Just as cricket itself has changed beyond all recognition in the last 20 years, so have the bats being used to propel the ball to, and, increasingly frequently, over the boundary.
As T20 has developed from a fun experiment to become a major part of the English summer, the thirst to hit the ball harder and further has grown with it – and thanks to the hard work of people like Edwinstowe’s David Bacon, that dream has become a reality.
You see, the former King Edwin and Rufford School pupil is an expert in sports engineering – having written a PhD in material engineering and graduated with a BSc in Sport Technology – and he is now using his finely-honed expertise to push the boundaries and revolutionise bat making.
In setting up Bulwell-based company B3 Cricket, along with former Nottinghamshire player and now first-class umpire Russell Evans and local club cricket stalwart Michael Blatherwick, the 34-year-old entrepreneur has helped re-invent how bats are ordered, designed and manufactured for the amateur cricketer In a manner that was previously only the domain of the top-class professionals.
In days gone by, the normal procedure for a club player to purchase a new blade was to order a pre-designed shape and weight of bat from a catalogue, or for a person to go into a shop, test a few out and pick the one they like best.
However, having previously honed his skills alongside Evans at world-renowned Nottingham bat makers Gunn and Moore, David realised there was an untapped market for club and junior cricketers who wanted a more comprehensive approach, which gave the pair the confidence to ‘go it alone’ and establish a new business.
Now, players of all standards and ages can design their bat right down to the very last detail online at B3cricket.com – or at the factory if preferred. That design is then carefully constructed and sent out to them by post, wherever they are in the world. What’s more, the internet means that B3 can keep distribution costs down and ensure their bats are also competitively priced too.
The innovative approach has been made possible by the use of Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) machines – widely used in the manufacture of car and aircraft parts, general engineering and carpentry, but only utilised among the bat-making fraternity fairly recently.
David remembers the ‘eureka moment’ well. “When I was working for Gunn and Moore and making a pro’s bat, I was watching the machine at work it got me thinking how fantastic it would be to make bespoke bats for everyone and not just the pros,” he explained.
“I realised that if the machine was set up especially to make each bat individually, as opposed to mass manufacturing, then we could make all bats to a specific design down the exact millimetre. B3 could be unique because the big brands couldn’t offer this service because it wouldn’t be financially viable.”
‘The Doctor’, as David has been nicknamed because of his qualification, has seen B3 expand rapidly, producing 2,500 bats a year, as well as branching out increasingly into other equipment such as bags, pads and teamwear, just two years after opening its doors.
Already they have county players Steven Mullaney (Nottinghamshire), Mark Footitt (Derbyshire) and Tom Kohler-Cadmore (Worcestershire) as brand ambassadors and produce bats for New Balance, who boast Australian T20 star Aaron Finch and England’s Gary Ballance and Ben Stokes among their stable.
The name B3 stands for ‘bespoke cubed’ reflecting the three different ranges that are manufactured in the factory, all from the finest English willow.
David said: “The first is the ‘Series range’, which is one of three pre-designed shapes and covers quite a lot of bases, but then you can still choose what weight you have, what handle length, handle shape - round or oval – and blade length. We have 21 different coloured stickers and different grips - you have to look the part after all!
“Then there is the ‘Custom range’, where you can design your own shape online, including the edge design, the spine design and the profile design, from the traditional flat to an extreme concave. There are four different profiles, six different edges and six spines. With handle shapes, sizes and stickers there are 600,000 different combinations.
“Then the next step up is the ‘Bespoke range’ where you sit down with me and a blank piece of paper and we can talk through whatever bat you like.”
David’s own sporting background was in motorcycle trialling rather than cricket, but he believes that is an asset, particularly as his two partners are lifelong fans and participants of the game.
Evans (48) hails from Calverton and, along with his brother Kevin went onto to play for Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club. After leaving the county in 1992 he took up a full-time job at Gunn and Moore where he went onto to become marketing manager. Alongside that, he has progressed his career as a cricket umpire and is on the ECB’s reserve umpire list, meaning he officiates in some of England’s top domestic action.
Blatherwick, also 48, played in the same Notts junior sides as Evans – along with the likes of county batting mainstay Paul Johnson and current director of cricket Mick Newell – and has played cricket at the highest amateur level for over 30 years. He is the elder brother of former Nottingham Forest and Chesterfield defender Steve, who Mansfield Town fans will know well from Stags-Spireites derbies.
“To develop products that are revolutionary, you need someone from outside the cricket mindset,” said David. “I’m not afraid to voice my opinion and come up with something outside the box. Between the three of us, we will come up with something that will work.
“In the next 10 years, the personalisation of bats is really going to take off and become mainstream – and we are well placed to be at the forefront of that.”