“I just did a defensive push and the ball raced to the boundary. I was surprised. On the next delivery, the same thing happened. I was confused and walked up to my batting partner Sunil Gavaskar to ask what was happening”, said former Indian captain Nari Contractor at a function at the Cricket Club of India (CCI) few years back about a senior’s match played post his retirement.
The response that he got from the Little Master was that there was a stark difference in the type of bat that was being used. Well, Gavaskar was spot on. The cricket bat has evolved over time from resembling a hockey stick to its current avatar and so have the laws governing the size of the bats. Interestingly, it was a bizarre incident in 1771 that had prompted a change in the law limiting the width of the bat. It was a match between Chertsey and Hambledon and one batsman had walked in with a bat as wide as the stumps. As a result, in 1774, the Laws of Cricket introduced the clause of the maximum width.
“IPL se farak pada (IPL made a difference)”: Paras Anand
But within the permissible limits, the transformation of bats has continued. Paras Anand who is the Director of Sanspareils Greenlands (SG), a leading manufacturer of cricket equipment feels that the game has changed. According to him it is the requirement of different formats that has brought about this transition. His words carry immense weight as he knows a thing or two about bats. His family has been in this business since 1931 when they started in Sialkot (now in Pakistan). Post partition, after going to few cities, they finally settled in Meerut and since then the city has been a hub of cricket equipment manufacturing.
“IPL se farak pada (IPL made a difference). It’s the number of eyeballs that T20 gets. Now younger kids also aspire to play IPL or any other T20 format”, said Paras about the impact of IPL and T20.
The newer format emphasizes on power-hitting and this has reflected in the design of the bats. “It’s all about hitting the ball out of the park and dominating the bowlers. Designs have been changed to have more wood. With more mass, you tend to get more punch and that is one of the reasons for the change”, he explained.
All this has meant good for the business of bat manufacturers. With the growth of cricket in the country, the demands have gone up by leaps and bounds. Back in the 1980s, even a top batsman like Gavaskar (whose association really boosted the sales of SG bats) used to ask for four bats in a year. Today, this has increased to four bats a series and it doubles up for a long tournament like IPL. So, SG who were producing 100 bats per day in the 1980s are today producing close to 2000 bats daily. Also, cricketers these days are more particular about the exact shape and weight, balance and feel on the handle.
The other change with respect to the bats and demand has been that the batsmen want pre-prepared or already seasoned bats. Earlier one had to prepare the bat before using, but today the request is placed in the morning for a bat required in the evening. “It’s the T20 generation”, said Paras with a chuckle.
“Now one can’t blame the bat if something goes wrong it is actually the player who is at fault”: Rishabh Pant
So, with the increase in sales and requirement, the company is also focusing a lot on Research and Development to provide the best quality products. Players too acknowledge this. “The way the bats have improved over the last few years, now one can’t blame the bat if something goes wrong. It is actually the player who is at fault”, Rishabh Pant told Paras before he left for the IPL. The fact that close to 35 players in the IPL are using SG bats speaks volumes about the quality of their bats. The likes of Hardik Pandya, KL Rahul, Rishabh Pant, Shane Watson, Krunal Pandya, Ishan Kishan and Rahul Tewatia are some of the power-hitters associated with SG bats.
But despite the role of IPL in the success of his business, Paras is a purist at heart and advocates for the balance between bat and ball. “These views are not relevant currently. Everyone is happy with the proceedings. Authorities are happy with the TRPs and the viewers are pleased seeing more sixes being hit than a bowler bowling a good over”, he lamented.
As a keen cricket follower, one can just hope that the balance gets restored some time in the near future.