Greg Chappell

Bradman would have averaged over 120 with modern bats

There are some people in the game who argue that the modern cricket bat is no different from the one that Don Bradman used. I have news for them. The two implements are as far removed from each other as the Model T Ford motor car and today’s Lamborghini Gallardo.

Bradman went through his Test career only hitting six sixes. As I watch the modern batsmen brutalise quality bowlers, I wonder if he would have played any differently with these missile launchers.

Along with the ever-shrinking boundaries and T20 cricket, I believe the advent of these behemoths has changed batting in a way that I never could have imagined when I first picked up the Gray-Nicolls scoop 40 years ago.

The scoop was designed to deliver a larger sweet-spot which I believe it did. There is no doubt in my mind that off-centre hits on the scoop gained better results than those from my earlier bats, that were not far removed from those that Bradman used, but it did not materially change the way I played.

Bradman was reputed to have used bats that weighed two pound three ounces but I have it on good authority that they were more like two pound five ounces. His bats had the classic shape of the day with a slightly rounded face and a v-shaped back that was perfectly symmetrical from the bat’s edge to the spine down the middle.

This meant that the sweet spot was a couple of inches or so across the middle of the face and a few inches above and below the centre of mass which usually coincided with the peak of the ridge down the back of the bat.

The weight of the bat was important. If it was too light, it didn’t have enough mass to hit the ball hard. If it was too heavy, it was hard for the batsman to overcome inertia and get the bat started.

The trick was to get a bat that was ideal for each individual. Not too light, but not too heavy. If one was predominantly playing vertical bat shots one could possibly use a heavier bat than one who played more cross-bat shots. The stronger one was the heavier the bat that they could use.

I started my career using bats that weighed two pound four to two pound five ounces. That changed after I watched Graeme Pollock bat at the MCG one day seemingly caress balls past me in the covers.

At the close of play, I asked Graeme how heavy his bat was. He told me that it was three pounds two ounces. I picked it up and was staggered at how heavy it was.

Graeme was predominantly a vertical bat player so I decided there and then that, as a vertical bat player myself I would experiment with heavier bats.

I wasn’t as strong as Graeme, so I started with bats that were two pound twelve ounces but found that while they were ok for vertical bat shots, I struggled when I was forced to play cross-bat shots such as the pull, cut and hook shots.

In the end I settled on two pound ten ounces and found that they allowed me to hit the ball harder, without compromising my ability to move freely and play the horizontal bat strokes.

Even with the slightly heavier bat and with a scoop bat that gave me a larger sweet spot, I still found that I had to be precise with my footwork to ensure that I got close enough to the ball to be sure that I would hit the majority of shots in the sweet spot. Anything hit anywhere other than the sweet spot wasn’t going to reach the boundary let alone clear a boundary of 85 yards or more.

Even in one-day cricket, footwork was critical to success. Especially as wickets then still offered bowlers some assistance; if one didn’t get the ball out of the middle of the bat it wasn’t getting out of the infield, much less over the boundary.

Television liked to see the white ball fly and scores in excess of 300.

Bowlers were soon relegated to extras. Wide ball interpretations became stricter. And the bouncer was virtually eliminated from the bowler’s armoury.

Bats kept improving through the 80’s and 90’s, but it was in the early part of this century that a brobdignagian shift was seen. Indian bat-makers, previously seen as the poor cousin to those in England, took over as the best in the world.

While most of the traditional makers have moved to machine-made bats with a hand finish, the best ones in India are fully hand-made. The craftsmanship of the top brands is exquisite and it is because of this that bats have become much chunkier than those that Bradman used.

To achieve the thicker edges on today’s bats, the Indian manufacturers have taken weight out of the back of the bat by concaving the slope from the middle of the back spine to the edge. The other big change is that the face of the modern bat is flat.

Current monsters

The edges on Bradman’s bats were just over half an inch thick. The edges on the current monsters are more than double that.

To round out the advantage, the modern bat has a definite trampoline effect that seems to propel the ball into the stratosphere.

Between these super-charged bats and T20 cricket, I have despaired at the radical change in batting methods. Batsmen no longer rely on footwork in the same way as their predecessors had for over 100 years.

In the recent ‘A’ team Series in Darwin, I saw experienced players like Robin Uthappa and Ambati Rayudu for India and Rilee Rossouw and Reeza Hendricks for South Africa who have pre-set positions that defy the laws of physics and the laws of human movement. Only Kedar Jadhav for India had what I would call a classic stance.

These new methods rely on a good eye and a lot of upper body strength which most modern players have.

On the flat tracks and small fields that are the norm today, the bulky bats allow them to get away with minimal footwork. I am not convinced that these methods would prevail on wickets that seam or turn dramatically, or if the ball swings late.

If the powers that be do not insist on providing pitches that offer an even contest between bat and ball I fear for the future of Test cricket. At this rate, footwork and bat swing as we have known it, will be completely lost to the game. Deftness, timing and placement have been subsumed by brute force. I have seen shots played with these bats that would have been impossible with Bradman’s bat.

Bradman would have been unstoppable with these bats; and he must be turning in his grave seeing how the game is being distorted by them.

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2021 3:39:08 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/greg-chappel/bradman-would-have-averaged-over-120-with-modern-bats/article6281590.ece

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