Kit Week: Carbon


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Jan 08, 2024

Kit Week: Carbon

Bats have not been without controversy, and at the time critics said both of

Bats have not been without controversy, and at the time critics said both of these were blatant cheating – what's your call?

Andrew Ramsey

15 September 2022, 10:26 AM AEST


We thoroughly enjoyed bringing you Kit Week last year, where we looked at the best cricketing shirts (and culottes!) ever worn.

This year we're focussing in on another important component of the player's kit bag, the bat. All this week we'll highlight the greatest, most iconic and most bizarre pieces of willow in cricket history.

Ricky Ponting's graphite strip (2005)

Ricky Ponting's association with Kookaburra bats began when he was a 13-year-old prodigy in Tasmania, and was introduced to the brand's representative at the final of the junior cricket tournament the company then sponsored.

As Ponting recounts, that meeting was followed by the arrival of a full kit of Kookaburra gear – bats, gloves and pads – at the family home in Launceston with the representative telling head office in Melbourne of the promising young kid he had discovered and fitted out.

At which point then-Kookaburra boss Rob Elliot responded to the speculative marketing strategy by telling his rep "Why don't you go back to the local prep school and find a few more kids? We'll sign 'em all up."

By the time Ponting was appointed Australia's 42nd men's Test captain in 2004, having remained faithful to his inaugural sponsors throughout his eight-year international career to that point, the punt was looking like one of cricket's shrewdest investments.

That was also the year Kookaburra added a bold new blade to its range of bats, with the 'Kahuna' wielded by the star of its stable hiding an innovative feature within its lime-green livery.

The secret to the 'Kahuna' was purportedly the six millimetre thick strip of carbon graphite that ran along the bat's spine and was affixed by the manufacturers' sticker that covered the entire back of the blade.

The purpose of the graphite, as Elliot explained, was to strengthen the back of the bat and enhance its longevity.

"All the evidence we have sought from independent experts, such as industrial chemists, people who are experts in bonding, suggest it is nothing more than a coating on the bat," he said prior to Ponting leading Australia into the first (and only) ICC Super Test against a World XI in October 2005.

But that didn't quell the conspiracy theories about the true properties of the graphite strip.

Critics claimed the graphite-enhanced bat gave its users – who also included Ponting's Australia teammates Justin Langer and Michael Hussey, as well as Sri Lanka's Sanath Jayasuriya – an unfair advantage, or that it inflicted additional damage to a ball striking the bat face.

Some even suggested the magic ingredient somehow managed to achieve both.

The Marylebone Cricket Club, official overseers of cricket's laws, were asked to investigate the 'Kahuna's' legality to ensure it complied with regulations mandating the composition and dimensions of bats, as well as the thickness of any added adhesive that was restricted to 1.56mm.

Elliot remained adamant there was nothing in the design or the adornment of the new product that breached the game's guidelines, while some speculated opposition to the bat came from traditionalists who took issue with its lurid colour scheme and graphic design.

"Over the years, bat makers have put materials like pigskin, PVC film, poly-armour and nylon fabrics on the face of the bat," Elliot said.

"We’ve come from another approach.

"We decided we’d use a sophisticated material that is bonded to the back of the bat. And graphite is black, so we can't put it on the front."

Authorities were not so readily assuaged, however, and from the MCC the investigation moved to the ICC's cricket sub-committee (then chaired by former India captain Sunil Gavaskar) amid concerns raised by the global governing body that "oversized" bats had been detected at the preceding 2003 World Cup in South Africa.

Despite claims from rival bat makers the 'Kahuna' (along with its stable mates 'The Beast' and 'Genesis Hurricane') was about to be banned, Ponting used it throughout the 2005-06 Australia summer during which he averaged 85.82 in Tests and 47.71 in ODIs.

Then, in February 2006, the MCC announced it had deemed the bats illegal as the graphite strip breached the laws relating to allowable enhancements.

Kookaburra initially indicated they would launch legal action given the cost of withdrawing the bats from the market, and in light of the MCC's decision which offered no explanation other than a two-line statement.

"Following a thorough review of the matter, MCC has concluded that these bats do not comply with Law 6 of the Laws of Cricket," the pronouncement from Lord's read.

"It has told the ICC accordingly."

As the debate raged on, Kookaburra detailed the findings of three independent sources – RMIT's School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, a chemical engineer and Australia-based plastics manufacturer, and Britain's SATRA Technology Centre – to show the bat complied with cricket's laws.

But as Ponting led his team on tours to South Africa and Bangladesh from February 2006, his bat maker backed down and the ICC announced all iterations of the graphite-backed blades would be voluntarily withdrawn from international competition.

While Kookaburra was left bewildered by the decision, their on-field standard bearer was simply bemused by the edict he could continue using the bats in his kit bag provided he replaced the sticker on their backs.

"As a marketing exercise, it was brilliant because the bats sold in big numbers, and the sticker was totally legal according to the ICC guidelines, but that didn't stop a controversy emerging once someone falsely suggested the carbon graphite made bats better," Ponting wrote in his autobiography 'At the Close of Play'.

"Kookaburra would have been well within their rights to force the issue, but in the end they decided to remove the stickers and move on to their next innovation, this one having served its purpose.

"When I arrived in South Africa (in 2006), I organised for the stickers to come off and then used the same bats throughout the Test series.

"It didn't make a shred of difference."

As shown by his Test (average 74.33) and ODI (48.33) over the following year, without the not-so-secret weapon to propel him.

DRS-defying silicone tape (2013)

The 2013 Ashes series in the UK contained more than its share of 'can't-quite-believe-my-eyes' moments.

The opening Test at Trent Bridge contained a couple on consecutive days – Ashton Agar's extraordinary 98 batting at number eleven in his debut Test, followed by Stuart Broad's equally newsworthy decision to stand his ground despite edging a clear catch off Agar's bowling.

Then at Lord's a few days later, Australia opener Chris Rogers heaved at a waist-high full-toss delivered by England off-spinner Graeme Swann with his embarrassment at failing to make contact compounded by England's successful appeal for lbw.

But by the time the teams reached Old Trafford for the third Test, much of the animated discussion centred on the increasingly apparent shortcomings of the Decision Review System.

Initially, it was because a not out decision against England's Jonathan Trott at Trent Bridge was overturned despite the unavailability of the 'Hot Spot' thermal imaging technology that would have shown if ball had contacted bat before pad.

After the Broad (for which Australia had no available reviews) and Rogers (shown to be missing leg stump) decisions, there came an lbw decision against England's Joe Root who believed he'd inside-edged on to his pad only for his review to prove inconclusive, and the on-field verdict retained.

And then Usman Khawaja was unable to overturn a caught behind decision at Old Trafford despite the absence of any hot spot evidence.

However, it was a similar reprieve for Kevin Pietersen in England's second innings of that third Test that triggered the most explosive controversy when a news report on Australian TV claimed batters on both sides were affixing silicone tape to the edges of their bats to outwit the technology.

The thesis was thermal imaging would not show contact points on the bat if the tape was in place.

It followed a mischievous tweet from ex-England skipper Michael Vaughan two years earlier that suggested India's V.V.S. Laxman perhaps applied petroleum jelly to the edges of his bat to similarly defy Hot Spot.

Vaughan later dismissed his comments as a joke, but the seeds for skulduggery had been sown.

The apparent inconsistency of a discernible noise heard when ball passed bat in the Pietersen incident, contrasted against the absence of any sign of thermal 'flare' on the edge of his bat when 'Hot Spot' technology was employed, seemingly provided the smoking gun.

It certainly triggered the ire of the England dressing room, with Pietersen predictably among the most voluble in response.

"I am never afraid of getting out! If I nick it, I'll walk," the former England captain tweeted.

"To suggest I cheat by covering my bat with silicon infuriates me.

"How stupid would I be to try and hide a nick when it could save me on an LBW appeal, like in 1st innings where hotspot showed I nicked it."

While the Australians were less prickly in their rebuttal of the claim, they nevertheless took the same view as their Ashes rival that the players' collective integrity was being called into question.

"I find the accusation quite funny," Australia skipper Michael Clarke said at the end of the third Test which ended in a draw, largely due to Clarke's epic 187 across more than seven hours in the first innings.

"I can't talk for everybody, but if it is the case, we are talking about cheating.

"I can tell you there is not one person in the Australian changing rooms who is a cheat. That's not the way we play cricket.

"I know no one is going to the extreme of saying 'put this on your bat because it will help you beat Hot Spot'.

"I wouldn't think it would make any difference. I've never heard of anyone doing it."

The news organisation at the centre of the storm refuted suggestions they had accused players of cheating.

They claimed they had simply aired concerns raised by a creator of the Hot Spot technology, Australian Warren Brennan, who had, in turn, reportedly made his misgivings known to the ICC.

Furthermore, it was reported the ICC had examined testing conducted by Brennan and deemed his findings worthy of further investigation.

Under cricket's laws, adhesives can be applied to bats for repair or maintenance, but most often that practice utilised fibreglass tape (which contains silica rather than silicon) while there existed no known evidence to definitively prove whether silicone would demonstrably negate heat transfer on a cricket bat.

As the scandal gathered steam, England captain Alistair Cook labelled the story a "blatant fabrication" and demanded an apology from the network in question, while the ICC was forced to refute suggestions it had instigated a crisis meeting to deal with the matter.

Claims the ICC's general manager Geoff Allardice (now chief executive of the Dubai-based organisation) had flown direct to Durham where the fourth Test of the Ashes campaign was to be played, in order to investigate the claims, were roundly dismissed.

"These media reports are totally incorrect," the ICC's then CEO Dave Richardson said.

"Geoff Allardice is meeting with both teams and umpires to see how we can best use the DRS and the available technology going forward in the next two Test matches.

"It has nothing to do with any players."

Then, rather like the 'Hot Spot' technology itself, which captures fleeting moments of incandescence that quickly fade away, the claims and denials were overtaken by events as England retained the Ashes, winning the fourth Test by 54 runs.

With barely a whiff of controversy to cloud their celebrations.

Kit Week Ricky Ponting's graphite strip (2005) DRS-defying silicone tape (2013)