Bamboo cricket bats could help the bats hit farther and faster, researchers have found. While willow has been the bat wood of choice for nearly 200 years, bamboo could provide more energy to the ball on impact, albeit at the cost of being much heavier. However, the rapid growth of bamboo could help make the sport more affordable to its fast-growing fan base.
Almost all high-end cricket bat pastures come from just two suppliers in England. Trees take around 15 years to mature, and bat makers often discard up to 30% of the wood due to imperfections.
Darshil Shah, a former member of Thailand’s U19 national cricket team, and colleagues from Cambridge University, UK, decided to look into bamboo as an alternative. Bamboo is cheap and grows in many countries where cricket participation is increasing – such as China, Japan, and South America. The plant matures within six years and can produce multiple crops without replanting.
In collaboration with the cricket bat manufacturer Garrard & Flack, the team developed a bat made of bamboo strips that were held together with an adhesive. The bat turned out to be quite heavy, as bamboo is denser than willow and is more suitable for straight cuts than cross cuts, says Shah. “But because it’s stiffer, we can reduce the thickness of the blade, which reduces the weight,” he explains. His team was surprised that the bamboo racket also had a larger sweet spot, the area that transfers maximum energy to the ball upon impact.
“The other important property is the sound of a bat,” says Shah. The resonance frequencies of bamboo are almost identical to those of Willow, so players and viewers are unlikely to notice the difference.
The mechanical differences between the materials can be traced back to cellular rather than molecular differences, says wood-based materials scientist Ingo Burgert from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology at ETH Zurich. Both bamboo and willow contain cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin as the main structural components. In trees, however, water and sugar are transported in different types of tissue. As a type of grass, there is only one structure that fulfills both functions in bamboo, explains Burgert.
One way to get an idea of the potential of a bamboo is with children playing baseball with bamboo bats, says Philip Evans of the Wood Surface Science Lab at the University of British Columbia in Canada. “They mention that the bat is heavy, but they also say that the ball falls well.” However, unlike willow, bamboo does not recover well from deformation and is more easily dented.
As a game steeped in tradition, however, cricket regulators have so far resisted changes to bat material and design. Since 1979, when Australian cricketer Dennis Lillee used an aluminum bat in a match against the English team, the rules only allow wooden blades in professional games. And no amount of science will convince cricketers if the bat doesn’t feel and handle right, Evans points out. “But if working in the Cambridge group can put bats in the hands of young children who enjoy cricket, that’s great,” he adds.
“Certain uses, such as cricket bats and musical instruments, are associated with certain types so that people stop thinking about whether other types would work,” says Dan Ridley-Ellis, director of the Wood Science and Technology Center at Edinburgh Napier University in the USA UNITED KINGDOM. “But two pieces of wood of one kind can be as different as two pieces of different kinds in terms of properties like density and stiffness. It is becoming increasingly important to look for alternatives, types and sources to meet wood needs without costing too much financially or ecologically. ‘
Understanding the properties of bamboo, especially its sound absorption behavior, could also help Shah and his colleagues in their main research: understanding how bamboo and wood-based materials can be used in the construction sector.