England v India, 4th ODI, Old Trafford August 29, 2007

Bell's thin end of the bat

Narrow margins: Ian Bell's impressive form comes after using a thin bat in the nets © Getty Images

'Merlin', the spin-bowling machine, had a part to play in England combating Shane Warne during the 2005 Ashes; now, stick cricket seems to be aiding England's batsmen against India.

In the nets, Ian Bell - England's top scorer in each of the three games so far - has been using a bat two-and-a-half-inches wide and the rest of the team has gradually started trying this innovation. Manufactured by Fusion Sports, it weighs as much as a regular bat but is no wider than a baseball bat, square rather than round.

James Cornford, the director of the company - a one-man team as of now - provided the England team with a few samples during the Test series. During the Oval Test, Bell sought one that was customised for his needs.

"Ian seemed to like it and he wanted one made for him," Conford told Cricinfo. "It's made of the normal wood, the still wood, and we made sure the bat was the same weight as his usual bat. All I do is saw the edges off and add more weight from the back.

"After Ian, Matt [Prior] got interested and now you have Owais Shah and Monty Panesar trying it out too. In fact Peter Moores is keen to have everyone use them. Andy Flower was talking about making some that were even smaller."

Bell used this bat for most of his nets session. Facing Moores's throw-downs, he didn't have many problems middling the ball and even smashed a few straight down the ground. "It's a small bat but you can get some meaty blows from it," said Cornford, whose company is based just a few miles away in Stoke-on-Trent.

Cornford deals in other cricket equipment as well. He's provided the English and Indian teams with special stumps to practice yorkers. There have also been orange rubber bats, used to hit high balls for catches, net covers, to help in training for run-outs, and 'snickers', an instrument to help wicketkeepers practice sharp catches.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is assistant editor of Cricinfo