Bigger bats becoming dangerous

Australia v New Zealand - 3rd Test: Day 1In one hand, Barry Richards holds the bat with which he made 325 in a day for South Australia against Western Australia in November 1970. In the other, he holds the bat David Warner is using in the Adelaide Test this week.

The vast discrepancy in equipment shocked Richards when he saw the two bats alongside one another for the first time, and has added impetus to his calls for bat technology to be reined in in order to create a better balance between bat and ball and also avoid serious injury to bowlers, umpires or fielders.

“It’s like [golfers] Bobby Jones and Bubba Watson,” Richards said. “It’s just unrecognisable as a weapon. The only thing that seems to be in common is they’ve got wood and they’ve got a grip. I have a problem with the injuries from the bats. I really think there’s going to be some serious injury. The balls are just pinging off these bats so fast. I think they can get bigger and bigger until somebody gets injured.”

The treatment of the willow used to make cricket bats has evolved greatly, with manufacturers drying out the wood to create a springier surface and a far larger “sweet spot”. This has also meant that far bigger bats are better balanced and nowhere near as heavy relative to their size – Richards used a 2lb, 7oz bat; Warner’s, for all its bulk, is only 2lb, 10oz.

There was a reminder of the bats’ destructive force in 2015 during Australia’s training in the lead-up to the inaugural day-night Test. Tom Cotter-Gilles, a spin bowler for the Southern Stingrays B team in Adelaide Grade competition was struck behind the ear by a straight drive from Mitchell Marsh. Coming a year to the day after Phillip Hughes was fatally struck at the SCG, it shook up Australia’s players considerably.

“I was a little bit shaken up, to be perfectly honest with you,” Australia’s captain Steven Smith said. “I think a couple of the guys were as well. I think it was one year – to the day – since that horrible accident happened, so I think it shook up a few of the players. Luckily the guy was okay. I think he got a couple of stitches in the back of his ear. Mitch Marsh certainly hit that ball pretty hard.”

Richards’ views have been echoed by the MCC World Cricket Committee, which has recommended investigation into bat regulations. However Richards believes the solution should be as simple as restricting the size of the bat’s edges, which these days rival the middle of his 1970 bat for their offensive power.

“You can legislate because the MCC do the rules, how long the wicket is, how far the boundaries are and that sort of stuff, so they can legislate for the bat,” Richards said. “There’s no legislation for the width of the edges at the moment.

“I was on that [committee] and the first time I raised it I got the raised eyebrows, but I persevered with it, because I think it has got out of whack. I’ve always been a proponent for 50/50 cricket; if it’s not 50/50 you’ve got to start looking at it, and it’s not 50/50. But I think it’s taken a far bigger emphasis now the injury component has come into it, people are paying more attention to it.

“Bat manufacturers would tell you they’re no different but they’ve got to sell bats. But we know, all these guys know, players know. But I suppose if you’re a bowler and you go to the IPL and you’re getting $1 million for bowling four overs a game you’re not going to complain too much.”

The 1970 innings remains one of the greatest feats of batsmanship, coming against a WA team that featured a young Dennis Lillee and also Graham McKenzie. Richards recalled how the bat did not last long after that match, being used in fielding drills before being repaired and placed in the SACA’s historical collection, where it remains to this day.

“My 300 bat was still going and I was delighted because our next game was in Queensland,” he said. “So it was in my bag and I thought ‘you beauty I’ve really got used to this bat’, then Chappelli says to Fritz [Eric Freeman] go into the rooms and find a bat for some high catches.

“So Fritz went in, had a look around and pulled one out. Then he’s whacking them as hard as he can and boom, the bat explodes in two, so we’re all laughing, until I got into the dressing room and it was my bloody 300 bat! We stuck it together and kept it here ever since. But it didn’t even go to the next game.” (Courtesy Cricinfo)