May 19, 2010


Spellbound by the willow wands that hold promise of great returns: The humble cricket bat is invested with almost mystical properties by players across the talent spectrum (Rob Bagchi, 5/19/10, The Guardian)

The bats we used at school and in the club's indoor nets in the mid-70s were as ancient as some of our teachers. Too old for gaudy stickers, they had the maker's name stencilled on them in black, usually with the autograph of some long-forgotten player, and the ones at the bottom of the bag had their cracks held together by glue and twine wrapped around the face. Some were covered in plastic sheaths that may have prolonged their life, but rendered them as meat-free as George Bernard Shaw's diet. When one innings was ended even more prematurely than normal with me left holding the handle and splice as the detached blade disappeared over extra cover, I resolved that the time had come to get a bat of my own.

But deciding what to buy was far from straightforward. As someone who obsessed about arcane details, each maker had some sort of connotation. Gray-Nicolls, with their scoops, were the preserve of the wristy, whippy stylists; Stuart Surridge Jumbos the clubbers and dynamic hitters; Hunts County the purists; Mitre the nurdlers.

Within a 10-mile radius of our house we had three batmakers: Slazenger, Crown Sports and Saint Peter, the latter enjoying a brief spell in the sun thanks to its sponsorship of Tony Greig during his shouty pomp and his use of its absurd boxing-style batting gloves. You could go to the factories and purchase a "second" quite reasonably, but I was determined not to compromise.

That meant a trip to the shop run by the former Yorkshire captain, Billy Sutcliffe, son of Herbert, in one of the Victorian arcades in Leeds. The place was so well-stocked with bats that one of the hazards of working there must have been buffoons ostentatiously farting in the cricket department just so they could drolly let rip with the "wind in the willows" gag.

There, solely because of Ian Botham's endorsement, I bought a Duncan Fearnley and was also persuaded to invest in a bat mallet, presumably the cricket equipment retailer's equivalent of Clark's trying to flog you shoe trees. After hours spent knocking it in, the bat became a constant companion. I never got to the stage of Geoffrey Boycott or Australia opener Geoff Marsh, practising forward defensives in the mirror while naked, but I did cherish it.

The cliche about bad workmen blaming their tools does not always ring true in cricket. The elite player has his certainty and confidence to protect, and here one thinks of Raymond Illingworth's excuse for one dismissal – "Ruddy umpire must have given me t'wrong guard". But the average player does invest mystical qualities in his bat, as if, like King Arthur and Excalibur, finding the right one will make up for all his deficiencies in talent and technique.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 19, 2010 6:03 AM
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