It is often said that cricket is a team sport governed by individuals and it is true, individual performances – either a magnificent match winning century, or a masterful spell of bowling from one particular player can often dominate the outcome of the game and the back pages of our daily newspapers.
Cricket therefore, is a sport with an individualistic ethos, and everything about a cricketer’s game has to be tailored to them. What may work for one player may be the total opposite for another.
We, as a retailer, must accept that there is no rule of thumb when it comes to purchasing a cricket bat and we must understand that not every bat out there is applicable for everyone, it is very much each player for themselves. However, I must stress that there is a sense of fastidiousness when it comes to choosing a cricket bat that is perhaps going a little overboard these days, and this attention to detail is often brought out from past experiences and the superstitious nature that many cricketers adopt.
Cricketers are often a picky, superstitious bunch. You could ask a cricketer who appears to be a happy go lucky chap on the surface, but deep down they know what they like, even down to a minute detail such as the colour of the stickers. There is almost a military precision to it all, which can sometimes border on the ridiculous. Recently, I showed photos I had taken of a new range of bats to a friend and asked his opinion on what he thought of them. Before even commenting on the quality of the wood on show, I received a rather bullish response: that he didn’t like the stickers, stating that he wouldn’t buy any of these bats just on the way that they looked. I tried to assist matters further by zooming in on the grains and suggested that perhaps if you looked past the stickers you could see that they were quality pieces of willow, but he wasn’t convinced. I tested this out with another friend, this time asking him about the stickers first and the response was completely different, it was more of a ‘so what, if it performs okay, that’s all that matters, right?’ kind of response. I took solace in that.
Ultimately, if you don’t like the stickers of a bat, you could simply take them off, giving your bat a retro look. Or, at the behest of the cricket bat maker, request a sticker-less bat, which either way cricket purists will love as all the willow is there for all to see. Some brands have developed this further, producing bats with engraved or burnt on branding, giving an incredibly classy retro, simply stunning look. The Gray Nicolls Legend, Willostix Spitfire Classic and Hunts County Caerulex are just to name a few.
I have been lucky enough that in my time playing men’s cricket I have been able to pick my bats blank, before the brand has applied the stickers, similar to what we do here at It’s Just Cricket, picking my bat on mallet response, feel and pick up – and I believe sometimes this is the best way. You don’t know what you’ve got in your hand except that it’s a cricket bat, there are no brand loyalties as you are focussing entirely on the bat and not the way it looks.
It’s not just the stickers that cricketers nitpick about, it’s grains too. People incorrectly focus on number rather than the quality of the grain. Generally speaking, as long as the majority of the grains on the blade are straight and evenly spaced (regardless of the grade) it will perform well. Certainly younger cricketers may have been lulled into a false sense of security that the more grains the better, but that is not always the case – a bat with as little as 5 grains can perform just as well as a bat with 22.
A lot of these requirements and specific details about what a cricketer requires in a bat are drawn from past experience and from that a cricketer can become superstitious about what they want and also which brand to choose from. I’ve heard a few pig headed comments from fellow players over the years that I found staggering to believe; not returning to a particular brand because they had a solitary bad experience, it broke in a weird place, or it just didn’t perform as well as bats from other brands they’ve tried; being recurring comments.
They’ll often state that they’ve currently never had any of these problems with their current brand, who they have bought many bats from, compared to just the one bat from another brand and above all to dismiss that brand so quickly, providing a sweeping statement and refusal on all future use of that brand because of one product not living up to their standards. Who is to say that an unusual breakage or a dip in performance might not also happen to one of the bats from the brand they have bought in multiple numbers over the years? What will they do then, disregard that one altogether as well?
I wouldn’t justify one bad experience with one particular bat as the reason to not buy from that brand. Cricket bats are natural products and even sometimes two bats from the same product range of a brand may look almost identical, but they could perform in a completely different way.
Not only are cricketers superstitious in dismissing a bat from either the stickers, the grain or past experience of a brand, but also in choosing one too. I’ve often heard that they’d like a bat with a certain amount of grains, how much heartwood (if at all) or a precise weight, also on past experience. It’s often a case of: well, my previous bat was like this, and it was the best bat I ever had and I scored more runs with it than any other bat, so I’d like one just like that please. We like to find out what we like and stick with it, because we like to think that is what’s best for us. People take comfort in that, because batting is a very personal thing.
That can even be with the approach to how we bat, or even how we pad up – if we put the left pad on before the right pad – or going through a certain routine in marking our guard, that can make the difference between being out for a duck or reaching our highest score. Cricketers are always striving to beat their total and on discovering what worked for them during their highest total, they’ll want to repeat it. For example, I heard that former New Zealand captain, Stephen Fleming, once had his bat duct taped to the ceiling of the dressing room as a prank by his team mates. After taking it down and going out to bat with it, he went on to score a double century. In his next innings, he duct taped it himself to the ceiling! Jonathan Trott has a very notable way of marking his guard: the same process is repeated in the same way, in every innings. Shivnarine Chanderpaul famously marked his guard by whacking a bail into the wicket with the handle of his bat, and recently Kevin Pietersen remarked in an interview that he knew whether or not it was going to be his day, just by lifting his bat up before he faced his first ball, regardless of how in form he was at the time.
Even in my personal experience, the first time I went past my previous best, I re scratched in my guard after I had hit a boundary, because I had seen someone else do it before and also it gave me something to do whilst the fielder retrieved the ball. I also checked my guard at every bowling change.
Having known that I reached my highest score to that point doing these actions, I included them into every time I bat. Batting, and the processes behind it, is very much in the mind, therefore the bat a cricketer chooses is undoubtedly very important.
But what bugs me is how cricketers nowadays seem almost obsessed with what they believe to be the best bat and what a bat can or cannot have for them. It must be this particular weight, with x amount of grains, the edges must be at this width and so on and so forth, in an attempt to match their best bat as much as possible, rather than flirt around with something new or different. It cannot be anything else than what they have had before.
People focus on dead weight a little too much these days, and will only prefer a bat of a certain weight range, but modern day bat making has become so much more advanced that many bats on the market can actually pick up a lot lighter than their dead weight. For the 2016 season, Hell4Leather have introduced the Warbird, which thanks to its counter balance handle, picks up to me a whole 2oz lighter than its dead weight. Newbery have also brought out a new bat for 2016, the Merlin, which has a similar approach, but emphasises the counter balancing further, with a lignum vitae (the hardest and densest wood on the planet) insert in the top of the handle. The pick-up can feel up to 3oz lighter than the dead weight on the Merlin bats, yet most customers will still be looking for exactly the same weight as their favourite bat regardless of how that one picked up in comparison.
Edge thickness and profile shape is another issue that is a hotly discussed topic. Nowadays due to willow manufacturing becoming a more commercial industry, and as drying techniques have modernised, largely thanks to the introduction of kilns, it has resulted in a lot more moisture being taken out of the cleft over a quicker time period. This results in a bigger, yet lighter cleft for the bat maker to be handed with and from this it can result in a bat with thicker edges. People are often obsessed with edge size, and often overlook bats that have thinner edges, primarily for confidence reasons. Of course, a bat with thicker edges will also help provide a wider middle, especially when hitting the ball off centre, but many cricketers are so specific in the measurements of the edges of a bat, the attention to detail appears to be in the extreme and it seems to be all they care about, forsaking any other (arguably more important) characteristics of the bat.
All of these features make and shape the buying options of the modern cricketer, with previous performances establishing their superstitions on future purchasing of a new cricket bat. Additionally however, sometimes when a cricketer is open to suggestion and tries something new or different, which in turn becomes beneficial to their game, their attitude could potentially change almost overnight, or even the specification that they liked becomes the new characteristic that they now look for in a bat, as their new model helped them perform at an even higher standard than before.
It is a constant challenge for the modern day bat maker, who I have pity for as they have to deal with a natural product trying to create a bat that is exactly the same to the player’s best ever bat, even though they cannot guarantee that it’ll be exactly the same, as I’ve stressed before.
Cricketers nowadays seem to know almost exactly what they want when they go into a store looking to buy a new bat. From the perspective of the retailer, this makes it very hard to try and find the right bat or any other product that is tailored to their specific needs. A major benefit of our store is that during the pre-season period, when cricket companies are producing bats ahead of the new season, you can pre-order a bat, so you can widen the pool and not be bound by our current stock. Instead, we can on your behalf pick out a bat according to your specifications – or at least hope to – without you lugging yourself over to the manufacturer’s factory and sifting through thousands of bats, so there is some light at the end of the tunnel for all you picky cricketers – because believe it or not, there are plenty of you out there!
As a thank you for reading this post, enjoy £10 off all orders of £100+, by simply quoting discount code BLOGPICKY at checkout on our website, http://www.itsjustcricket.co.uk