A railway sleeper with a difference

The prospect of brandishing the sort of club that Captain Caveman might have used to seduce the Teen Angels was frankly too exciting for words

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
Blackcat Cricket's Joker bat

The Joker is a serious piece of willow  •  Blackcat Cricket

It's a conversation piece, that's for sure. "Look at the size of that bastard!" was typical of the comments as I brought my shiny new bat along to nets last week. Walking to the crease with the word "Joker" emblazoned on your willow might not do a whole lot for your credibility as a batsman, but then again, for players such as myself who have none, the prospect of brandishing the sort of club that Captain Caveman might have used to seduce the Teen Angels was frankly too exciting for words.
You see, when it comes to bat selection, I'm a sucker for a railway sleeper. Once, on tour in Pakistan, I fell in love with an absurd lump of driftwood that I encountered in a bazaar in Rawalpindi. It had the pick-up of a croquet mallet and a mind of its own when it came to straight drives, and after three or four lusty swings in front of the mirror, I thought it was The One. A fortnight of bruised ribs later, I realised it was too cumbersome to defend (or attack) the short ball, and it's been condemned to the cellar ever since.
The Joker, however, is a railway sleeper with a difference. My first reaction on picking it up was like that of an incredulous and badly dubbed ham in a sanitary towel commercial. "But it's so ... light, and yet, so ... thick!" ...(or something). Unlike the much-trumpeted Mongoose, which feels rather like a baseball bat with its bottom-heavy weight distribution (and requires me to swing across the line like one as well), this is a far more straight-laced piece of equipment.
In essence, the bat has sacrificed a couple of inches of superfluous length at the splice (superfluous except when facing up to Steven Finn, that is) and opted instead to invest entirely in girth - which, I'm assured, is never a bad thing. Impressively, this has been done with a sufficiently sympathetic touch to retain the pick-up of a conventional bat, but one that ends up boasting a two-inch-thick sweet spot, at a very manageable 2lb 8.5oz weight. Like I say, I was excited ...
So, into the nets I went, with an urge to murder leather the like of which I'd never quite felt before. Suffice to say, the initial trial left a bit to be desired. It's hard at the best of times to gauge just how well you've middled a stroke that piles straight into the side netting, but doubly so when the noise that the bat emits is so unfamiliar. Instead of your conventional "tock" of willow, it made a strangely unsatisfying "wumph", as if I was mugging a pensioner with a sock full of sand.
But it felt good in the hand, that much I knew. So the following evening, I took it down to Beckenham, to test its beastly might in an evening Twenty20 fixture. We ended up being pummelled by close to 100 runs, but three deliveries was all I needed to know for sure I was onto a good thing. And ironically enough, it wasn't even a mighty stroke that convinced me of its merits. A good length delivery, just outside off stump, and what I thought was little more than a block pinged unstoppably through the covers for four.
Two balls later, and flushed with the sort of confidence that only a true tailender can recognise, I leant back with insouciance and pummelled a flat-batted mow over cow corner for probably the biggest six I have hit in my life. Before the end of the next over I was gone, as the bat's extra-fat edges enabled me to snick a wild cut that I could never normally have reached, but no matter. An 11-ball 15 was better than I'd managed for months.
That Sunday I top-scored in another rout - 19 from 12 in an all-day game at the Oratory - and in the course of that innings I got into position early and successfully middled a slog-sweep for the very first time in my life. As it happens it resulted in me being caught on the long boundary, but whatever. Thanks to a bat that I trusted, but also one that rewarded my every dab, stab and swipe with runs beyond my usual expectations, I found myself being coaxed into trying out proper cricket shots, whereas in the past I'd have settled for a closed-eye slog, and reaped the consequences.
It's a puzzling paradox, and one that probably wouldn't work for every batsman in the land, least of all those who rely on touch and placement. But for lower-order biffers with a better eye than temperament, this really is a proper piece of kit. Who'd have thought I could get so serious about a Joker?

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.