March 6, 2014

Who cares about bats anyway?

We don't think much about our bats, do we? No, not much at all

Every bat has its own story © Getty Images

Long before the game of cricket, before we stood about in fields hunting wickets, we spent the afternoons carrying wooden clubs, stalking woolly mammoths. One could argue that our natural state is to be armed. And therefore it's no surprise that grown men will invest time and money, and indulge in endless and ill-informed conversations with other grown men about the weight distribution of certain bat designs, the latest innovation that will revolutionise our game, and then retire to our shed/garage/bedroom and run our finger along a cleft of willow.

Such is the importance of buying a new blade that it can provide a seminal father-son bonding experience - especially that magical "first bat". Son might be driven out to the sports shop by father on a spring morning, perhaps a day after news about a stirring England win overseas, or a school letter about team whites, or the constant pleading of little Jonny, who is savvy enough to mention to dad that his best friend, who also plays for the county team, has just been bought a new bat by his dad, who also happens to drive a sleeker car than little Jonny's father.

But anyway, it's not a case of keeping up with the Joneses. Little Jonny's father has memories of his own father buying him a bat, when edges were edges and not middles, and the maker's name was a moniker of history and resonance, rather than a garish badge with the name of a machine gun, sword, or Viking god's mythical hammer.

And little Jonny knows that once father is in the shop, any grumbling about price and newfangled technology will be forgotten when he picks up a bat. He'll remember an innings from yore, when he put that fast bowler from Lower Smeddington into the brook, and he'll play a few air shots, be surprised at how something so chunky can feel so light, and then ramble to the teenage shop assistant about plastic facing versus good old-fashioned linseed oil. Meanwhile little Jonny is lost in his own reverie, testing the bats endorsed by his heroes, the blades with the boldest names and most luminous stickers.

Now, depending on the failed and frustrated ambition of little Jonny's dad, little Jonny's grip and stance may be subject to some impromptu shop-floor coaching. Father may well lecture son about the pitfalls of a heavy bat, that he'll end up slogging if he can't swing it correctly. Meanwhile the wallet-watching parent may consider the price tag and the fact that his progeny is still sprouting, and how although that Harrow might be a bit big for him now he'll grow into it by next season.

My GM Epic is without doubt my most treasured possession. When I bat it's an extension of my body, a trusty, near-magical middle that has never let me down

Either way, once in the sports shop it's most likely that little Jonny will be driven home with the new bat on his lap. Father will then doubt the veracity of the "factory knocked-in" guarantee, and spend an hour or so pelting it with a ball while little Jonny watches and waits for his own go. Or mother comes outside and wags her finger at the migraine-inducing thunk, thunk, thunk.

This scene has been repeated for centuries. My own father recalls his first bat, a Gunn & Moore - he's from a coal-mining town in Notts, and buying any other brand but the local maker was treason. What he also remembers is how his father swished with his new purchase in the garden a little too exuberantly, catching the virgin blade on a metal fence post. Sixty years on, my father still winces at the tragedy.

My own first proper bat for proper balls was a full-size blade sacrilegiously set in a vice by my father and sawn down so I could heft it without spraining a wrist. Little did he know then that he'd actually invented the long-handled Uzi championed by Mongoose 30 years before Marcus Trescothick would be wagered a million pounds to spank a six with it over the Lord's pavilion.

Still, a hacksawed bat or not, it was my first bat. And a man's bat for a man's ball. I carried it to school and took it down the park, and my father must have realised I wasn't faking my love for cricket, and decided to buy me a proper blade, a piece of willow that didn't risk splinters.

That too was a Gunn & Moore, naturally. And although I forget the name, it was certainly cared for, oiled and - apologies to my neighbours - thoroughly knocked in. Once I grew out of the Gunn & Moore a Gray-Nicolls Dynadrive followed, with my second-favourite blade in this batography, a Duncan Fearnley. Whether or not this was actually the best bit of wood didn't matter. It was the choice of Ian Botham. It meant suddenly I could hoist length balls for six. I also blame its loss - stolen from a shed at my ex-girlfriend's - for my decade-long hiatus from cricket.

After a failed experiment with a * (*insert name of large UK sports chain selling tat) plank I made the trip back to Notts and got a new GM - the company formally known as Gunn & Moore.

My GM Epic is without doubt my most treasured possession. When I bat it's an extension of my body, a trusty, near-magical middle that has never let me down. There is a story that when Harold Pinter was evacuated from his burning house during a blitz he ran back inside and saved his beloved bat. If my boat - I live on a barge on the Thames - sank, it would be that piece of wood that I'd salvage first.

Alas, after two seasons, two foreign tours, and a few-dozen sixes, the Epic is a battered soldier limping on. It has already been through one refurb, and should gracefully retire from further battles like a decorated war veteran.

Still, I wonder if it could survive another refurb? Perhaps it can be patched up and fight one more glorious summer? And if it does come to pieces in my hand while at the crease, then this would be a fitting, heroic ending.

Not that we think about our bats too much, not at all.

Nicholas Hogg is a co-founder of the Authors Cricket Club. His first novel, Show Me the Sky, was nominated for the IMPAC literary award

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • ESPN on March 15, 2014, 2:10 GMT

    AS bats without big player endorsements have not escalated in price unnecessarily like CA and are a sure bet for beautiful pickup and weight distribution

  • Android on March 9, 2014, 21:50 GMT

    A great choice of bats which have improved from the past. For 14 year old I love bat. Specially bulky bats with nice stickers. Recently got a CA 10000 plus. affordable.great sweet spot.A Beautiful stick.Does everything you can do with a 300 quid bat.

  • Steve on March 8, 2014, 2:14 GMT

    I Hate talking about bats, what are they anyway? .............Oh but the memories of that first bat, County polycoat, taking it to training and having team mates all wanting a go only being told by the coach "Only ever lend you bat to someone who has the means to replace it if they break it", words I passed on to my son. The devastation of the first innings with it where the oposition umpire, a well meaning but "cricket clueless" father asked to use it to knock the stumps back in after an attempted run out, only to use the face instead of the handle and put half a dozen well deep stump impressions on it.

    Then there was the first of "The Best Ever" bats, a Grey Nichols GM500 butterfly scoop, two new handles and countless battles won it still sits in the pool room, along side another Gray Nic and a Duncan Fernly, sharing pride of place next to the last of the "Best Ever" bats a battered Newbury Mjolner. Now that was a bat, I would have married that bat.

    I hate talking about bats.

  • Jeff on March 7, 2014, 17:32 GMT

    For a 16 man squad, 9 batsmen 1 keeper 4 express bowlers 2 spinners. Always remember cricket is the only major team sport in the world that does not allow full substitutions at all.

  • Vaughan on March 7, 2014, 17:15 GMT

    Aaaah nostalgia.

    In South Africa there were a few bats worthy of the name in the school world of the 1990s.

    Hunts County - ULTIMATE DESTROYER : What a name, what a bat. I wonder what happened to them?

    Kookaburra BUBBLE - a quintessentially awesome bat

    Noble follows up to the Gray Nichols DYNADRIVE, V500 and GM maestro

  • kartik on March 7, 2014, 14:49 GMT

    I grew up playing street cricket in India. There was one shared bat, a couple of tennis balls which went flat quickly and just walls of houses for makeshift stumps. I still remember the first bat I owned - handed down from a distant relative who had just retired from playing Ranji cricket for Karnataka. It was an SG ton bat, completely worn out and full of red marks but still sturdy and (at that time) heavy as a log. Still have it to this day despite several attempted termite attacks.

  • Dummy4 on March 7, 2014, 12:42 GMT

    When I was a child I loved some bats simply due to the stickers! The original IS (Ihsan) Crown bats were a personal favourite for me; circa 2003. I started to watch Zimbabwean cricket simply because I wanted to see that bat play! Not to mention some players of the Ihsan bat domain: Mark Vermeulen, Dion Ebrahim, Yasir Hameed, Craig Wishwart, Travis Friend and more. I have always wanted to own an Ihsan - Crown bat. Ridley Jacobs was one of the last players to use that design.

  • gmsj on March 7, 2014, 11:41 GMT

    Nice reminiscence about bats, fathers and the cosy feeling of cradling one when falling asleep. Sleeping and dreaming about the upcoming matches on the vacation. The hurried set up of pitches, stumps and boundary markers. The intro to the opponent team. Smirking and gossiping about their top batters and bowlers. And the smell of fresh grass, the first of the summer.

    The lounging about under the oak trees that skirt the ground, the sandwiches and chewing gum. The racing of bicycles on the slopes and into the cricket field. Leaning against the fence and watching the ongoing match to finish. The chatter amongst the team mates and who should open, one down, two down. The imitation of Jonty flying at cover point. And getting bruised elbows. The exhiliration on celebarating on fall of wicket. Yahoos.

    The ride home in darkness with the team mate and best friend. The ice cream vendor. Talk of the catch that was missed and the appeal that was turned down. Cricket, ah lovely cricket!

  • Zeshan on March 7, 2014, 8:24 GMT

    Guys I think the simplest and most interesting solution for substitutions in Cricket is that all squads for all international matches should consist of 16 players each. From those 16 only 11 can field but any one of 16 can bat or bowl. Max 10 overs a bowler. Total wickets to be dismissed is 10, but any batsman can be changed with another batsman due to injury or tactically. But once a batsman has batted can not bat again even if he was retired out. I think in such scenario teams can use best batters or bowlers according to match situation and requirements. And in those reserve 5 other than than starting eleven, ideally one should be a keeper 2 bowlers and 2 batsman. what you think about this suggestion?

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