June 8, 2015

A bat with less of an edge, to give batsmen an edge

A group of Indian technology students have produced a bat that has the potential to change the caught-behind as we know it
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Mirik Gogri talks about the Gladius bat

It is an issue big enough for the ICC's technical committee to discuss. During the recently concluded World Cup - the most lopsided towards the bat so far - it made Ian Chappell worry about the safety of the bowler and the umpire. Rahul Dravid is not sure how net bowlers have managed to avoid injuries.

The steady increase in the thickness (but not weight) of bats has altered the balance between bat and ball. The ball is being hit harder than it has ever been, and edges are travelling farther than they ever did. Yet the latest innovation in bat-making to fall foul of the traditionalists might just be one that actually takes wood off the blade, making some parts of it thinner. It should be welcome, except that this new bat primarily intends to make sure edges don't carry - or at least not as far as they do now. And the increased bat speed, a by-product of the innovation, might just end up sending the ball even further when it is middled.

When Mirik Gogri, Ayush Jain and some of their friends at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay - students when they began, entrepreneurs in their mid-20s now - began work on this bat, called Gladius, which they have since trademarked, during India's horror run in away Tests in 2011 and 2012, they wanted to come up with a tool that could reduce the number of wickets that India lost to catches behind the wicket. In the process they might have stumbled upon an aerodynamically enhanced overall design.

The edges first. Imagine a damp pitch on an overcast morning in England. The openers have to see out the first session, in the course of which the moisture will dissipate, as the sun comes out. You need to survive this session to accumulate through the rest of the day. Enter the Gladius bat.

In layman's terms, Gogri and Co. have tapered the edges. Under MCC laws, a bat face cannot be wider than 10.8cm. Now imagine if the back of the bat remained at its maximum width of 10.8cm and the front was made narrower by 0.75cm on either side. If the ball now hits the slanted edge, it won't travel as far back as it would off a normal bat edge.

This new bat primarily intends to make sure edges don't carry as far as they do now. And the increased bat speed, a by-product, might just end up sending the ball even further when it is middled

The simplicity of the idea is astonishing. It makes you wonder why nobody thought of it before - including the lawmakers. The MCC can't find a flaw with the bat under the laws as they stand, but this innovation has forced it to tighten the law. It is now considering a stipulation that the face of the bat not be narrower than 8.8cm, which means the slant cannot be more than 1cm on either side.

The bat offers more than just a smaller face. Its developers first produced a bat with sawtooth edges, which they used during their intra-university matches. They found the serrated edges made the bat too unpredictable, so they continued refining it - including trying to have sawteeth only on the outside edge, because that's the problem area - until they zeroed in on the tapered-edges design (on both sides, because shaving off only the outside edge took away the bat's balance).

In more scientific terms, in the words of Gogri, this is how the bat works: "When an edge hits a normal bat, the only direction a force acts on it is perpendicular. In this case [with the tapered edge] that force is slightly forward and slightly downward. This is not a huge directional change, mind you, but it can be the difference between the ball carrying and not carrying."

He and his colleagues have performed various tests on the bat in simulated environments, but the results may not match those in actual play, where no two deliveries can be identical and hit the edge on the same spot and with identical bounce and pace. Science, though, says that overall the tapered sides ought to make outside edges weaker but give leading edges more legs.

It's the weight of a bat that defines how much a ball travels, not the thickness, but big hitters are still attached to their big bats © Getty Images

A better balance, claims Gogri, was a pleasant offshoot of the tapering, as a result of improved airflow. "When the air hits a normal bat it flows in a turbulent fashion," he says. "With our bat obviously there is turbulence, but it eases through." In fact, the players who have used the bats in local and domestic cricket - Bhavin Thakkar, who has played Ranji Trophy for Mumbai and Himachal Pradesh, and Shashank Singh, who has played Under-23 cricket for Mumbai - are talking mainly of the improved bat speed.

The bat has been handed out to a few coaches, including Praveen Amre and Sanjay Bangar. While coaches find it to be better aerodynamically, the bat has - as expected - hit a stonewall that has to do with perception. Every bat-maker in the world talks of a batsman's psychology. Gray-Nicolls, the sports-equipment manufacturer, has done tests that prove the thickness of a bat has little to do with how much the ball travels, weight does, but some of the biggest hitters in cricket today like to use chunky bats. Just the sight of a big bat empowers batsmen, bat-makers feel, and most are fairly set in their ways in terms of what they want. And here is a bunch of kids asking them to reduce the width of the face of the bat. The nerve.

In the process of trying to convince batsmen, Gogri and friends have discovered that hardly anyone uses a bat that is 10.8cm wide anyway. Most bats are about 10.4cm wide. They are now looking at procuring bats - using the same willow - that are 10.8cm wide so that they can do their thing on it and see how players respond. However, it has been difficult to convince big bat companies to create wider bats for the makers of Gladius to experiment with.

If this bat is to succeed, there will eventually have to be a psychological trade-off between the confidence derived from looking at a full-faced bat and one with softer edges - to be used when the conditions demand more circumspection, when scoring runs is not the prime objective. The simplicity of the idea means there is no need for a bat to be specially manufactured: existing bats can be modified for the purpose. On the face of it neither the developers of the bat nor the batsmen who might want to experiment with it have much to lose, but the bowlers might have a thing or three to say.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • dummy4fb on June 11, 2015, 21:00 GMT

    This is completely flawed logic. No wonder it hasn't been proven in field tests. There are two types of edged balls. Firstly when a batsman is presenting the face, either defensively or as a drive and secondly when the batsman pushes sideways at a ball. In the first case this "design" means less face and more edge making in more likely to get an edge. In the second case the edge "design" is more likely to ramp the ball to the slips.

    In either case it would make next to no difference anyway given the size of the impact area. The only thing it's likely to do is split the wood. As far as aerodynamics go - seriously?!?! Again, not that it makes the slightest bit of difference given the speed of the swing but this design would create more turbulence not less. That's why aircraft wings curve the other way.

  • Atif71 on June 11, 2015, 12:14 GMT

    Can we not have a system in which the ball gets electric current through the bat and as soon as a fielder catches it he gets an electric shock. On a serious note the biggest disadvantage to the bowlers is shorter boundaries. If the boundaries are on average 85-90 metres, the bowlers, both seamers and spinners, could afford to bowl more attacking lengths without the fear of being dispatched to the boundary so easily. The bouncer rule needs to be changed to two bouncers to make the game exciting for the public and in the process making the contest between the bat and the ball a fairer one.

  • dummy4fb on June 11, 2015, 10:20 GMT

    With this bat, Yuvraj Singh will be back in the test side. His guided glances off the back foot into second slip's hands, will now fall safely short. Ya right! ;-)

  • PaddynairBlr on June 11, 2015, 8:14 GMT

    Something has to be done about this crap !!!! Cricket is not a welfare game for the batsmen,reducing bowlers to slaves.This is precisely what happened in WC 2015 to the extent that it became boring to see centuries & double centuries.Five fielders or more should stand outside the circle and bats should be standardised.Then we would see how good each batsmen is !

    To compare eras,batting averages have to be lowered by a certain amount and bowling averages raised by the said amount! How much I don't know but I would guess by about 5-7 ??

  • dummy4fb on June 11, 2015, 7:07 GMT

    So what if the slip cordon and keeper step up a little so that the catches carry? I don't think it will work that well in practice.

  • dummy4fb on June 11, 2015, 6:14 GMT

    I think they can still experiment on bats that are 10.4 cm wide. Since they taper it by 0.75 cm each side, the bat face would still be at 8.9 cm (within 8.8 cm).

    I don't think this will result in things going too much in favor of batsmen. Yes, the bowlers will have to produce a genuine edge for the ball to carry. But then, it would also mean that:-

    1. Square cuts would have to be played with more wrist work for picking gaps and keeping the ball down as the tapered edge would push the ball up in the air.

    2. They'll have to apply more power while trying to play upper cuts over the slips.

    3. While hitting down the ground with straight bats, they'll have to middle the ball to give it more legs because of those tapered edges.

    4. Hitting down the ground and in the air without middling the ball might result in the ball falling short of the boundary, resulting in more catches.

    5. Since leading edges will have more legs, fielders will get more time to get into position for the catch.

  • dummy4fb on June 11, 2015, 5:52 GMT

    quite a few questions come to mind, some of which have been raised by fellow readers already: 1. Why do they need bat makers to experiment with. Buy a good quality bat of the shelf and try to shave off the edges at particular angle? What happens to the thin edges (keeper of first slip). In theory they should still travel as much as there is minimal role of the bat there. However, I have few more questions of my own: 1. What will happen to the durability of the bat. Are'nt thin edges, more susceptible to breakage? 2. edges now a days take the ball over the boundary ropes. With these bats that won't happen. In fact for horizontal bat shots edges might just result in ball going sky high but not far enough. I do agree that such bats will make it easier to swing the bats. Interesting idea overall, but will take a lot more to see the light of the day.

  • McGorium on June 10, 2015, 23:07 GMT

    It appears that this bat tries to solve the problem of someone playing with a straight bat, and the ball taking a thick edge that would've flown to second slip. A thin edge, in which the ball barely makes contact with the bat would still be a problem. Since there's no significant contact, there's minimal loss of momentum, resulting in it carrying to the WC/1-st slip. The other kind of edge occurs when, say, the batsman tries to cover-drive with an angled bat or cuts/pulls/hooks. In these cases, the ball will travel. Then there's bouncy tracks, where slip catches are taken at head/chest height; lots of momentum to absorb there. There's also the thick edge that hits the outer half of the bat, causing it to turn in the batsman's hand. My guess is that in practice, the impact is of this minimal. Nice try though.

  • vnrlifestyle on June 10, 2015, 20:39 GMT

    A purely technical question: current edges are relatively sharp, and the above modification also does not seem to change the properties of the edge, only introducing a 3D taper to change the angles. What about rounding the edges without making any other changes to a regular bat? Would smoothly rounded edges help the batsman? [Of course, I am not an expert]

  • StraightPull on June 10, 2015, 18:11 GMT

    I just add a bit of soft material to the edges to remove the sound a nick makes. Problem solved. If I was playing Test cricket I would need to reduce the friction so that there is no heat generated on a snick.

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