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Alex Winter at Taunton
August 8, 2012
Nottinghamshire 48 for 3 v Somerset
The weather has played an evil part in denting the balance sheets of most cricket-related businesses this season but while the counties already know they are in for a dismal financial season there may be a time-lag on the detrimental effects for the sports equipment market. As Somerset and Nottinghamshire trooped on and off the field on day two, one of the England's few surviving bat manufacturers were cursing a lack of equipment use.
Millichamp and Hall have been making cricket bats for over 20 years and their factory, nestled behind the pavilion at Taunton, is an added attraction for spectators with time on their hands.
But the weather, more so than a troubled economic climate, could be the biggest threat to their future. Their market is the high-ticket item: handmade bats of the highest quality. They are not set up to sell a £100 bat for the same reason Gucci do not produce a £20 bag. Exclusively is an element to their business model.
Even those with money to spend do not need to replace a bat that has not been used - and club matches have been disrupted to an extent that most elderly cricketers describe the season as the worst in living memory. Next year's sales could be severely hampered by this year's lack of cricket. And that is a big snag for one of only three or four batmakers left in the United Kingdom.
Four highly-skilled staff busied themselves in a rare burst of sunshine, mulling over a plane and a cup of tea - a glamorous glimpse at a lifestyle that they insist becomes more problematic whenever temperatures plunge. And it could get even more difficult should the weather continue to keep their bats in kit bags.
For that reason and others, many batmakers have quickly entered and left the market. Highly-publicised names such as Woodworm and Mongoose, offering fat advertising contracts, have jumped onto and drifted from the bat-manufacturing scene.
They came with the backing of consortiums of businessmen and high-profile endorsement deals: Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff both used Woodworm kit in their early days.
Smaller ventures have come and gone too - a group of bankers who were made redundant decided without success that batmaking would be a nice lifestyle. The market is a tough nut to crack.
Millichamp and Hall managed to establish a reputation for high quality and by the end of the 1989 Ashes tour, 11 of the 16 tourists were using their bats, albeit with other manufacturer's labels. The reputation stuck and today they carve out willows for a great number of international batsmen.
Mingling with the stars is also a lure for the would-be batmaker. But the stars and their individual requirements can often add days to signing off the finished product.
International cricketers are able to come down to the factory in Taunton for a bespoke fitting service - around £450 to the general public - and this personal touch helps keep those batmakers in Britain: most of the large labels have their 10,000 bats a year made in India - where much smaller wages keep costs down; although India's rapid growth and the coming of the minimum wage could see that advantage reduced.
A small wage element in production costs is a prime reason why clothing is the big winner in the market - a market that Millichamp and Hall have managed to branch into. But again, non-dirty whites don't need to be replaced.
And there were few dirty whites on day two at Taunton where the type of day that is repeated for several seasons could kill county cricket, ensued. It did not rain so consistently as to keep the covers on for that long at any one time. But on and off they went so often that many spectators - of whom there were greater numbers than the first day because of a better forecast - drifted away before the second spell of play at 5.25pm.
Only 15.4 overs were bowled but enough happened to suggest there could still be a result. Alfonso Thomas jagged the ball around and got one back into the pads of Michael Lumb. And Steve Kirby moved one away from Alex Hales on a length to entice an edge to second slip.
Somerset, shorn here of Nick Compton and Craig Kieswetter, both on England Lions duty, would prefer better conditions for their batsman and Abdur Rehman, the Pakistani spinner they have finally got into the country. Those providing the cricketers with the tools of their trade would also enjoy some sunshine.
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