Cricket bats made from bamboo

Willow's had a good innings, but is bamboo about to be a hit?
18 May 2021

Interview with 

Ben Tinkler-Davies


A cartoon of a cricket bat and cricket ball


For cricket lovers, there’s nothing more satisfying than the sound of leather on willow. But scientists say the sport should be swapping out its willow bats…for bamboo! Ben Tinkler-Davies from the University of Cambridge and his colleagues have been testing out a bamboo prototype, and they say it performs just as well, if not better. And it improves performance in the materials lab, at the wicket, and even ecologically. Adam Murphy spoke with Ben about the bats...

Ben - So willow's been used for about 200 years for cricket bats, and what you're looking for is a stiff, light material. And we decided to look at bamboo as a more sustainable alternative. So we ran a lot of computer simulations and material testing, and we found that in almost all capacities that bamboo outperformed the willow. So it's both stiffer, more flexible and harder. So this means that when you hit the ball as a player, the ball is going to fly off the bat at a lot higher speed. Which is obviously much more advantageous. And the major benefit is that it's grown close to where the bats are manufactured. Instead of having to ship the willow from England to India, it's grown very close to the facilities to make the bats. So from an environmental point of view, we're cutting down a lot on the carbon emissions from the process.

Adam - And then how do you go about actually turning a stalk into a bat? It's not like you can carve it out from a single bamboo strip.

Ben - Exactly. So the traditional willow bats are all, you cut down a Willow tree and you cut it into the shape straight away, but the bamboo column, or what you see going from the ground is hollow. So what you've got to do is cut it into thin ply. So you split it along the length, and then you glue all these plys together. So you really form a laminate material. And from that, you can cut that to the right shape and then use material processes to finish it into the desired shape of the bamboo bat.

Adam - You mentioned, because it's stiffer it leaves the bat quicker, but what about other kinds of performance? What about for the cricketer picking this thing up? How's it going to go? How's it going to perform?

Ben - The first prototype that we've made is approximately 40% heavier than a traditional willow bat. And this is something we expected because although you see a bamboo column and it's very light, when you process it into its engineered form, it's quite dense. So from a weight perspective, the bat is heavier, but this also means that if you do manage to find the middle of a bat, it travels a lot faster. So when we performed a lot of computer simulations, we found that the sweet spot, or the middle of the bat where you really want to hit it is longer and wider than a willow bat. So this means you've got more room for error when you're timing your shots.

Adam - That all comes into the “sounding too good to be true” end of things. So are there any downsides to how this bat works?

Ben - So, like I said before, I think the major downside is the weight of the bat. and it's something that we're going to look to build some lighter prototypes, which we can then see how that works. But what a lot of people have said is that, you know, they love the traditional sound of leather on Willow. So we tested that, took it to the nets and people said, okay, we can't tell the difference. So we took it into the lab and we said, okay, can we tell the difference here? And it came out that the frequencies, or how it sounds, is very similar, so although we've got a heavier bat, which we're going to look to optimise and make lighter for the purists of the game, who loved that sound of leather on willow, you're not going to lose that. You're just going to have to be getting used to the fact it's leather on bamboo. So the main difference really is the aesthetics and what the bat looks like. But from a materials point of view, and from an ecological point of view, we think we found a more sustainable solution to the problems faced with willow in cricket.


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