The stakes available in cricket have risen significantly over recent years - especially with the inception of the Indian Premier League and the Stanford Super Series - and as such the equipment used is completely different from what was used in the early forms of the game.
From early times, when the ball was bowled underarm along the ground, cricket bats more closely resembled hockey sticks than what popular players like Rahul Dravid use these days.
The transition to the more rectangular shape used today began in the 1770s when bowlers were allowed to 'loop' the ball to batsmen. This dramatically changed the de rigueur batting style as people started to make vertical movements with their bats rather than horizontal sweeps as before. These bats, however, were still very bottom-heavy and looked more like flat caveman clubs than bats. When overarm bowling was allowed in the 1820s bats started to take on the more modern look.
The most recent development has been the conversion from a flat bat to one with a bowed blade. Although bowed bats have been around for roughly 40 years, it has only been in recent years that the big manufacturers have taken to shaping their bats in this way.
One thing that has remained constant through the history of the bat is the material they are made from, although this didn't make it into the laws of the game until the recent decades.
One of the most highly publicised incidents involving a cricket bat came during the 1979 Ashes. During a test at the WACA, Dennis Lillee came on to the field with an aluminium bat and hit the first delivery of the day for three runs. This action ended up angering the captains of both teams. Lillee's captain, Greg Chappell, reckoned the shot should've gone for four and instructed the twelfth man to take out a conventional bat to Lillee while England's captain, Mike Brearley complained that the aluminium bat was damaging the ball. After a long and heated conversation involving umpires and players, Lillee threw away his aluminium bat in disgust and continued to play with a wooden one. Lillee had used the same bat 12 days earlier in a test against the West Indies without incident.
The aluminium bat was manufactured by a company run by Lillee's friend initially as a way to produce cheap bats for developing countries. After the match, sales went through the roof until a few months later the laws of cricket were changed to say that a bat must be made of wood. You can be sure that when the npower Ashes come round in the summer of 2009 that all the players will be using the most up-to-date bats in order to get the biggest advantage available.
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