No doubt yesterday, many a fan of our beloved game almost choked on their chocolate digestives at a piece of news that could have a long-term impact on cricket.
For those who don’t know what I am banging on about, a study has concluded that bamboo may be a suitable replacement for willow in the manufacture of cricket bats. Now, as a cricket bat manufacturer myself, I should know more than most about this and at first I didn’t take it seriously, even after a friend sent me a copy of The Guardian article about it.
There are a number of reasons for this.
You may or may not have heard of laminates, but these were cricket bats that were designed by sticking an extra thin layer of wood on the face of a cricket bat. The idea behind it being that the thin layer of glue between the two pieces of wood would offer extra spring off the bat-face. Tests were done but laminates were outlawed as it was deemed that they offered a batsman an unfair advantage.
You may question why the above is relevant, but how many bamboo trees have you ever seen that are thick enough to make a cricket bat? None – because the shoots are hollow. Therefore there would have to be a number of strands glued together in order to get to a point where a cricket bat can be shaped; this is where my problem with the idea mainly lies. If combining two pieces of wood together to create a bat has already been outlawed, how are the game’s governing officials going to react to the idea of a number of pieces of bamboo being stuck together to create the same thing?
The second problem is a Law of the game that already exists. It dictates that bats can only be made from wood. Bamboo is defined as a grass. Although the MCC has released a statement on the issue saying it would be willing to look at how tests on these bats progress, I feel that this is more to avoid the wrath of Greta Thunberg. The negative press that would come with quashing at an early stage something many would see as positive would be pointless and invite avoidable criticism.
As the owner of a manufacturer, I am not worried. The tests completed so far show that bamboo is more brittle than willow, and so despite the more sustainable nature of the former, I cannot see it becoming the product of choice, at least in my lifetime. Why? There is a set global supply chain for willow, and this would be completely disrupted should bamboo become a viable option. What would happen to the costs involved? Bamboo is much cheaper and so this will have an effect, but how much bamboo would be required to make a bat? What then happens to those people who currently supply the market? How does it affect the pricing structure of cricket bats?
One of the things you will have heard me discuss on Guerilla Cricket commentary is the price of bats. Globally, the market is fast becoming uncontrollable. Some manufacturers are now charging £900-£1000 with most charging £650+ for a top-end product.
Our ethos at Woodstock is to charge a fair price and we sacrifice margins in order to offer the consumer that. One problem with this is that the industry as a whole has discounted for such a long time that everyone thinks they deserve some kind of sponsorship. In the main this has been caused by bat “manufacturers” who don’t rely on cricket as their main source of income. Some are involved in darts, some hockey and rugby, with others, such as global sports companies, only really interested in selling more trainers or sportswear; so discounting in the cricket spectrum doesn’t matter to them. It has created a culture of discounting and it causes problems for the rest of us that rely on cricket as our sole revenue stream.
The wastage involved in cricket-bat manufacture is already heavy, but I am yet to be convinced that bamboo as an alternative is going to greatly improve that. It is just a more sustainable, easy-to-grow product, maturing in seven years compared to 15 years for willow. It will take much less management of the product during its growth.
Think of bamboo as you would The Hundred. An idea created in order to offer something different, which is currently being met with indifference from those who love the game. Sometimes things need to change, and people looking for alternatives that can improve the game for the long-term are welcomed.
I question whether bamboo is that long-term answer. For now, it should be left for the pandas.
Johnno Gordon is the owner of woodstockcricket.co.uk, a partner of Guerilla Cricket. The company’s bats are used by a number of first-class cricketers.