March 18, 2013

In name and deed?

Modern bat manufacturers seem to be going to increasingly absurd lengths in coming up with exotic nouns in which batsmen can attempt to locate idealised versions of themselves

Nominative determinism: what does your bat's name say about you? © Getty Images

It hardly needs saying that a bat is more than the physical line of defence; it's a symbol, a totem, invested with dreams, subject to the forces of superstition and luck, the single prop for the vulnerable, suggestible psyche of the batsman.

For much of the history of the game, batmakers were behind the curve on this. The hints were there - WG wrote to Gray-Nicolls to congratulate them on one of his blades, a sweet longing evident between the lines of his simple postcard - yet the psychology only began to be exploited with the defining bats of the 1970s and early '80s: the Jumbo, the Scoop, the V12.

Now, though, with the epic re-invention of the object itself, the supercharged, hyper-tooled, bigger, deeper, thicker bats of the new century, the marketing has roared into areas that flick the switch of those male synapses: sex, technology, power.

Like a Steven Seagal revenge-fantasy franchise, each edition more fevered, more heightened, more alluring and more ridiculous than the last, so the new season brings its new weapons, its ammo, its bats.

There are certain key adjectives that are common to all of the 50-plus batmakers and podshavers that have their wares on sale. Profiles are always "massive"; edges are "imposing"; bows are "exaggerated"; middles are "huge"; willow is "prime" ... If you don't feel rugged and ready to rock'n'roll with that lot hanging just below your waistband, then cricket probably ain't the game for you.

Now it's all-out war for the club batter's dollar. I once heard a batmaker bemoaning the importance of stickers. It didn't matter how high the quality of the bat was, he said, "If it doesn't have the right stickers, it's dead."

"In this exotic collection of nouns, a batsman can locate the idealised version of himself"

Upon these pricy graphics are etched the product names, and it's here that the makers salami-slice their market. In this exotic collection of nouns, a batsman can locate the idealised version of himself.

For the preening alpha male there are bats to reflect his position in life: the Hunts County Envy Concept, the Gunn & Moore Icon, the Boom Boom Arrogance, the Woodstock Tour de Force XL Gold, the SM Kings Crown, the Millichamp & Hall Master, the Matrixx Terminator.

There are bats forged in the pits of heavy metal hell. Who wouldn't destroy the puny bowling of mortals with the Gray-Nicolls Oblivion Slayer, or the Hunts County Mettle Monster, the Slazenger Hex, the Hell4Leather Hellfire, the Hammer Cricket Berserker, the SAF Hades, the Willostix Medusa, and, just for the old hippy, the Woodstock Festival.

Other bats exploit the language of love, or at least of lust. They sound like 1970s hairspray or pub-machine condoms: the Gray-Nicolls Maverick Colossus, the Slazenger Ultra, the Chase Volante, the Woodstock Curve Gold, the Blue Room Swell, the Kippax Cricket Stallion, the Willostix Anaconda, The SS Gladiator, the Black Cat Shadow.

Yet more mine deeply obscure or arcane knowledge. Newbery's longstanding fave the Mjolnir is titled after Thor's hammer. Salix have gone Latin for the Praestantia ('superiority; excellence'); Hunts County's Caerulex is named for the type of willow it's cut from; Adidas' bumf claims that Pellara means to 'beat away or banish' (yeah, right); PiriPiri's Tampiqueno Dias requires a detailed knowledge of cooking ingredients, while Puma's retro Bionic asks you to recall Lee Majors' Six Million Dollar Man, a show that doesn't even seem to get a run-out on cable these days.

What the batsman is seeking, though, can't be found in a name, however extravagantly constructed, however flattering to the ego. Instead it is that moment when a new bat slips into the hands and feels like it has always been there. Manufacturers can call that what they like. I call it magic.

Jon Hotten blogs here and tweets here