Gray-Nicolls, supplier of bats to Mr WG Grace and other subsequent players of note, have some self-made videos on their site of various pros going into the factory to pick out their glowing, handsomely-stickered blades for the new season.
In serried ranks they lie, pods shaved to exacting requirements, a batter's dream. None of the players approach the task particularly scientifically. They do what everyone else does: pick a bat up, play a few air shots, cast an eye down the line of the willow. They might fuss later with handles and grips, but that initial acquaintance is all about indefinable feel.
The scales have their say. A man who likes a bat of 2lb 8ozs will never be seduced by a 3lb mutha, whatever promise of dominance it offers. Yet, as anyone who has buggered around with the game for long enough will know, weight, once narrowed down, is just a number. Two bats might tip the scales the same, but they will not feel the same, not today, not ever. Some bats of 2lbs 10oz will pick up lighter than others of 2lb 8, and there's not a scientist on earth who can say why, because it's as much to do with the physiology of the batsman as it is with the weight of the blade. That is the only explanation as to why a bat can feel one way one day, and another way the next.
There is a deep psychology at work, because a bat, ultimately, is all a batsman has. In it, he invests his future. It is prey to superstition, ritual, illusion. Ultimately, what matters is belief. If it feels right, then it is right.
Gray-Nicolls have this year [praise be] relaunched their most famous bat, the GN 100 Scoop. It's hard to overstate the rep this blade once had. In a TV era when bats were emerging as marketable objects of desire, the Scoop was revelatory, its spine gouged out and sacrificed for the mysterious promise of 'Perimeter Weighting' a concept so new it got its own sticker on the bat. Counter-intuitive it may have been, but the Scoop roared in the hands of Greg Chappell, Barry Richards, David Gower [who also used the four-scoop version, from memory] and of course Brian Lara.
Other batmakers were forced to respond. Stuart Surridge had the epic Jumbo; Slazenger came out with a V8 [or maybe V12...] which had a sort of shark's fin bump the back; Saint Peter, briefly used by King Viv and Tony Greig, obtained an impossible glamour before vanishing. But the Scoop was the one, a masterpiece of design and allure, an Excalibur among broadswords.
Part of its magic was the sound it made, a great hollow 'whump' that pre-dated the current, plosive crack. You couldn't help but feel a bit superior with a Scoop in the bag, and that was half the battle. I got my first hundred with one, on a distant field long ago, forgotten by all but me.
Its revival appeals to a nostalgic market. Today's player was barely born in its heyday. In the videos, they all get offered one at the end, like a sweet: 'wanna try a Scoop?' To them it seems like an oddity, its conception fatally flawed by the removal of that apparently essential mass on the back of their bat.
The hurdle is psychological. They've grown up looking down at sleek spines and thick edges. It may be a battle for Gray-Nicolls to get one in the hands of a pro on the field. They can't be persuaded by the legend, any more than they would be by the chance of using a bat like Compton's or Bradman's.
But then they have one thrust at them. The reaction is usually one of surprise. 'Picks up really nicely,' they'll say*. Hopefully, they'll chance one in the nets, and the ball will go from it like it always used to, and they'll realise the strange magic that this greatest of all bats possesses. After all, Lara got 375 and 501 with it, so it kind of works...
*That'll be the Perimeter Weighting. Probably.