Peter Lalor, in the Weekend Australian, 23 January 2016, where the title is “Wielding willow never so easy in the age of super bats”
Chris Lynn’s is a batsman’s version of a sawn-off shot gun — and just as lethal.
It’s so valuable he has found it in a teammate’s kit bag more than once. There are very, very few of these blades in circulation and they are highly sought after. A man would knife his own teammate for a weapon like that. Davey Warner’s cornered the market in the valuable pieces of willow, but he guards them like a father guards his teenage daughters. Ain’t nobody coming near his babies.
Usman Khawaja somehow managed to let him take one out on a date and broke the bloody thing. “Davey’s not going to be happy,” he said sheepishly. Davey wasn’t happy.
Davey wasn’t happy again this week when it seemed someone had pinched one and was selling it online. He considered calling in Border Force to make sure it wasn’t smuggled out of the country. The Iranians can have the bomb, but you don’t want weapons like that falling into foreign hands. The bats being used this summer are bigger than they have ever been in the history of the game. They are heavy, but remarkably light considering their girth. There is a batch of Gray Nicolls in particular that has teammates, opposition and seasoned watchers absolutely stunned by their size and power. “I have never seen so many balls fly into the top deck of the Gabba,” Lynn told The Weekend Australian.
He should know, he’s the one who has been hitting them there. Dubbed the “King of Six” in this year’s BBL, he has hit 27 balls over the boundary in the tournament. Check out the highlights reel. Marvel at him slogging Shaun Tait back over his head and into the top deck. Be warned that the video is officially classified batting porn and is NSFW (a baggy blue movie). These bats are so rare if Moses knew about them he would have added an XIth commandment: thou shall not covet thy teammate’s bat.
“I will go out for a fielding session and when I come back I find one in Joe Burns’ bag and one in Peter Forrest’s,” Lynn says.
Gray Nicolls bat whisperer Stuart Kranzbuhler handcrafts the willow for the company’s sponsored players. He estimates there are 30 at most in circulation and no guarantee that more will come.
“Everyone wants one,” he says.
Only the very best get them.
Warner has cornered the market in the bat they are calling a Kaboom Signature series. It is the biggest and most blessed beast in the whole of Christendom. The Australian opener has 15 of them and has been reluctant to share.
The Kaboom is 85mm thick at its widest part. You can buy a version of them in the shops and while they are the same dimensions, they are heavier and you will have to be superman to swing the thing.
The few that the first class cricketers have are extra special because they are much lighter.
They are, despite the rumours, not carved from the wood of the cross. Kranzbuhler explains that you can get a piece of willow that big, but it is usually from a young tree which has denser wood and is therefore heavier. Warner and his mates have been allowed to use some rare willow from older trees that allows the bats to weigh in at about 2lb 13oz.
A willow tree is at its best when it is 15 years old, but demand and disease mean few get to that stage and there is only a limited life for those that do as they degenerate soon after.
Warner uses his in Test matches, but most of the others use them only in the T20 because the weight slows down their swing, especially on cross bat shots.
Weight was one of the reasons why Lynn took his to the ground staff at the Gabba and got them to put it in the vice and saw the toe off.
“The theory behind that is — especially with Twenty 20 cricket — you don’t want to hit the ball in that nail length on the top of the bat near the handle, so you take a bit off the bottom and you move your hands up on the grip as much as you take off,” he explains.
“That’s my theory that I am working with at the moment. It might sound complicated but you are not moving your body or anything, it is all levelled out.
“At first it felt a little bit weird but I batted in the club game and batted all day and I got comfortable with it; having that extra bit of willow in the bottom of the bat is a whole new ball game. It’s changed my game, that’s for sure.
“What is so satisfying using the big bats is I have played a couple of pull shots, a couple of drives and cover drives without having to slog. I believe I can use these bats in Shield cricket as well.”
Kranzbuhler admits that Lynn has “got a really, really good one there”.
Lynn explains that he has always enjoyed going big and the key might have been a bat he used in the junior years.
“When you play in the backyard you want to hit the ball as hard as you can,” he said.
“You are always challenging yourself. Sometimes I am thinking I don’t just want to hit this ball for a six, I want to hit it out of the park, you want a story you can tell your mates about how far you hit it and you always want to hit one bigger than somebody else has.
“It has just worked into my game well, I have fast hands when I bat, my old man bought me a bat when I was about maybe 11 or 12 and it weighted 2lb 12oz. It was heavy and back then it was a big bat, nowadays it looks really small. That probably helped strengthen my wrists for batting, your wrists and forearms are the key when you are trying to hit the ball.”
The irony is that the biggest six of this tournament was a 117m heave by Dan Christian who uses a Kookaburra Bubble.
“I think it was further than that to be honest (laughs) … no way have I ever hit one that well before,” he told The Weekend Australian.
“Everything about it, trajectory, the way it came out of the middle of the bat, it just went miles. It was the perfect length and I slogged as hard as I could and timed it perfectly.”
Christian admits his willow is large, but nothing like the monsters Lynn, Warner and Khawaja use.
“I used to think it was big until these new ones that Davey and Lynney are using came out,” he said. “It is pretty worn in, the handle is almost gone so it is quite whippy … it was 2lb 10oz or 2lb 11oz when I first got it, but as they age they lose a bit of weight so it is probably about 2lb 9oz now.”
The batsman ought to enjoy this time while they can because the MCC Cricket Committee is almost certain to act soon and put restrictions on the girth of bats.