There’s a peculiar thing in cricket and its been going on for a while. It relates to batsmen and their bats. Specifically to the use of another’s bat.
Essentially this behaviour manifests itself in two ways; the first in coveting & ultimately borrowing a team mate’s bat and the second in coveting & ultimately buying one. Both can and do regularly occur even when the person has a perfectly good bat of their own.
The first is as commonplace as a dodgy afternoon tea; at any local oval you’ll see a batsman sidle up to a team mate, pick up their bat, drop in a compliment about it and then in time honoured fashion say “mate can I use your bat?”.
Behind “Howzat?” it’s the second most regularly asked question in the game and one that I too have asked; of a mate, who’s new and much heavier Powerspot had momentarily caught my eye, of a coach, the keeper of a bog standard club SS that had come off well at training one night, and even of an opponent, who’s shoulder-less Slazenger I just had to try. All whilst seemingly happily betrothed to a Gray Nicolls Scoop and all before the age of 18.
Such promiscuity exists in no other sport and is largely a result of a cricketer’s deep and abiding love for a good piece of willow and the cursory nature of batting form. The former, being tangible is understood, the latter being ethereal less so.
Batsmen can find beauty in a bat’s face, its physique, weight or sweet spot, however, ‘form’ is not so easily found. Whilst coveting another’s bat and subsequent borrowing of it is a wholly imprecise solution it is a practical one. And despite there being little, if any evidence of its effectiveness across any level of cricket, such is the belief in the powers of this so called ‘bat hopping’ that only in the deepest of form ruts will the more fundamental matters of technique and mindset be studied.
However, if and when a cricketer does hit a rich vein of form, with his or another’s bat, the bond between the two becomes permanent. This is perhaps best evidenced at test level where players go to great lengths to retain their favourite bats. Many who receive considerable financial inducements to use a particular brand take the money but use their old bat with the new brand stuck on. Invariably when the player does well so too do sales of his replica bat.
Buying a brand new bat is the second manifestation of cricket’s most peculiar trait. Equally unscientific and just as ineffective as the first, it is common among those seeking to emulate their heroes. This act is based on the belief that ability can be somehow passed on like osmosis – a belief I too have sadly fallen victim to in the past.
When Steve Waugh was the pin-up boy for Gunn and Moore and his Maestro was doing great things for his batting average, my own was plummeting. Whilst the self medicated Maestro didn’t turn me into an overnight star, (or even a New South Welshman for that matter), in my own mind the decision was a good one and the bat a success.
And therein probably lies the secret to this whole peculiar behaviour. Even if there is no real evidence of success, if the batsman ultimately believes that by switching bats he or she has made even a marginal difference to their game then the behaviour is justified. Not only that it’s spruiked and then copied by others ad infinitum.
In recent years I’ve taken up playing in an over 40’s competition and whilst the body doesn’t quite match the mind any more, it’s great fun. The game is largely the same as when I used to play, but there’s one thing that has dramatically changed.
Remarkably the bats have improved out of sight. Nowadays they say there’s no such thing as a dud bat, that because of the way they’re manufactured now all of them have bigger and better sweet spots that hit the ball harder and further.
Some are saying this quantum leap in bat manufacturing may spell the end for bat hopping but I’m not so sure. There’s already a few of the guys in the team who’ve swapped to new bats and its fair to say it hasn’t gone unnoticed. Watch this space……