and the size of boundaries is limited by the presence of stands – not that this prevents groundsmen reducing boundaries to the minimum distance of 70 yards, in the belief that fours and sixes provide greater entertainment. And people wonder why there are very few quality spinners in the game.

Knocking down grounds and starting again is not an option. Most are in urban areas, surrounded by houses and roads. It means the distance a ball can be struck has to be controlled. Substances are available that could see mishits comfortably disappear over the longest boundaries, so governance, which is the responsibility of the Marylebone Cricket Club, needs to be vigilant if the game is to be prevented from becoming a joke.

Kevin Pietersen has developed a new party trick using a wooden bat that has a rubber compound cut in to its blade. The bat makes it easier for England's coaching staff to hit high catches during practice using just one hand. At each venue he plays at with England Pietersen goes into the middle of the ground and attempts to hit a ball out of the stadium. The tall stands at Lord's may test him, but he succeeded on each occasion during the winter.

The bat market is extremely competitive, with manufacturers desperately trying to convince children and amateurs that theirs is the blade to use. Each is attempting to outdo the other, with the aim being to provide batsmen with the largest sweet spot – the area where energy transference is at its most efficient – possible. Some of the creations are nothing more than gimmickry, but others have made a real difference. The bat Gooch used in 1990 worked because it was made of two pieces of willow joined together. The presence of two pieces of wood stuck together with glue reduced flex when ball came into contact with willow, increasing the transfer of energy and giving the batsman a clear advantage.

It was the same with a Kookaburra bat used by the Australia captain, Ricky Ponting, two years ago. The Kahuna had a black carbon fibre back to it, breaking Law 6, which defines that a bat should be made solely of wood. Like Dennis Lillee, who briefly used an aluminium bat in an Ashes Test in 1979, it was subsequently banned. Another contentious issue is corking, a process whereby holes are drilled into the back or bottom of a bat before being filled with cork, and which is banned in baseball. The benefits were deemed to be twofold, in that it reduced the weight of the implement and increased its trampoline qualities.

With the law referring to the blade of bats being tightened, manufacturers turned their attention to handles. It did not take long for a carbon fibre shaft surrounded by foam to appear on the scene, a development that immediately caught the eye of the MCC. Though revolutionary, the innovation, like those made to blades, ended up on the scrap heap following yesterday's decision by the MCC, which stated that handles must be made of cane (bamboo), rubber – to reduce vibrations – glue, twine and rubber grips.

Despite these restrictions, bats are still far better than they were. Even blockers like Michael Atherton would have benefited from using the bats Pietersen plays with. "I have got one of Atherton's old bats," said the England captain, Michael Vaughan, "and if he was around today using the bats that are available to us he would be averaging in the mid-40s rather than 39." The downside of Vaughan's assessment is that most of England's batting line-up, who take pride in telling everyone that they average over 40, would only be averaging in the high thirties if they were playing a decade or so ago.

The main difference between bats of 50 years ago and now is that modern bats are not pressed as hard and are therefore not as thick. Pressing made them harder and less likely to break, but players are no longer worried about wastage. Players of the past were limited to two or three bats a season; now they get as many as they want.

There are several reasons why players want thicker bats. One is visual – they feel more confident about hitting the ball over the top when they look down and see a large chunk of wood there. Thicker edges mean that the margin of error on a mishit is greater too. But the main reason is that an unpressed bat, where the wood particles are not pressed so close together, seems to have a springier feel to it. The trampoline qualities of it appear to increase, meaning that the ball can be hit huge distances with flicks rather than full-blooded heaves.

Gooch's bat now sits in a display cabinet with a painting of the old Grandstand scoreboard at Lord's by Jack Russell, the former England wicketkeeper, on its blade.

For those fearing that technology is about to create a breed of superbats, it is heartening to know that Gooch's is now a work of art.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition