Tuesday, 07 June 2016

Cricket bat size: What's the big deal?

The International Cricket Council (ICC) is considering limiting the size of cricket bats. This after the Marylebone Cricket Club conducted research on the increasing size of cricket bats, and brought its findings to the ICC asking it to balance the battle between bat and ball. All cricket fans can agree that in recent years, the enlarging of bats has helped batsmen clear the boundary more easily and post enormous totals. Thin edges, blocks and nudges off the bat have also had greater effect of late, and dot balls are soon becoming a thing of the past in limited over games. Batsmen are certainly dominating cricket at the moment, much to the chagrin of bowlers. But must this change?

JP Duminy sports a striking pink willow.

In centuries past, bats were slender and batsmen had to work hard for their runs. Sixes were struck only by the most skilled and powerful batsmen generally when it was worth the risk. Batsmen had to be clever about guiding the ball into gaps in the field, and actually had to run between the wickets in order to reach a century.

Bowlers could be legends in those days – think of Dennis Lillee, Frederick Spofforth, Malcolm Marshall, Wasim Akram, and more recently, Glenn McGrath and Shaun Pollock (my bowling hero growing up). Nowadays, only batsmen make the headlines. Everyone wants to see AB de Villiers, Chris Gayle, David Warner or Virat Kohli smash the opposition bowling attack out the park. Sixes have become as common as dot balls. The plan now is to swing hard throughout the innings, and too often fielding teams become mere spectators when a batsman gets going. After all, with the size of bats these days, it is almost impossible for the batsman to miss the ball.

Statistics show that batsmen are currently enjoying the game more than bowlers. Not only are innings scores reaching new heights, but records for the fastest centuries and half centuries are up for contention regularly. Batsmen's averages and strike rates are always improving while bowlers' averages and economy rates are getting worse. Just compare Shaun Pollock's ODI economy rate of 3.67 runs per over to the current number one ODI bowler, Trent Boult's economy rate of 4.81. Boult's average is better than Pollock's at the moment, but Boult has only played in 32 ODIs, so this will likely change as his career progresses. Two of SA's regular bowlers, Chris Morris and Kyle Abbott, have economy rates of 6.10 and 4.82 respectively. Morne Morkel's is worse.

It is obvious that larger bats have helped batsmen. Is the answer for bowlers and fielders to 'man up' and work harder for wickets? 

It is not so simple: The size of fields has also been reduced in recent years to encourage the high scores match organisers seek. Concerns have also been raised about the safety of bowlers, fielders and umpires when batsmen are able to launch hard projectiles at deadly speeds. If bowlers are able to injure or even cause fatal harm to batsmen wearing protective gear, imagine what batsmen can do when they strike the ball with even greater speed toward less-protected fielders in the 'silly' positions just off the pitch?

One proposal is that bats should not be allowed to be larger than their current size (generally 96.5cm long and 10.8cm wide). I like this idea. It is already too late to reduce the size of the bats, as it would bring into question all the current records and statistics, and not to mention cause many a future batsman to complain that they were given the short end of the stick (no pun intended). 

Bats should be restricted to this size, and then the situation should be monitored. If injuries occur, the bats can be made smaller. If not, the situation can be reassessed.

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