As the English cricket season comes around in March many of our cricketers will be playing in the U.K and along with them several of the local English players will be thinking of buying a new bat. Many Southern Hemisphere players will be contemplating a season in England, and wondering what type of bat to take. The combination of English weather, English grounds, and use of balls harder than those used in the in other parts of the world means a different style of bat will allow batsmen to perform at their best without wrecking bats.
England is colder and wetter than the Southern Hemisphere. This means slow, low pitches, lush slow damp outfields and balls that are often damp.English cricket grounds are not always flat – everyone knows about the slope at Lords, but many other grounds are not the flat surfaces southern hemisphere batsmen are used to. The English cricket ball market is dominated by manufacturers who make a ball considerably harder than the average Australian made ball. These balls start harder and stay harder, so inflict considerable damage to bats, causing bats to disintegrate faster.
The implications of the hard balls and wet conditions are that the type of bat that will perform best in England is a different bat to one that a batsman would favour in warmer climates. With low slow pitches flat bat shots are rare. Front foot straight bat shots dominate the game. Bats should have a low middle, and probably be slightly heavier than those used in Australia as straight bat shots do not require the bat speed flat bat shots require, and the heavier bat will provide value for shots. Inconsistent English pitches make it harder to time the ball, and mistimed shots go further with more weight behind the middle.
There is a school of thought that lighter bats should be used in England, as a light bat will allow adjusting the shot more readily if the ball deviates. Lighter bats have a significant down side. A light bat means you go harder at the ball, which lowers the value of the lighter bat as the trade off of the improved bat speed that you commit earlier. Heavier bats also encourage playing one line – important on pitches that cause the ball to deviate. Bats should also be specifically made to take into account wet ball damage.
Toes are vulnerable to cracking, especially if they become wet. Wet balls can also damage faces of bats, so an adhesive plastic facing is strongly recommended. To ensure the bat lasts for as long as possible it should be oiled properly before the facing is applied. A suitably fitted rubber strip on the base of the toe also helps. Adding to the potential water problems is that English cricket often carries on in rain – so bats get wet, making them heavy and swelling the wood.
While the wet conditions are a problem the hard balls create another problem – they damage the bat badly. The toe protection outlined above will help deal with yorkers, and a bat for English conditions should also have thicker than usual edges, and be pressed harder than usual. This will protect the edges and the face from cracking. The down side of the hard pressing is that some of the desirable ‘spring’ will be taken out of the willow. Harder balls also can cause problems with handles breaking, so a stiffer handle is recommended.
Finally, if you are playing seriously in the United Kingdom and practicing regularly a net bat is a good idea as balls used in the nets are also very hard. The net bat should be similar to the bat described above, although perhaps pressed even harder. It can be of a cheaper grade, as shots in the nets don’t count for runs, and cheaper bats are often harder pressed.