This post is prompted by a story that bamboo, more sustainable than the traditional willow, is being considered as a possible material for making cricket bats.
A CONTROVERSY AND A PIECE OF LEGAL PEDANTRY
The laws of cricket currently state in the section codifying what is acceptable in a bat that “the bat shall be made of wood”. Officially bamboo is a grass and not wood, so strictly technically a change to the laws of cricket would be required to permit the construction of bamboo bats.
The reason for this requirement being codified into law dates back to the post-Packer concord series of 1979-80 when Australia, with the World Series Cricket players restored to the fold, played three test matches against each of England and the West Indies. In one of the Australia v England matches Dennis Lillee, one of the greatest bowlers in the history of the game and a competent lower order batter came to wicket bearing an aluminium bat, having come to a financial arrangement with the manufacturer. Mike Brearley, the England skipper, was less than impressed, quickly noting two things: firstly that every time the bat made contact with the ball it made an ugly clanging sound and secondly and more importantly that the impacts of this new type of bat on the ball were damaging to said item. There was an on-field spat, and Lillee, instructed to revert to a wooden bat, hurled the aluminium implement away in disgust.
To prevent the aluminium bat from making further appearances an addition was made to the laws of cricket, and the overly restrictive formula that ‘the bat shall be made of wood’ came into being.
Although it is technically grass and not wood (this distinction is to my mind a piece of legal pedantry in the David Allen Green class) I do not see a lot of difference between a wooden bat and a bamboo one in terms of either the effect its impact has on the ball or the distances the ball can be hit with it (I would object to a cork bat on the latter grounds – the natural springiness of cork would surely cause a bat made of that material to send a ball much greater distances) and this to me is the key. I would say that new materials for bats would need rigorous testing to ensure that they do not damage the ball, that the noise of the impact of bat on ball is not positively unpleasant, and that they do not radically alter the game by having a massive effect on the distances that balls can be struck. Rather than worry overmuch about the type of material from which the bat is constructed its effect on the game should be the key criteria. If it can be demonstrated that a bamboo bat will work not too differently to the traditional willow I would have no objection to such being used.
Possibly the keenest statisticians (are you reading this James McCaghrey?) will come to produce tables comparing scoring by batters with wooden implements and with bamboo to analyse whether the different material is having any great effect.
My usual sign off…