Manufacturers embrace their heritage
Kookaburra and Gray-Nicolls are among the bat makers who have turned back the clock in recent times and are now offering a new generation the chance to use some old classics...
By Rob Lancaster - Tweet me: @SkySportsLanny
Last Updated: 03/03/14 6:43pm
There was little joy for an Englishman to be had watching the Australia wicketkeeper-batsman continuously pummel the tourists' attack during a miserable Ashes. Yet one small crumb of comfort came in him using a bat that offered a real blast from the past for those cricket enthusiasts of a certain age.
In scoring 493 runs at an average of more than 61, Haddin let us all have a good, long (very, very long) look at the Kookaburra Bubble, a piece of willow enjoying a prominent return to the international stage.
Made perhaps most famous by Alec Stewart in its original incarnation, it now returns to cricket shops in England this year, offering another generation the chance to use it. Don't call it a comeback, though. This is all about the company celebrating their heritage.
"There has been a degree of demand from the consumer for a bat which was a really iconic Kookaburra model," Stuart Waterton, brand manager for Kookaburra, explained to Sky Sports.
"The Bubble was first introduced in the mid-1990s and the last year in that format was in 2004. It was very much something that people grew up with. That was the thought process.
"The other guys (manufacturers) had been doing it for two or three years, and it was something we thought we wanted to do at the right time.
"We haven't used the word retro at any stage. We don't like looking backwards, we like looking forwards as a company. We view the Bubble very much as a celebration of our heritage."
Yet while the name is still the same, plenty has changed about the Bubble. The new version has been upgraded slightly in terms of how it looks, but the biggest alteration only comes when you view it close up.
It has been adapted to fit in with the modern style of bats - in other words it's bigger, particularly when it comes to the edges. If the version that was about in the '90s was the equivalent of a thin crust pizza, then now you're very much ordering a deep pan.
"If you put a bat in the marketplace with thin edges as they were, people would look at you in disbelief," Waterton explained.
"The vogue is very much into producing bigger-profile bats. What we did is try to be as true as we could to the original graphics, but at the same time bring the bat up to date. It is a much bigger bat than it ever was back in 1995 or 1996.
"We wanted to put something into the marketplace that celebrated our heritage but was also of a style and format that people in the modern day would want to use."
While the Bubble is now back in fashion for the summer of 2014, other manufacturers have already given us a a blast from the past by reproducing some of their classics with a modern twist.
The V12 - once a dangerous weapon in the hands of Sir Viv Richards and, to a lesser degree, Geoffrey Boycott - is back amongst Slazenger's range, while Gray-Nicolls have embraced history with a number of familiar names returning.
In between the 'Maverick' and 'Oblivion' is now the 'Powerspot', a bat some will immediately link with former England captain - and current Sky Sports commentator - Michael Atherton. The Dynadrive was already available again, too, as it is not so much a case of out with the old but more putting it next to the new, offering something for everyone in the world of cricket equipment.
"There's always a demand for something new to be bought to market, and we're always trying to think of the latest in technology, the funkiest colours and to follow the trends that may be in fashion that year," Gray-Nicolls' brand manager Nick Wilton told Sky Sports.
"But going through that process we found that one of the strengths of our brand was its heritage and history.
"Gray Nicolls have produced so many iconic bats and you can't go anywhere within cricket circles without someone mentioning the Dynadrive, the Scoop or the Powerspot. It was really an idea to try and play on that success.
"What we did was revamp the old traditional models for the demands of a cricket bat today. Cosmetically they looked and felt exactly like they used to, but they were in the spec and profiles of today's modern bat.
"We've had really huge success off the back of that. It's captured the imagination - people look at bats that they used to have, or their dad used to have. There's always that memory of them.
"We've filtered in the Scoop, it seemed every international cricketer had a Scoop in the 70's, then we bought the Dynadrive back, which was around in the 1980s. Now this year we have got the Powerspot back, which is closer to a generation that is probably still playing."
Just like Kookaburra with their Bubble, Gray-Nicolls have had to adapt for the times.
"We've got Powerspots in our museum from players, from Mike Atherton for example, and just the whole shape and profile of a bat has changed," Wilton added.
"You've gone from an edge in the mid to late 80s to the early 90s that was around about a centimetre in thickness, then with a very rounded back profile. Today, though, modern cricket bats are looking at a good three-and-a-half, four centimetre edge. It's almost like a juiced up version of the originals from back in the day.
"Cosmetically it's exactly the same, and we've played on that fact, but it's built to be used in the modern game.
"It's having that bat you either had as a kid or couldn't have as a kid."
And that is the key. That 'I remember those' moments for those of a certain age, those who had one of these to use in their careers or those who desperately wanted one but, for whatever reason, never had the chance.
Waterton admits that was a major plus point for Kookaburra, as they offer the chance for another generation to enjoy the Bubble.
"We have our 2014 range - the Kahuna, the Ricochet and the Impulse - that have the more up-to-date graphics. That is where we see the company -progressive, cutting edge and very now," he stated.
"The Bubble we viewed as something that had a place in our collection, but was subsidiary. It took over a bit when we first launched the range when people who had used the bat before became excited by the prospect (of it returning).
"It's an extra product to our collection that appeals to a certain section of the market. We put the junior bat in there for the guy to buy for his son as his pride and joy cricket bat for the season, and to actually say 'I had one of those'."
I did have one of those. The Bubble was the bat I opted for as a junior and it went on to score plenty of Test centuries. Of course it was only in the back garden, but in my mind I was at Lord's, or facing the likes of Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh in the Caribbean just as Stewart and Atherton, complete with that blue-stickered Powerspot, had done during their careers.
For that reason, the sight of the Bubble in action during the Ashes bought back fond memories. At least it did until Haddin tried to spoil them all this winter. England never lost the Ashes in the back garden, that is for sure.