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CricInfo Equipment 2002

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CricInfo Equipment 2002

Ralph Dellor selects a new bat

In the spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of ... Cricket.

It was Alfred, Lord Tennyson who almost wrote those words, but perhaps his grandson, Lionel Tennyson (Hampshire and England) might have made a better job of it.

It is not only a young man's fancy that is turned at this time of year. The first sign of the fresh growth and men of all ages start to think of sultry summer days, a flat pitch, easy bowling and the ball flying off the middle of the bat.

For most of us, it was not like that last year or for many a year before that, but we like to think that this season it is going to be different. Of course, part of the problem has always been the equipment we use. We know that old saying about a bad workman blaming his tools, but if you look at the bat you have been using, there's no wonder that you've been struggling. Lara or Tendulkar would struggle with that.

You can always tell when the willow has lost its zest. You try to hit the spinner back over his head for a sailaway six, but instead get caught and bowled. Either the bat has gone off or there is just an outside chance that you might have lost your timing. If you ever had it. Timing cannot be purchased at your local sports retailer; a new bat can, so that might be a good place to start.

Similarly with the rest of your kit. The suggestion that in order to play a good innings in August you need to start preparing in April sounds like one of those jests usually associated with the first day of the fourth month. But, unless you make sure your kit is in good order before the season starts, what chance have you got?

There is nothing worse than finding when you get the bag out of the loft that the mice have made a nest out of the stuffing from your pads and the palms of your gloves have rotted away because you put them away damp. The dampness was probably caused by putting them away next to wet towel rather than not allowing them to dry properly after a seriously long, sweaty innings, but the effect is the same.

It is usually at this time that you find there are no spikes in your boots worthy of the name and, furthermore, you cannot get the old ones out to replace them because they are rusted in, so that will mean a new pair.

As for the shirt and trousers, you invariably find that they have been victim of that curious phenomenon unexplained by scientists - cricket bag shrinkage. It is similar to the wardrobe shrinkage that affects suits that have not been worn for a long time. Some would have you believe that it is linked to an expanding girth of the wearer, but, I ask you, is that likely to be the case with fit athletes like us?

So, the answer is to get yourself some new kit. Most of it is straightforward. The protective equipment should be as good as you can afford, and the clothing should fit and be practicable.

I remember getting changed for a game next to my old headmaster. Richard Sale (Oxford University, Derbyshire and Warwickshire) looked into his dusty old bag and remarked to me that he had forgotten his creams. I said that I had some liniment, but he went on about his creams until someone enlightened me that he meant his cricket trousers rather than something to rub into his limbs. He had played when cream flannel trousers were all the rage. Very smart they looked, too, until they got dirty and needed dry cleaning rather than chucking in the washing machine. Perhaps that's why they didn't slide around in the field as much in those days.

The clothing is all pretty mundane. The real joy comes when selecting the new bat. Unless you are a professional, a very good player or incredibly wealthy, you probably will only have a limited number of brand new bats in your life. Choosing it is a moment to cherish and not to be taken lightly. Not like that young man's fancy that lightly turns to thoughts of love. Purchasing a new bat, though, is a bit like falling in love.

But how do we choose? Among the less reliable reasons for selecting a new bat are:

    i) It is very cheap
    ii) It is the same make as Marcus Trescothick used for his last century
    iii) The colours on the label match those in the club sweater
Far more important than any of those is the weight and the pick-up. These two things are not necessarily connected. A light bat might pick up badly, while a heavy one might appear to fly into the backlift. So how can you tell which is right for you?

A good guide is to pick it up with just your top hand and to play a range of imaginary strokes. If you cannot manage that, the bat is too heavy for you. It is all very well for someone with forearms like pistons to wield a blade weighing three pounds, but most of us simply cannot manage anything that heavy.

Of course, to feel the bat and to see how a ball feels as it bounces on the blade, you have to actually be there at the sale. A good shop will have knowledgeable assistants to help you in your selection. But the same applies when you buy online or mail order. Be clear with instructions about weight and balance, and be prepared to change it if it is not right for you.

So now we are very nearly ready to go. The new bat has been knocked in and treated as prescribed by the manufacturer. The new boots have been eased in so they fit perfectly. The other new kit is immaculate. Bring on the opposition. Take a word of advice from one who knows. Stop right there. It cannot get any better than this.

You won't, I know. You will go along to pre-season nets. There's a bumpy pitch and a blinding light. They won't let you wear your new boots on the artificial run-up. You lean against the roller, only to find that it was painted earlier that afternoon and you now have green paint daubed across your backside in a pattern not approved even for the Norwich Union League. Then you notice someone in the next net using a bat that looks exactly like your new one. It is your new one!

Next morning, you won't be able to get out of bed. It is not a case of deciding which part of your body it is that aches. Your entire body aches. So does your soul.

I promise that you will get over it, and it is worth it. One day, possibly months from now, there will be that sultry afternoon when the pitch is flat and the bowlers simply keep hitting the middle of your bat. It is at that moment that you decide, come next March, that it might be a good idea to get an even better bat - and the rest. Have a great season.

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