A post sometime ago on the Cricinsight forum entitled 'Innovative yet forgotten bats' drew attention to the GM Galaxy and the Newbery Hi-Tec as possibly "the earliest spliceless bats". This got me thinking, were these really the earliest spliceless bats? If you look back through the long history of cricket bats it is clear that a statement like this is re-inventing the past. So, for my own peace of mind, and to add some accuracy here is a little insight.
The earliest cricket bats from the 17th Century were made from a single piece of wood, and therefore did not possess a splice. At the time they were not called spliceless bats, just bats. In the context of current bat language, these would and should be your ‘earliest spliceless bat’.
Jump forward to the world of English cricket in the 1820’s. The introduction of faster ‘round arm’ bowling had led to the ball bouncing higher, and the bat becoming lighter with a higher ‘swell’ to compensate. By the 1830’s faster bowling against lighter bats was causing regular handle breakages. Basic carpentry skills were brought to bear, and a splice was introduced; its sole purpose being to make bat repair simple by moving the broken handle and adding a new one. The early spliced handles used either willow or ash.
Batsmen must still have been unhappy with the level of shock transferred to the hand when hitting at faster balls. So a bright spark in 1840 thought of adding a slim piece of whale-bone into the handle, which would have made that handle a little more flexible and compliant. This had the desired effect of reducing the induced shock and prolonging the life of the handle. A few years later whalebone gave way to India rubber, a far superior vibration damping material.
In 1853 Thomas Nixon, apparently a ‘spare built’ Notts cricketer and lace-maker by trade, took another inventive step and replaced the willow and ash handle with a cane handle constructed as a laminate of several parts. The handle was now beautifully constructed to purr in the batsman’s hands on striking the middle.
In 1864 over-arm bowling was permitted. The bats became lighter again, and developed a more refined shape. The cane handle became a more intricate laminate to give improved damping and resilience to breaking – and so the bat as we know it today was born.
Fast forward to the 1980’s, because nothing much happened with bat innovation after 1864, not least where the splice was concerned. A few good ideas came along, such as the Dukes ‘automatic bat’ as used by WG, but like many, it didn’t last the test of time. Here are a few other ideas.
|1979 Simpson/GM patent|
KEY POINT No 1: This was really the creation of a second generation splice rather than being a spliceless bat.
The GM patent idea of 1979 (with an alloy handle) never found its way into production, but the GM boys took the idea a step further and spawned the GM Galaxy. According to the catalogue of the time, this bat had a ‘glass-fibre rod surrounded by a shock-absorbent matrix’, which was then encapsulated with a ‘hyper-sprung extruded polyastra’. Apparently the bat sounded awful so the handle was filled with sawdust to improve it. However, the handles regularly broke, and they also leaked sawdust.
No doubt the advancement of polymers, plastics, glass fibre, and composites in general had prompted Simpson at GM and Newbery at GN to try something different. Both ideas looked afresh at the handle, and saw potential for change. The GM Galaxy never worked well enough for them and was binned. However, in deepest Sussex, the Newbery idea was taken further by Tim Keeley in 2002, then making Newbery bats.
KEY POINT No. 2: Tim Keeley spawned a third generation splice, and this one worked. Newbery created the C6 handle, Puma licenced Keeley’s idea and put it in their 6000 series bats, and Gray Nicolls dusted off their own patents and cultivated the Fusion bat.
All these were sadly scuppered by the MCC in 2008 who took a rather luddite-like view of technology, and changed Law 6 to ban them.
Finally, in 2009 came the Mongoose. They claimed to be the best innovation for 200 years. They claimed to have ‘unique splice technology’. But to be fair, all they did, in their own words, was “drop the shoulders down by 9 inches”, or looking at it the other way, move the splice into the handle.
KEY POINT No. 3: Spliceless bats were the very first bats used for cricket many centuries ago. The two-part bat with a splice was introduced in the 1830's. Everything else to date is an evolution of the splice.
The cricket bat, a thing of beauty and power, has struggled to evolve from its 1860's incarnation. In shape and style it changes continuously as bat makers look to differentiate themselves, driven by the rapacious need to create new models for each season. In structure, the bat has barley moved, despite regular attempts to add new materials, technologies and techniques.
Law 6 pretty much consigns the blade to being a lovely carved piece of solid willow for the rest of time. On paper and in practice the only place for experimentation and innovation is in the handle and the splice.
What about reverting back to the truly spliceless bat? A full willow blade and handle, but with the handle having some novel hollowing out and in-fill with appropriate materials to provide damping and resilience to breaking. With modern computer-aided machining the shape is easily and repeatably achieved, but you would need to start with longer clefts.
Keeping to the 10% non-wood materials in Law 6 might be challenging, but I would hazard a guess that it’s worth a try again.