Tanya Aldred, leading cricket journalist, writes for BASIS about the furore surrounding bamboo bats
Leather and willow –as inextricably tied together as gin and tonic or Compton and Edrich. But could the days of cricket’s most famous double act actually be numbered?
A recent study by Dr Darshil Shah and Ben Tinkler-Davies, from the University of Cambridge’s Faculty of Engineering, suggests that bamboo should replace willow as the bat material of the future.
Cheaper than willow, it is, crucially, also more sustainable. It has less wastage –up to 20 per cent of willow is burnt as firewood because of damage to the wood – grows both more quickly and more widely.
It also grown in India and China, close to where the majority of bats are manufactured, thereby reducing by up to half the emissions of creating a bat.
“Although willow is grown in the UK, a lot of cricket bats are manufactured in India,” explains Tinkler Davies. “So you’ve got this process where the willow is grown in England, shipped to India, manufactured and then shipped all the way back. “We believe it’s going to be much more eco-friendly as a material and also as a manufacturing process.”
The prototype blade used in the experiment was made from strips of bamboo shoots laid in layers, then stuck together with a resin adhesive. Although the bat has a bigger sweet stop than a willow bat, problems may come because bamboo is heavier and denser than willow.
The MCC released a statement which was hesitant, yet positive.
“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,” they said.
“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.
“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.
However, Prof Mark Miodownik, an engineer and materials scientist and director of the Institute of Making at University College London, told the Guardian that caution was needed replacing willow with bamboo
“Just because bamboo is more plentiful than willow does not mean bats made from it would be more sustainable,” he said. “The whole life cycle of production, including the manufacture of the laminating resins and their disposal, needs to be considered. Do these resins biodegrade for instance? If not, this could be LBW for this new material.”
Tinkler-Davies remains optimistic: “We have reached out to them [MCC] and hopefully we’ll hear back.
“We feel the advantages massively outweigh the disadvantages, so it would be great to start working with the MCC.