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Cricket bats | How to fit | SportsA stylish stroke player like Hashim Amla can score off the front as well as back foot.
March 2015

Matching a cricket bat to a player

The shape of a cricket bat plays an important role in how it might perform. How should a retailer match a bat shape to the individual style of a batsman? CARIN HARDISTY asked some experts to explain. Photos: NICOL DU TOIT

Inspired by the tree-trunk sized bats used by some international players, especially in the Twenty20’s, young cricketers often think that the bigger the better when selecting a bat. It is the retailer’s task to persuade him that a big bat might not improve his batting average — nor that the lightest bat on the market will improve the length of time he’ll stay at the crease.

Cricket bat models have different characteristics for a very good reason: batsmen each have their own style of play, which should be matched to the bat that will complement that style.

Some batsmen like to lean in towards the ball and bowler, others back … some are big hitters, while others are more controlled and reserved. The batsman’s batting style plays a large role in the characteristics of the cricket bat he should use.

“Players who play predominantly off the front foot have a tendency to hit the ball lower down the bat, whereas back foot players tend to hit the ball higher up the blade,” explains Peter Wright, MD of Gunn & Moore international, which is locally distributed by Opal Sports. It is therefore recommended that a front foot player use a bat with the middle (or sweet spot) towards the bottom of the blade.

It’s also advisable to recommend a heavier bat for a front foot player, with the majority of the weight in the middle area of the bat, says Evert Ferreira of Brand-ID, local distributor of Slazenger. A heavier bat provides the player with more power to the shot, which means the ball is likely to go further, even if the batsman doesn’t hit the ball in the middle of the bat. The extra weight, however, will likely also result in a slightly slower reaction speed.

Wright suggests that retailers recommend a thick edged bat for a front foot player, such as Gunn & Moore’s Octane and Mogul bats. The Octane features large contoured edges and a low middle and the Mogul (used by Sri Lanka’s Prasanna Jayawadene and Australia’s Shane Watson) features substantial contoured edges, a big swell and extended sweet spot.

The more wood there is towards the sides of the bat, the larger the sweet spot becomes.

Playing on the back foot

A batsman who plays more on his back foot, on the other hand, would do well with a bat with a higher middle, because the bat is more likely to hit the ball higher along the blade.

A retailer should also suggest a lighter bat for a back foot player. A lighter bat allows for a faster bat speed, makes the bat more manoeuvrable than a heavier one and allows for the batsman to have more control.

Overall, “we would suggest a back footed batsman choose a lighter bat, with a better pick-up and higher middle,” says Nicola Ludlow of JRT Crampton, the local Kookaburra distributor.

For a backfoot player who likes to play square of the wicket, retailers should recommend a bat with a high swell.

The Slazenger V100 is ideal for players who demand an ultra-lightweight bat and supreme balance, says Steve Gallienne of Brand ID. “It has a concave crafted spine, which ensures maximum edge thickness and side profiling for destructive precision.”

Ludlow recommends their Kookaburra Kahuna (AB de Villiers’ choice) or Verve for a back foot player. “The Kahuna DNA has a middle sweet spot (215-235mm from the toe). The Kahuna Profile is Big Edge Square with edges between 36-40mm and the face of the bat is flat Power Plus, with a Super Spine of between 62-67mm.”

Gunn & Moore’s Icon (for all-round power hitting) and Six6 (for all-round stroke play) bats both feature substantial contoured edges. The Icon has a light pick-up and a high swell position, while the Six6 — used by Joe Root (England) and Joe Burns (Australia) — has an elongated swell height, Powerarc bow and reduced toe and shoulders.

The Six6 bat can also be recommended for a touch player, who prefers to make full use of the pace of the ball.

Batting temperament

A player with a controlled batting style will do better with a light bat. Recommend a bat to him with a higher sweet spot. The higher sweet spot means that the weight distribution is also higher up the blade — and the bat speed is faster. This type of bat tends to suit a controlled player who likes to cut, hook and pull. If the player tends to play the ball late and prefers cut shots, a bat with a thick blade will suit him.

An aggressive and attacking stroke player would favour a heavier bat with a lower middle. A lower middle can affect the pick-up, because the weight is also nearer to the toe. This type of bat suits a player who likes driving the ball.

“For the Dominating Stroke player, the V800 fits the profile,” says Gallienne. The V800 is used by Jacques Kallis, who recently used it in his Australian appearance.

For the big hitting player who prefers to hit boundaries, Kookaburra recommends their Onyx and Bubble bats. “Both bats have despicably big edges, huge super spines, and are uniquely designed and sculpted for genuine heavy hitting performances,” says Ludlow. South African cricketers Rilee Rossouw and Dean Elgar play with the Onyx and Bubble respectively.

Gunn & Moore’s Octane, with its thick edges and low middle, will also suit this power player, as will Slazenger’s V1200 with its Hex Handle system.

Player’s position

A top order batsman will want a lighter bat as well as one with a good grain count. “Recommend a bat with a count of 10-15 grains,” suggests Ferreira.

Slazenger offers variable grains across the V100, V800 and V1200 series of bats.

The more grains the bat has, the better it will perform from the start. A bat with a narrow grain (higher number of grains) will perform better from earlier on, but its life will be shorter than that of a wide grain (6 grains or less) bat. Wider grain wood is not as old, which means it’s stronger than the narrow grain wood and is more likely to stand up to the beating of cheaper quality cricket balls. A bat with a wider grain will eventually play as well as one with a narrow grain, but it will take more time.

The grain count can also give an indication of the bat’s life and have an impact on the vibration. The grain width depends on how fast the tree has grown and each grain represents a year’s growth. If the tree was cut after about 18 years the wood will have a wider grain, while a tree cut after 25 years or more will have a narrower grain.

The new ball usually asks for a faster bat speed from an opening batsman. It’s best to recommend this player uses a lighter bat which he can swing faster. The bat therefore helps to contribute to an increased reaction time. A bat with a higher sweet spot would suit an opening batsman, a player who prefers playing short pitched bowling, and one who plays off the back foot.

The ball should have lost some of its edge by the time players three and four in the line-up get to the crease, which means they should have a bit more time to react and make their shots — allowing them the option of using a slightly heavier bat than their opening team mates.

Similarly, the ball should be softer by the time the middle order batsman faces it, Ferreira points out. “Therefore the player needs a bit more weight in the bat.”

Tail-enders tend to prefer the heavier bats. With the extra weight of the bat behind his shot, the batsman doesn’t have to precisely hit the sweet spot to make a good shot.

Level of player

Not only does the batsman’s playing style impact on his bat choice, his playing level will also play a role in what characteristics he should look for in his bat.

If a player is still in primary or junior high school, the most important aspect is to select the right size bat, says Ferreira. See Sports Trader April 2012 p39 for tips on fitting a bat.

“Primary school players should choose a bat with the lightest possible weight, in a range that they can afford,” adds Ludlow.

Once the player gets into a senior high school team, he can start to look at which weight he prefers, recommends Ferreira.

Another point to remember is that the higher the level of player, the more frequently he will be using the bat during practice and matches, and the higher the quality of bat he’ll need. This is especially true for players beyond the school system, who might play for a club or province, for example.

Pitch impact

Even the pitch that the player will be batting on can affect the type of bat he chooses. A low bounce wicket, for example, may suit a bat with a lower bow and lower middle, while a harder, bouncier wicket would suit a bat with a higher middle.

“With cricket being such a global game now, players will have different bats for different countries,” says Ferreira. “For example, with South Africa and Australia having bouncy wickets, bats used here will be light with the sweet spot higher up the bat. Sub-continent bats are slightly heavier with sweet spots lower down the bat, because of the lower bounce on the wickets.”

Twenty20 spawns new bats

Because of the nature of the game, a Twenty20 cricket bat is usually designed for bigger hitting.

“The Twenty20 revolution has evolved the game and range of shots at awesome speed,” says Ludlow. “Not all players, however, employ the same style. The most important factor when choosing a bat is to ensure that its profile, technical design and weight suits your customer.” She adds that, in order for a player to maximise his potential, it is important that he thinks carefully of what he wants from the bat and how he plays the game.

“If outright performance is vital, your customer should always select a bat with a greater white to red wood ratio,” Ludlow advises. This is because the more red in the wood, the harder and less responsive the bat will be.

“Everyone wants a bigger bat, but with a lighter weight,” adds Richard Gray of Grays International, owners of the Gray-Nicolls cricket brand that is locally distributed by Leisure Holdings.

A bat with a higher middle tends to pick-up lighter, because the middle is closer to the hands.

The bat’s bow size can impact the pick-up, with an increased bow often resulting in a heavier pick-up. If the back of the bat is concaved, it will also improve pick-up. When the spine of the middle keeps its height, but scoops away on the sides, the power is kept down the centre of the bat.

“If a bat has a lower middle it will pick-up heavier than a bat made with exactly the same components, but with a middle higher up the blade,” says Wright.

“Pick-up in cricket bats is a very interesting concept,” he continues. “The weight of a handle of exactly the same dimensions can vary by as much as 3ozs when it is in the bat. A bat weighing 2lbs 8ozs with a light handle will weigh 2lbs 11ozs with a heavy handle in it. The 3 extra ounces are, however, in the batsman’s hands and therefore does not feel nearly as heavy as if the 3 ounces were added to the bottom of the blade. It is for this reason that over the years we have always recommended that players should pick-up a bat before deciding to play with it. This is not possible when you buy a bat without feeling it — the bat might be the preferred weight, but not the correct pick-up.”

Bat design impacts play

“Over the years, we have developed many new cricket bat shapes,” says Wright. “This has been particularly prevalent since the arrival of our CNC machine (computer numerical control), which enables us to replicate shapes extremely consistently, which is really quite difficult to do by hand.”

“When designing the shape we recognise that different batsmen have different techniques, ability, strength, height and style,” continues Wright. “With any range we produce, we try to cover for all these differences by putting more willow in a bat for strong power hitters and less in for touch players who prefer to score by using the pace of the ball.”

There are a number of issues that need to be taken into account when designing a cricket bat, Wright points out.

The weight of the bat, for example, can play a role in how quickly the player is able to react.

  • Lighter bat: faster bat speed and increased reaction time; more manoeuvrability and control
  • Heavier bat: provides more power. “The weight of the bat is largely determined by the amount of willow in the blade and its density,” says Wright. “We can control the shape, but can have little effect on the density of the willow, apart from ensuring that the moisture content is as low as possible without making it too dry and brittle, which will lead to early breakage. Typically bats will have a 10% moisture content.”

Even the bat handles, which are either round or oval, will play a role.

An oval shaped handle improves the pick-up of the bat and gives the player a better directional feel. It is, however, more difficult to grip hard and the top hand tends to control the shots.

In turn, the round handle allows the bottom hand to have more control over the shot. Because of this, a hard-hitting batsman should rather opt for a round handle.

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