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Cricket bats: could bamboo be the new willow?

by Aiden

A more affordable and sustainable alternative.

By Natasha Sethi 

For centuries, the chief material for the blades of cricket bats has been willow, with the iconic sound of leather on willow appreciated by cricket lovers for generations. However, it may be time for a change. Scientists at the University of Cambridge have conducted a study that suggests that bamboo could potentially replace willow as an eco-friendly alternative, one that the sport should seriously consider.

Co-authors of the study, Dr Darshil Shah and Ben Tinkler-Davies, compared traditional willow bats to a bamboo prototype by using numerous investigation techniques, including microscopic analysis, computer modelling, compression testing, video capture technology, and testing for vibrations. The two found that the preliminary bamboo model was harder, stronger, stiffer, delivers more energy to the ball, and offers a larger ‘sweet spot’ than the long-established willow bats. A wide-reaching sweet spot means the bat provides more scope to hit the ball further, making it lucrative for players in terms of strokes. 

“This is a batman’s dream,” said Dr Darshil, a former member of Thailand’s Under-19 National Cricket Team and a current member of a British cricket team. Apart from the perks for cricketers, the use of bamboo bats could mean the sport becoming more environmentally-friendly and more accessible to developing countries, as bamboo is a lot more affordable than willow, and is abundantly available in China, Southeast Asia, and South America. 

For those concerned about the emblematic sound of leather on willow, don’t be, because the researchers tested this too, and results indicate very little difference in the sound and feel when striking a ball. Dr Darshil acknowledged the importance of tradition but said that while “tradition is really important…think about how much cricket bats, pads, gloves and helmets have already evolved. The width and thickness of bats have changed dramatically over the decades. So if we can go back to having thinner blades but made from bamboo, while improving performance, outreach and sustainability, then why not?”

Despite the numerous advantages of bamboo bats, this change may not be entirely possible as cricket regulations stipulate that ‘the blade shall consist solely of wood,’ while bamboo is considered grass. Be that as it may, Dr Darshil and Ben plan on discussing this with the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC): “[while] there would need to be discussions with the MCC…we think playing with a bamboo bat would be within the spirit of the game because it’s a plant-based material, and cane, a type of grass, is already used in the handle,” said Dr Darshil.

Read the full story on The Guardian here.

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