British scientists have come up with a research saying that cricket bats made of bamboo are a viable option given that they don’t compromise on the ‘sweet spot’ of traditional willow.
“Willow has been the principal material for cricket bats for centuries," said Dr Darshil Shah from the University of Cambridge, who is the co-author of the study.
“Despite a good innings, there are problems with the supply of English willow. It takes about 15 years before a tree can be harvested, after which new trees must be planted. Between 15 and 30 per cent of the wood is also wasted during bat production," Dr Shah told The Guardian newspaper in London.
Shah, who himself is an avid cricketer having played for Thailand’s under-19 national team, said that bamboo, being a cheap commodity, could be used in the mass production of bats.
“Bamboo — a grass — is a cheap, plentiful, fast growing and sustainable material. Shoots are able to grow from previous stumps, and maturity is reached after seven years. It is also very prevalent in countries that are taking up cricket such as China, Japan, South America," said Shah.
The research, published in the Journal of Sports Engineering and Technology, says that the prototype bat blade can be made by pasting strips of bamboo shoots to form layers.
The team noticed that the bat made from bamboo and adhesives was “stiffer, harder and stronger than those made of willow, although more brittle".
“It had a similar vibration performance, meaning it sounds similar when striking a ball. It is heavier than a willow bat, and we are looking to optimise that," said Shah.
Shah said the bamboo bat has a larger “sweet spot", which goes right to the toe of the bat.
“The sweet spot is a region on the bat where, when the ball hits on to that region, the ball flies away in high speed," said Shah.
The Marelybone Cricket Club, the custodians of the laws of cricket, released a statement saying they have been following the development. Here’s the full statement.
MCC has read with interest the research study from the University of Cambridge, which suggests that cricket bats made from bamboo offer a more suitable alternative to the traditional use of willow.
Currently, Law 5.3.2 states that the blade of the bat must consist solely of wood, so for bamboo (which is a grass) to be considered as a realistic alternative to willow would require a Law change.
Importantly, the Law would need to be altered to allow bamboo specifically, as even if it were to be recognised as a wood, this would still be illegal under the current Law, which bans lamination of the blade, except in junior bats.
MCC’s role as Guardian of the Laws includes maintaining the balance between bat and ball, and any potential amendments to the Law would need to carefully take this into consideration, particularly the concept of the bat producing greater power. The Club has worked hard to ensure that bats aren’t too powerful, taking steps in 2008 and 2017 to limit the materials and the size of the bats for this purpose.
Sustainability is a relevant topic for MCC and indeed cricket, and this angle of willow alternatives should also be considered. With the researchers stating that the most suitable types of bamboo grow abundantly across China and that low-cost production could make bamboo bats a viable and ethical alternative to willow, this could provide a pertinent angle for further research and the possibility of reducing the cost of producing bats in different areas of the world.
The Club will discuss the topic at the next Laws sub-committee meeting.