To have a maximum upper-limit regarding the depth of a Cricket bat’s blade is commonsensical, though it has eluded the far-thinking Establishment of the game until the last year or two. The height and width of a Cricket bat, and the substance from which it can be made, are clearly set down in the rule book; so, why not the depth? The debate that has largely been happening on the sidelines and corridors of Cricket has now, once again, been refreshed by the recent MCC proposal that a comprehensive parameter should be set for the thickness of the blade of a bat.
The debate on bat “thickness” has finally been recognized as an issue, though, coincidentally it happens in an age where a non-Caucasian team such as India has grown a reputation for using “abnormal” bats, and in applying them to churn scorecards that look like pay cheques. Still, better late than never, I would say, since this — same as some of the other areas where Cricket needs revision — is a focus of paramount importance; except that the move comes a decade too late. The record books, milestones and careers made and unmade in that period of a decade would have been otherwise if this lapse was considered a shortcoming and treated accordingly.
The use of thick blades has become a ridiculous tactical edge in global Cricket, and this is not to undermine the sterling quality in players like David Warner, Chris Gayle, M.S Dhoni, Virat Kohli and so on who depend on bats with extremely thick blades, but to say that, perhaps, some of their performances over the years would have been more “mortal” to fathom, and less abnormal to the eye, had there been a proper standard set for the upper limit to the depth. Growing up in the mid 1990s, an oft repeated fact, and with some admiration / amusement, too, was to do with the bat Sachin Tendulkar – then, an upcoming star in the Indian outfit – used: of its weight on the heavier side, and how it contrasted with the wafer-thin willow his Captain, the stylist Mohammed Azharuddin, used to carry.
Then, a decade later, the discussion on weight shifts into the blade’s thickness, and a whole generation of power-hitters with doctored bats – which look more like clubs from a war-epic than bats – enter the fray. Specially, with the rise of T-20 and the commercial and economic implications of that mode, a format where the bat-dominates-the-ball was conceived, and that conception worked well with all noble parties who were willing to make a monetary and material investment out of the game. The impact T-20 had had on almost every aspect of the game in the past decade is arguably more revolutionary and decisive than what the game had undergone in terms of change in all of post-world war years. Unfortunately, the game was allowed to be dented as a money-spinner with very little focus on quality or balance. The involvement of extremely successful and murderously ambitious businessmen in the game and its enclaves — a scenario where any aspect of the game could be bought, sold, promoted, condemned, cut off, or silenced — as well as its power epicenter moving from the traditional climate of England to an alliance maneuvered by Indian stakeholders were among the key changes global Cricket has been pushed through in this very decisive, yet unenlightened decade of ours.
Among other news sources, The Herald Sun, in a recent article carried on the subject, supposes the new proposals to reduce the thickness of a blade to 67 mm. This, in a context where the club carried by a player like David Warner of Australia – custom made for his liking – can have a blade thickness of 80 mm. Such gigantic arsenals have increasingly taken over from the natural stamina, strength and ability of players, and often carried a miss-hit over the wide-third man boundary, if not over the heads of the in-ring fielders to an open space in the outfield.
My own personal concern on the thickness of the bat-blades came with the abnormality with which the Indian Cricketers suddenly began to score at ease, four or five years back, amassing runs almost at will, with their edges carrying them over the ropes, and any deft touch resulting in a boundary. Some of these players were not athletically built or with muscle, but, they seemed to apply their clubs with a brutal finality — characteristic of players who flourished for India in the last half a decade or so, such as M.S Dhoni, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina and so on. In the current set up, we have players like K.L Rahul who often edge his way to the boundary. These players are not stylists in the way a Sunil Gavaskar, Mohammad Azharuddin, a Saurav Ganguly or a Rahul Dravid were. None of them have the Vertical-elegance of the stroke, as what they apply is the weight of the bat on the ball, which, at the most, produce a crude half-way between a thrust and a Cricket shot. However, the piles of runs they score have made this obvious bluntness in style invisible, and no Cricket commentator or writer would dare call them club-wielders, lacking the style and elegance of a classical Cricketer.
In my opinion, other things that have to go out of the game includes the DRS system, the avalanche of T-20 fixtures, and at least one of the mandatory power plays in limited overs games. DRS should be a definite exclusion, as it compromises the level of “human engagement” in the sport. The LBW is not to be treated as a case of accuracy in decision, against inaccuracy; but, as a “human judgment” (that of the umpire standing 20 yards off) of the possibility of a ball hitting a wicket or not, if not obstructed by the batsman’s pad. To translate that into an impossible scientific-mathematical problem is to take away from the natural human instinct. The accuracy of an LBW decision given by the Umpire, as well as its inaccuracy, are both part of the game.