April 25, 2014

Can we do something about monster bats?

Modern bats are getting chunkier by the day, while not getting much more heavy. This gives batsmen an unfair advantage

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Recently I had the opportunity to commentate on the India-Pakistan Asia Cup match in Mirpur, Dhaka. As I wandered onto the field for my pre-match duties, I stumbled across a bat lying on the ground. It belonged to one of the Indian batsmen. I picked it up, out of curiosity, to check the weight and balance. I was taken aback by what I saw.

I have seen bats get bulkier over the years, but this one shocked me because the edges were the thickest I had ever seen on a cricket bat, and the bulge at the back the biggest. It was clear to see that this bat of 2014 was more bloated than the ones of 2012. Wandering around the ground, I realised that most bats were more or less similar. These were the bats of 2014. With every passing season, bats get bigger: bigger edges and bigger bulges behind the face.

So bats are getting more meaty; what's the big deal, you might ask. Batsmen are stronger, so they can carry heavy bats around more easily than you guys could.

True. But here's what's great about these modern bats: they are getting bulkier, but they are still light to pick up.

I think the weight of the bat is not so much an issue as much as the thickness of the edges and the swell at the back are. If bats got heavier as they got meatier, that would be fair because wielding a heavy bat, especially in T20 cricket, where you use the bat like a wand to play all those unorthodox, mind-boggling shots, is not ideal. So it would be a tough choice for a batsman to make: go for weight on the bat for the power, or choose versatility with a lighter bat?

Coming back to that Asia Cup match, I saw the dramatic effect of those bloated bats lying around the ground in that very game. Virat Kohli as India captain made a smart move to have his spinners bowl the death overs on a pitch that had turn. It all came down to the last over. Ten runs to get, with R Ashwin to bowl.

As it turned out, Shahid Afridi hit two sixes to win the game for his team. That's what went into the record books: Afridi hits two sixes off Ashwin and Pakistan beat India in a nail-biter in the Asia Cup. But if you looked at it with a cricketing eye, here is what really happened. Ashwin bowled two good deliveries, on which Afridi mistimed two lofted shots. Both times the ball did not hit the middle of Afridi's bat - it was well away from the sweet spot - but it still sailed over the short boundaries. Those two sixes landed just a metre or two over the rope.

Why did this happen? Modern bats.

The edges are so thick now (two inches or more) that even if the ball makes contact with the bat close to its edge, there is still a lot of wood behind the ball. The thick edges ensure that there is still a lot of body and thrust behind the ball even if it has not hit the core centre of the bat.

In earlier days, when the edges were thinner (about three-quarters of an inch thick), as a batsman you knew you had to hit the ball with the centre of the bat, the sweet spot, or you were in trouble. Even the big guys were conscious of this fact. Now, because there is all that extra wood, spread right across the rear of the bat, the whole face of the bat has become one sweet spot.

Was it fair to Ashwin when with his guile he had the better of Afridi but the design of the bat made Afridi the eventual hero? In modern cricket, bowlers are losing such battles on a daily basis. Why, even Afridi experiences this harsh reality as a bowler.

If someone kept count of how many badly mishit shots are going for sixes these days, the number would be very high. We need to bring it down.

I propose that the ICC places restrictions on how thick the sides of a bat can be, and on the extent of the protrusion you can have behind the face of the bat. I don't care too much about the weight of the bat, for it has its pros and cons for the batsman. My suggestion is that bat edges should not be more than three-fourths of an inch thick, and the bulge behind must not exceed an inch and a half. Before a tournament or series, all bats should be cleared by the match referee and a hologram sticker put on those that have passed the test.

After that, brace yourself for some real fun. It will now be the guile of the bowlers versus the muscles and skills of the batsmen. No more shortcuts for the batsmen.

Former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar is a cricket commentator and presenter on TV. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • cricfan80383007 on December 7, 2016, 16:28 GMT

    I totally agree with you sir

  • D on April 30, 2014, 14:07 GMT

    very nice initiative.. appreciable.

  • Dev on April 29, 2014, 16:46 GMT

    Sanjay - great read and completely agree with your suggestion. It is mind boggling to me that such a global, popular sport is so backwards and lacking when it comes to "common sense" rules and regulations. I am ignorant to what bat regulations the ICC has in place right now so I won't speak on that, but it seems like they are not strict enough. I remember when a batsman hitting a "six" was a ginormous deal but now they are just dime a dozen. How can you possibly explain to a youngster today what it meant for Jadeja to hit 22 runs of Waqar's over in the 1996 WC QF when that happens all the time now? I understand that ICC is trying to expand cricket's reach across the world to make it more entertaining but as a "realist", it hurts. Major League Baseball has always had bat regulations and the fascination of a home run is still intact. ICC needs to at least recognize this problem and work towards making the sport more balanced (batsman vs bowler).

  • Srinivas on April 29, 2014, 0:03 GMT

    Can't agree more Sanjay. Bravo!

  • Dummy4 on April 28, 2014, 12:21 GMT

    its about all batsmen taking advantage of chunkier bats.. What should have been otherwise a skier to mid-on has now started to go over the park with ease.. Even the so called miscued hits manage to clear the boundary quite convincingly.Although its an improvement in terms of giving a meaty area, even some one like an Ab devilliers or a glenn wouldnt go for the reverse hit if he knows that the ball wont meet what would be the mid of the blade(if the bats werent chunkier).having said that its a bit over balanced in batsmen's favor and it still remains so only in the shorter format.In test cricket you dont see rash shots played often, and respect is being given to the bowlers and the red ball.Just like how durable bats are being made, efforts should be taken to make the red ball equivalent in the white ball.That will swing the balance again.

  • Dummy4 on April 27, 2014, 17:31 GMT

    absolutely there needs to be some bat size regulations. nobody will complain much.

  • Dummy4 on April 27, 2014, 5:29 GMT

    Great insightful comments by Sanjay. I'd love to see this happen!

  • Dummy4 on April 26, 2014, 20:16 GMT

    and also the fact virat koholi had such a successful t-20 wc, asia cup n his form....NOW do u again say its because of bat.. i dont think bringing afridi and ashwin here makes any thing good ...... also both team had same facilities so it was a fair challenge.... the only problem here bcoz of this bat is for rising players who cant afford such expensive bats ..its unfair for them to deliver good runs with old aged bat while their competitors will use this modern bat...for player from rising country like nepal ....other than that its the use of technology to get rid of the big weight staying under the rule of ICC...remember ganguly was fined for using boarder bat and sachin was not fined for heavier big thick edged bat... the game has changed ...now players has to hit every ball as there are only 120 ball for an inning ...

  • Android on April 26, 2014, 19:56 GMT

    I am sure if india has won this game an indian batsman would have hit the sixes against Paki boelers, I am sure Sanjay would not have written this article but since Pakistan beat india sanjay got very technical with his pen....whether it was a good or a bad ball, short field whatever it was credit goes to afridi to do what he does best. hit the balls out of the ball park.

  • Dummy4 on April 26, 2014, 19:53 GMT

    what is the problem? its like using science to get a better bat as sanjaya himself said they could use as big edged bat as he showed only it to be heavy they decided against it... so now with the development in technology and physics they made a bigger bat with light weight to help batsmans....and also the fact that now batsman are expected to hit every time they bat as they play shorter version of cricket unlike in 1996 ..it is all well balanced for me...