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Batting For Bamboo

Carpenter making A generic wooden cricket bat in work shop


High performance, low-cost production and increased sustainability could make bamboo cricket bats a viable and ethical alternative to willow in the near future according to a recent study.

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We’ve all gotten used to the age ol’ adage of “leather on willow” but that could all change based on a recent development from Cambridge University that suggests that cricket bats should actually be made of Bamboo.

Bamboo cricket bat prototype and a section of bamboo culm
Bamboo cricket bat prototype and a section of bamboo culm.
[Image: Ana Gatóo/ University of Cambridge]

English Willow bats have been the conventional choice for players for over 200 years, as its porous, criss-crossing fibres are believed to give it strength, while also holding compressed air pockets which deform when hit to increase resilience. There has however been plenty of talk for a while about the shortage of quality willow which traditionally takes upto 15 years to mature, thereby making top level bats today an increasingly expensive purchase.

Dr Darshil Shah with the prototype bat and a section of bamboo culm
Dr Darshil Shah with the prototype bat and a section of bamboo culm.
[Image: University of Cambridge]

Dr. Darshil Shah and Ben Tinkler-Davies worked with local cricket bat manufacturer, Garrard & Flack, and compared the performance of specially made prototype laminated bamboo cricket bats, the first of their kind, with that of typical willow bats. Dr Shah, a former member of Thailand’s under-19 national cricket team, and Cambridge researcher, said that bamboo, being a cheap commodity, could be used in the mass production of bats with quicker turnaround times too. “Bamboo — a grass — is a cheap, plentiful, fast growing and sustainable material. Shoots are able to grow from previous stumps, and maturity is reached after seven years. It is also very prevalent in countries that are taking up cricket such as China, Japan, South America,” said Shah.

Researchers at the Centre for Natural Material Innovation say that bamboo cricket bats would not only be cheaper, lighter and stronger, but also offer a larger “sweet spot”, the magic words that every batsman wants to hear, “The sweet spot on a bamboo bat makes it much easier to hit a four off a yorker for starters, but it’s exciting for all kinds of strokes. This is a batsman’s dream.” 

To those left feeling “It’s just not cricket”, Shah says: “Tradition is really important but 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?”

The materials used to make cricket bats are regulated by the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), the sport’s governing body, but the custodians of the laws of cricket, released a statement saying they have been following the development. 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. The MCC will be addressing the development in their next Laws sub-committee meeting.


[Header Image Credit: Shutterstock]