Club Cricket Conference

Sunday, 19th August 2018

ECB sympathies should focus on bowlers and not the bat

By Charles Randall

20 July 2018

There are many illegal outsize bats being used in club cricket this summer, though the ECB have announced they are turning a blind eye,  taking it upon themselves to suspend a Law of Cricket for two years while two bats have already failed gauge tests in professional cricket.

The change in The Laws has meant that measurement limits apply to thickness and not just width and height. Many expensive bats will have been purchased before October 2017, but as they are made of wood, one might think that planing them to the permitted maximum would be a simple matter. Some flashes might have to go from the back - but is the colour scheme why bats are bought? Would planing seriously affect weight distribution for a club cricketer? Not really.

The ECB might be better advised to turn their attention to Law 41.7, where a second waist-high full toss leaves the umpire with no option but to order the bowler out of the attack for  the rest of the innings. This takes no account of the bowler's competence, the danger posed to the batsman or the weather conditions.

The law-makers at the MCC clearly resolved to eliminate as much "unfair play" uncertainty for umpires as possible. But an umpire can judge whether the ball would have struck the batsman in the same way that leg before wicket can be adjudged. The injury possibility should be the only yardstick for suspending a bowler who, for example, might be 14 years old in his first over in a division 14 game with sweaty hands. An innocuous waist-high wide is  already punished by the no-ball call.

There are already rumblings in the shires about the harsh no-ball rule, especially as the Laws of Cricket are not supposed to be amended, even by the ECB. One hopes the MCC might offer official respite in some way.

The ECB themselves have described the use of  rule-busting bats as a serious offence. So far two club cricketers playing in professional  county second-team matches have failed a gauge test on their bats, suggesting that there might be a major transitional problem when all cricket complies in 2020. It must be tempting to hang on to old super-size beasts, having paid 300 quid or so for an apparently obsolete item and perhaps forgetting that wood can be shaved off to comply.

Simon Prodger, managing director of the National Cricket Conference, mentioned the cost of bats for the average player. "Often expensive bats are bought in the belief that they will last longer and therefore, not need replacing season to season," he said. "The ECB felt this was an important consideration when imposing the law changes made by MCC and have therefore offered a prolonged period for the new bats to be in place for the club game."

The maximum permitted width of 108mm has not changed since 1771, but in October 2017 overall thickness was limited by the MCC law-makers to 67mm and edges 40mm. This was already approaching three times the size of the traditional bat, and one could argue the MCC's restrictions did not go far enough.

Recently Nottinghamshire were deducted one point in the Second XI Trophy against Leicestershire, with a further suspended penalty of half the available match points in any competition, because their Farnsfield CC and Queensland Under-19 batsman Solomon Budinger had an illegal bat.

The ECB said that breaches of the equipment Law were "very serious offences" and they re-iterated the importance of counties ensuring that all players’ bats were compliant, with particular care being needed for trialists.

In May the tall Yorkshire second-team all-rounder Tom Loten, of Dunnington CC, failed the bat gauge test and his team were docked one point, with more suspended. The disciplinary panel took into account that Loten had been a late fill-in for their game against Durham.

As the equipment of professional staff is rigorously monitored at every county, these two incidents came as a major worry.  Budinger and Loten had presumably used illegal bats in  club cricket, now regarded by the ECB as a different game until gauges are  brandished for premier leagues in 2019 and for all cricket in 2020.

These bats are devilish tools.  The old Nemesis by Gray-Nicolls, for example, was 69mm thick with a 41mm edge before it had to be adapted for sale. Most bat makers marketed their version of a similar beast, with sizes swelling to almost three times the size of the traditional bat before the MCC called a halt.

For width, bat makers have always tested for conformity before sale, so it is surprising there were any problems with gauge testing before use.  Perhaps the most striking involved Keith Arthurton, the West Indies batsman, against the touring Australians in a 1990/91 first class match. Dean Jones, the visiting captain, challenged the width of Arthurton's bat on a hunch, and the blade proved to be a hefty quarter-inch too wide.

In 1884 two Australians were challenged to use the bat gauge by WG Grace in a tour match at Sheffield Park in Sussex. The bat of Percy McDonnell was indeed found to be illegally wide, but the Australians demanded Grace take the test - and his bat failed too. In the early 1900s for some reason there was a glut of illegal bats reported in county cricket.

Bat sizes have been increasing without extra weight due to drier wood and lighter pressing, which adds mass at the price of durability.  The new Laws have halted the march of super-sizing, but bats remain big enough to upset the balance between bat and ball.

A major factor in the MCC decision was not so much the prevalence of professional power-hitting as safety in the game as a whole. Three-fold bigger bats and heavy strokes in recreational cricket were putting fielders and umpires increasingly at risk, not to mention spectators,  nearby roads and gardens.

That is why in due course the MCC might have to reconsider bat measurements. Yes, and modify the no-ball rule that legislates incompetent bowlers out of the game.