What value do you place on your bat?
How much money would you stake on your blade? In our game of bat and ball, the latter come and go. Bats endure. You are in contact with it throughout an innings, crudely as a hitting implement, but more deeply as an ally, an accomplice in your campaign of attack and defence. A fruitless swish and it attracts a disgruntled stare. A stroke to the boundary and the eyes first follow the ball, then return with warmth to assess the bat. In between deliveries, you repeatedly check on the bat, how it is held, weighing it, more attentive than a suitor on a second date. Then you take off for a run and it is your dependant, needing to be carried, slightly slowing your progress until the stretch for the crease and like a clever child it gives you a timely boost. At the non-striker’s end, it’s a stick to lean-on, a pointer to show your team-mate a change in the field, a partner in the dance of shadow-play.
You reach a milestone and it’s your bat you raise to acknowledge your score. How much does its value appreciate when you mark your first fifty or hundred for this team, in this competition, or ever?
Your bat affords you surprising power. Balls sent hurtling away, with little effort on your part, build up your self-regard. Just as easily it undermines you, sending the thinnest of edges to the keeper, or translating your epic swing limply into a looping catch to mid-on. How do you value something so capricious?
You lug your bat to matches, practices and nets. It’s the piece of equipment that doesn’t quite fit in your bag. It catches on doorways, trips up team-mates. Blemishes and cracks appear. The rubber grip shifts down the handle or frays. Your bat needs attention. It’s mortal and replaceable. But at what cost?
I am preoccupied with this question. I have been offered a bat by someone at the club who was themselves given it by a somebody (not a nobody). I’ve been invited to pay what it is worth to me.
Context affects value and now is a good time to be replenishing. I am about to embark on my first full season of weekend cricket in over two decades. Not only might I get a return on a new bat, but with my current bat damaged and neglected I may need to find a replacement by mid-season.
Perhaps unusually for someone with my interest in the game and identification as a batsman, I have scant interest in bat brands and models. Partially, it’s a recognition that I am really not good enough to merit owning a ‘good’ bat – pearls and swine. I also have an intense dislike for the commercialisation of sports equipment that encourages the cost of the logo to exceed the combined cost of the materials and workmanship. I’m a sceptic: aren’t bats priced deliberately to extract the maximum cash that any cricketer is prepared to pay? Their names – evoking nature’s forces and human myths – and their endorsements by professional players are part of the subterfuge?
My recollection of my own bats is imperfect. I can only remember three bats that I have owned: a Slazenger to start off with; an SS Jumbo for a birthday present aged around 12 and my current Woodworm. That must be wrong as that last bat was bought when I returned to club cricket ten years ago. I probably had another Jumbo through the late 1980s to the 2000s, but I can’t remember buying it or burying it.
I bought the bat that now pokes from my cricket bag on-line, seduced by the savings on offer. Untested, it arrived too heavy, but otherwise (!) fitted the bill. I took it to a local cricket equipment shop, who sent it to what I think of as ‘fat bat clinic’. It came back marginally sleeker.
A week ago, the bat without a price was handed over and I was given the chance of a test-drive. It showed few signs of being used. The taping of the edges was preventative, not remedial. ‘Have a go with it at indoor nets and then come back with your price’, I was encouraged.
Last Wednesday night, the bat and I had our trial run. It was a comfortable fit. I put away a couple of meaty cuts. It didn’t help me connect with two sweeps, which I’ve missed all pre-season, or prevent me misreading an out-swinger that looked ready to land on leg-stump, and went on to knock out off. But there was one drive on the up, with no follow-through, that connected high up the blade and skittered back past the bowler. Worth a single, maybe two and probably evidence of a superior bat.
So, what would I spend on a bat; one that isn’t new and probably needs some knocking-in to be match-ready? Ignorant of brands and marques, I went on-line. The particular bat is no longer on sale from the manufacturer. Retailers, though, have stocks. The SE on the label, it becomes apparent means ‘Special Edition’. The bats are being sold with chunky discounts.. but at three or four multiples of what I last paid, and have ever entertained, paying for a bat.
I hop across to eBay. Sellers have ‘nearly new’ versions going for more than twice what I’ve ever spent on a bat. I am faced with a dilemma. The invitation is there to pay what I would value this bat at. The market values this bat at a price that I would not have considered paying. Thoughts spark: what if this is the bat that helps me reach my first ever century? Maybe, wielding this piece of prime English willow, I’ll stop chipping catches to the in-field and will apply myself to play lengthy innings each weekend.
Should I pay what it’s worth to others, or respond to the invitation to pay what it’s worth to me? I already have a bat, albeit one that might not last the season. I don’t genuinely believe that I have unfulfilled potential that a better bat could help me tap into. It would be a luxury, an appealing one, in an area of my life that’s important to me.
I’ve turned this matter over and over. A simple solution has bubbled to the surface. Tomorrow, I will return the bat, commenting on its balance and satisfying middle. I will recommend my club mate sells it on eBay for as much as he possibly can.
I am out; and down. I eye my cricket bag. Facing homelessness, the bag seems as promising a shelter as any. I have speculated away my life: family, job and very soon, home.
Months ago, I was sitting at Lord’s, watching the Test with my son. After tea, he asked, “What happens to the overs that won’t be bowled today?”
“Nothing, they’re just lost.”
I was wrong. I was the one that lost.
A few days later, an email arrived, with a most curious offer: to buy surplus international cricket overs. Intrigued, I followed the link. There, on the dark web, was a market. A novel gift for my Father’s birthday I reasoned, making my first purchase. Instead, a week later, I bought him a Cardus – first edition – with the proceeds of my initial trades.
The market was picking up. The supply-side, with players failing to complete 90 overs per day, was burgeoning, but never quite able to keep up with demand, as new Twenty 20 leagues proliferated. I found the options market particularly lucrative: anticipating which days would leave spectators sold short and me buying long. I even dabbled in the world of fixers, offering players incentives to go slow. Nothing matches the exhilaration of seeing a Test match opening bowler crouch at my bidding to tie his shoelaces. But that was a vanity investment: Test cricketers needed no bungs to create a daily diet of orphaned overs.
I had a strategy. Prices spiked whenever the ICC met to discuss a World Test Championship. I was stock-piling overs, ready to soak up the demand of a five-day extravaganza. More and more of my income was invested. My family, neglected, moved out. Work was a charade that I played out to fund my habit. The closer I felt to owning cricket, the further away from it I drifted. I stopped playing, reading match reports and paying my SkySports subscription. But I held a Test match-worth of lost over assets. ‘Be patient, wait for the opportunity,’ I said, although I had nobody left close to me to listen.
The first shock came when the ICC announced its meagre plan for a Test Championship of mostly two-Test series. The market, like an erroneous umpiring decision, suffered a correction. Then another stinger as South Africa’s Global League evaporated. I clung on, determined to ride out the rough patch. Finally, the announcement that shattered my defences: the Hundred. The ECB shaved three and a bit overs and with it any margin. Prices no longer fell. The market just seized up.
With no trading to distract me, I can take stock: I’m left rich in overs, but impoverished, contemplating sleeping in a cricket bag. I’ve paid the price for trying to own the game that belongs to no one. Cricket as a moral enterprise has found me wanting.
But there is hope. If my deficiency has been ethical, then I can be rehabilitated. I may be able to sit beside my son again, watching a match.
There is an alternative, more prosaic, harder to stomach, less meriting a son’s forgiveness: gullibility. Was I conned?