Cricinfo XI April 12, 2007

Strange innovations

Lawrence Booth searches through the kitbag of history to find a collection of eccentricities and innovations

Lawrence Booth searches through the kitbag of history to find a collection of eccentricities and innovations

The row over the metal bat reaches a climax © Cricinfo
The aluminium bat
Few innovations have been quite so cynical - and quite so short lived. Dennis Lillee and a friend called Graham Monoghan decided there was money to be made in selling bats made of aluminium. They were cheaper than their traditional wooden cousins and more likely to irritate the opposition too. When Lillee walked out to resume his innings against England at Perth in 1979-80, he was armed with metal. He had already used the ComBat against West Indies, when he made a duck. Now Mike Brearley protested. A stand-off ensued, which ended with Lillee hurling the bat towards the pavilion and the lawmakers stipulating that it was wood only from now on. ComBat sales plummeted.

The skullcap
There was tittering at the back when the 35-year-old Mike Brearley opted to face the Aussies in 1977 sporting a strange contraption that sat under his cap and protected his temples with two fang-like pieces of plastic. Trouble was, it kept slipping. "Oi, Brearley, why don't you fix it on with a six-inch nail," shouted a Trent Bridge wag. The only nails applied that summer, however, were to Australia's coffin: England won 3-0.

The coloured bat
Hard to believe but in June 1973 Barry Richards walked out to open Hampshire's innings with Gordon Greenidge during a John Player League match against Sussex at Portsmouth's United Services Recreation Ground holding a bright orange bat. Essentially a marketing ploy, it prompted Graham Roope to threaten to use a blue version at the forthcoming Lord's Test against New Zealand. MCC stepped in swiftly.

The crash helmet
Dennis Amiss went further than Brearley by lining up for World Series Cricket in 1977-78 with an Evel Knievel-style crash helmet, produced - less glamorously - by a company in Birmingham and made of fibreglass with a polycarbonate visor. It could, said Amiss, "take a double-barrel shotgun from 10 paces", which sounded a touch paranoid. Calls for a quick single were occasionally obscured by the helmet's bulk - run-outs were not uncommon - but Amiss set a trend, even if the helmet was soon replaced by more streamlined models.

The scoop bat
First brought on to the market in 1974, the Gray-Nicolls 'Scoop' - lighter than traditional bats but with a larger sweet spot and thicker edges - was a big hit with international batsmen until the early 1980s. The scoop faded from view as the trend moved towards railway-sleeper bulk and brute force. But it enjoyed a mid-'90s revival in the hands of Brian Lara, who used it to score first-class cricket's only quintuple century. While the single scoop beloved of David Gower is consigned to history, many of Gray-Nicolls' contemporary bat models feature two or four scoops on the back.

The unbuttoned shirt
The good old Viyella shirt - part wool, part cotton - allowed the sartorial rebel to roll up his sleeves and undo the front to give the chest an airing. Keith Miller was never shy; nor was Richie Benaud. But a trickle became a trend under Ian Chappell's 1970 Australians, who were matched all the way for navel-baring by Wayne Daniel. The buttons disappeared at the start of the 1980s, leaving cricketers to concentrate on their hair-dos instead.

The mittens
Essentially a pair of small, white boxing gloves, the mittens were first modelled by that innovator par excellence Tony Greig, who wore them during the 1975 World Cup. The thinking was that the greater surface area helped absorb any impact and thus provided more protection to the fingers, and they quickly caught on, with Clive Lloyd wearing them during West Indies' tour of England in 1976. Nowadays no self-respecting batsman would be seen dead in them.

The shoulderless bat
Presumably the theory was that, if you possessed shoulders like Lance Cairns, you hardly needed them on your bat. Cairns's shoulderless willow made by Newbery - known as an Excalibur but more often compared to a caveman's club - was responsible for two of the most frightening pieces of hitting in the last 30 years. At the Hutt Recreation Ground near Wellington in 1979-80 Cairns crashed 110 from No. 9 (Evan Gray: 4-0-50-1) to turn Otago's score of 48 for 8 into 173 all out. The next-best score was 14. Three years later, in a one-day international at Melbourne, he launched into a 21-ball half-century, including six sixes in 10 balls.

The inverted flowerpot
Floppy sunhats were de rigueur in the 1970s but Jack Russell kept the fashion alive until his retirement in 2004. The Russell version, described by his at times exasperated captain Mike Atherton as a "flowerpot of a thing", bespoke pure eccentricity. Only his wife, Aileen, was allowed to patch it up (he had been wearing the same one since his first-class debut in 1981), and he irritated the England management by refusing to wear an official coloured cap during a one-day series in South Africa. Compromise was reached when Russell agreed to sew on the England emblem. It was an emotional moment.

The hand-me-down pads
International cricketers tend to prefer using their own gear but a 14-year-old Sachin Tendulkar was hardly going to say no when Sunil Gavaskar bequeathed him a pair of his ultra-light pads. "It was the greatest source of encouragement for me," he said nearly 20 years later after passing Gavaskar's top world record of 34 Test centuries. Passed from one Little Master to another, the pads became part of the legend of Tendulkar.

The MCC colours
The last time the England touring team wore the bacon-and-egg colours of the Marylebone Cricket Club was on the 1996-97 tour of New Zealand, although they had stopped referring to themselves as MCC 20 years earlier. The club's colour had been sky blue for about a century after its foundation in 1787 but changed for reasons that remain unconfirmed. One theory is that MCC adopted the red and yellow of Nicholson's gin after the company's owner, William Nicholson, secured the club's position at Lord's with a loan. Gin and MCC? Surely not...

This article was first published in the April issue of The Wisden Cricketer.
Click here for further details.