It hardly needs saying that a bat is more than the physical line of defence; it's a symbol, a totem, invested with dreams, subject to the forces of superstition and luck, the single prop for the vulnerable, suggestible psyche of the batsman - and if you've not got one of those you're either Viv Richards or not a batsman.
For much of the history of the game batmakers were behind the curve. The hints were there - WG wrote to Gray Nicolls to congratulate them on one of his blades, a sweet longing evident between the lines - yet the psychology only began to be exploited with the defining bats of the 1970s and early '80s, the Jumbo, the Scoop and SP.
Now though,with the epic re-invention of the object itself - the supercharged, hyper-tooled, bigger, deeper, thicker bats of the new century – the marketing has roared ahead into the areas in which men buy: sex, technology, power. As the bat catalogues come out for the new season, it's evident that the thesaurus has been well-thumbed, the copywriters have been blue-sky thinking. Neville Cardus it ain't...
So for the fourth annual survey of the goods on offer:
First the bats for men whose self-image is that of a velveteened, 40-ish Hugh Hefner, louche occupants of the top order, those who arrive at the ground in middle-age crisis cars - roof down, natch - in short, bats that sound like 1970s hairspray or pub-machine condoms: the TP Willow Rumpus, the Samurai Keibo, the Kookaburra Rogue, the Woodstock Curve Platinum, the Vulcan Apollo, the Chase Lancer, the GM Epic DXM, the Willostix Anaconda, the Matrrixx Gladius, the Black Cat Phantom, the Puma Cobalt, the adidas Libro, the Charlie French Recurve.
This year sees an emergent military theme, willow weapons for weekend warriors who talk loud, work in sales, arrive at the ground in two year old 4x4s that take up three spaces in the car park, who bat six and think of themselves as 'the finisher': the Newbery B52 Bomber, the Kookaburra Recoil, the Instinct Sniper Upper Class, the Hawk X-Bow, the Gray-Nicolls Quantum Warrior, the Hunts County Reflex Reckless, the Boom Boom Blaze, the Bulldog Spirit, the Choice Willow Teutonic, the Instinct AK47, the Newbery Uzi.
Joining them but with a more gothic hue are bats for the kids pushing for that second team place, who get dropped off by their dads and moodily re-read We Need To Talk About Kevin in the pavilion, who want a bat that sounds like an obscure Iron Maiden B-side: the Hell4Leather 666 Monster, the Gray-Nicolls Oblivion Slayer, the Willostix Medusa, the Newbury Mjolnir, the SAF Hades, the Choice Willow Immortal, the Vulcan Fire, the Hunts County Mettle Monster.
For the man who looks upon batting as a higher calling, who sees mysticism in its challenges, who trusts in luck and destiny, who is re-training as a counsellor and arrives in a nine year old Volvo on the back of which one of the lads has written 'clean me': the GM Luna, the Choice Willow Saladin, the Vulcan Zeus, the Surridge Ocre, the SF Saphire, the Solitaire Pink, the SAF Infinity.
There are some epic fails, of course: is there anyone under 50 who'd think that the Puma Bionic represents the cutting edge of bat technology? There is the totally left field: The Piri Piri Tampiqueno Dias Pro (although kudos for fitting it all on the sticker), and there is the frankly unintelligible: the Salix Praestantia, the adidas Pellara. There's also the mistimed marketing moment: it's hard to image the Gray-Nicolls Powerbow LE Strauss walking out the door on present form.
There must be a champion, though, and this year's award goes to a bat with a name that conjours almost perfectly one of the defining moments of the modern game: the SF Stanford. Perfect. Arise, Sir Allan...
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