When I grew up, I thought bamboo only had two uses: To make kites and get a caning at school. I was wrong.
Scientists at Cambridge University have discovered that not only kites and canes can be made from bamboo, but cricket bats too. Bamboo bats are apparently stiffer, harder and stronger than those made from traditional willow wood.
The scientists claim that bamboo bats have a much larger sweet spot. One of the difficulties of traditional batmaking is finding the sweet spot in a chunk of willow. It takes a very skilled batmaker to make a bat with the sweet spot in, well, the sweet spot.
The study also found that it would be much cheaper to make bamboo bats. Firstly, there are the costs associated with cultivating willow trees. A willow tree typically must be around 15 years old before it can be harvested. The foresters, however, cannot keep up with the demands of batmakers around the world and as a result fewer and fewer trees are available. Bamboo on the other hand is cheap, plentiful and grow very quickly. (Some species are known to grow as much as 1cm in 24 hours!)
Secondly, production costs are significantly less with bamboo bats. Between 15 – 30% of the wood is wasted in making a traditional willow bat. In bamboo bats, this figure is closer to zero. The craftsmen needed to make a bamboo bat do not need to have the same level of expertise as a traditional batmaker (refer the sweet spot above). This reduces the labour costs.
The downside: A bamboo bat breaks more easily. But as the scientists point out, this would be offset by the significantly lower price of a bamboo bat.
And then there is the MCC. Bamboo is scientifically classified as a type of grass. The stiff upper lips at Lord’s say, read Rule 5.3.2: “The blade shall consist solely of wood.”
Although the MCC’s rules have put the brakes on bamboo bats for the moment, cricket’s rule makers did emphasize the need to investigate alternative, more sustainable ways of batmaking.
As for the larger sweet spot, the MCC had a dim view of it. The improvement in bat technology over the past 20 years has insidiously created an imbalance between bat and ball. The MCC is afraid that this imbalance can grow bigger if bats with an even bigger sweet spot enter the market.
Bamboo bats will be on the MCC’s agenda at their next rules committee meeting.
It is a pity that the MCC put a stopper on bamboo bats before it had a chance in the middle. On 15 December 1979, in the first Test of the Ashes series in Perth, Dennis Lillee made his way to the middle with an aluminium bat. The England captain, Mike Brearley, complained to the umpires that the bat was damaging the ball. The umpires agreed with Brearley and ordered Lillee to replace his bat with a traditional willow bat. In disgust, Lillee threw the bat like an Olympic discus athlete from the pitch about halfway to the boundary. I would love to know if there are any angry fast bowlers in the world today who can throw a bamboo bat as far as Lillee threw an aluminium bat!