Former Australian cricket captain, Ricky Ponting, has called for a change to the regulations surrounding the make-up of the cricket bat. Batsmen are dominating the game and Ponting wants to see their ‘wings clipped’. To achieve this, the MCC World Cricket Committee is proposing a reduction in size of the cricket bat.

Consider baseball for a moment. The game is, in some ways, similar to cricket. A pitcher and a striker play the role of cricket’s bowler and batsman. A ball, not dissimilar in size, is hit as far and as high as possible for maximum effect. The striker runs from base to base, the batsman runs from wicket to wicket – and neither game has seen much change in regulation for centuries.

Until now.

Dave Warner, opening batsman for Australia, is a big-hitter. In baseball, he’d be the Houston Astro’s Jose Altuvo (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jos%C3%A9_Altuve). But is it Warner’s bat that makes him so valuable, or is it his genuine talent? Surely a player like Altuvo didn’t get to the top of his game courtesy of his bat alone? So let’s explore the past and future of the cricket bat.

Cricket had its beginnings in the late 16th century. Yet it wasn’t until a man by the name of Thomas ‘Daddy’ White came to the crease in 1771 with a bat as wide as the stumps that a sensation was caused and laws were changed. Three years later, the laws spoke of a maximum width of 4.24 inches. It wasn’t for another two centuries that we saw sensationalism within the cricket community when a great Australian bowler by the name of Dennis Lillee decided to use an aluminium bat. He was never a good batsman, to be sure, so the purpose of the aluminium bat may well have been simply to ‘cause a stir’, and that he did. As The Australian puts it;

“...the sound of willow was replaced with a metallic clunk...It wasn’t

against the rules then but the MCC soon decided bats had to be made

of wood.”

In the great American game of baseball, things have been much the same for centuries. As Jimmy Stamp of Smithsonianmag.com writes;

“early bats [were] much larger and much heavier than today’s. The

thinking was...the bigger the bat...the bigger the hit.”

Stamp goes on to say that bats could be as large as 42 inches long, compared to today’s 32-34 inches, as there were no formal rules regulating size.

One of the most exciting aspects of baseball, a game some say is on the wane, is the big-hitting striker who hits the ball out of the park, or far enough that someone in the crowd catches it. What a spectacle? The crowd roar, the TV broadcast replays the moment over and over, and the striker becomes a star.

Cricket’s no different. If the ball is hit over the fence we say the batsman has ‘hit a six’. It’s the best moment in the day’s play and one that excites the fans – and rightly so. Cricket has also been a game losing broadcast interest and crowd attendance. Two new forms of the game have been introduced over the past fifty years. Added to test match cricket has been One Day Internationals (ODI’s) and, more recently, Twenty-20 cricket. Twenty-20 takes about three hours to complete. In Australia it is known as the Big Bash League, and has aided in abetting the drop in attendance and broadcast interest. Chloe Saltau (http://www.smh.com.au/sport/cricket/oneday-cricket-crowds-plummet-20121025-287wh.html) of the Sydney Morning Herald has reported;

 “a dramatic decline in One Day International crowds, from a total of 456,254 for the summer of 1999-2000 to 251,916 [in 2011]”

Saltau again;

“Research also showed average TV audiences for Twenty20 internationals in Australia had rocketed beyond 1.4 million, compared with 858,000 for Tests and 897,000 for ODIs.”

So the question that needs to be asked is; if TV audiences and crowd attendance for twenty-20 cricket is so strong, and the game is based on the theory that the bigger the bash the greater the interest, then why is the MCC proposing to reduce the size of cricket bats to clip the wings of the biggest hitters?

In  July this year the ABC (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-07-13/mcc-wants-to-reduce-cricket-bat-sizes-by-october-2017/7624586) reported that it had;

become too easy for batsmen to clear the boundary in all forms of cricket

Pity the fans getting too excited at great cricket – can’t have that can we? For two centuries or more, there’s been no apparent need for change. Now, at the end of a stellar career, Ricky Ponting is pushing it on the game he loves. We await the outcome of the committee’s proposal prior to implementation.

Published by Owen Tilley