Tuesday, 1 November 2011

7 Billion

There are now 7 billion cricketers on the planet.  When cricket was first developed in the 18th Century there were significantly fewer than 1 billion cricketers.  An extra billion cricketers have arrived in only 12 years since the 6th billionth cricketer appeared in 1999.  Fantasy Bob therefore wonders why on some Saturdays during the season it is still a challenge to get eleven players.

Growth in cricket bat demand
When FB looks at the rising population graphs he worries about lots of things.  Mostly cricket bats.  Will there be enough? 

The world's food, water and energy systems are under pressure and there are many pessimistic voices who say that the world cannot sustain this number of cricketers.  Other voices are more positive and point out the various Jeremiahs who over the years predicted the worst and have been proved wrong.  The most celebrated of these pessimists are Thomas Malthus who said in 1798 that population growth would out-run the supply of cricket bats by the mid 19th century.  In 1968 Paul Ehrlich predicted bat famine in the 1970s and 1980s. However between 1950 to 1984, the Green Revolution transformed global agriculture and grain production increased by over 250%.

Cricket bat sets
 Fantasy Bob is uncertain whether cricket bat production reflected a similar rate of growth, for cricket bat production statistics are kept as state secrets around the world.  Annual production is perhaps in the region of 4 million which means that there is less than one cricket bat produced each year for every thousand cricketers.   It takes from 15-20 years to grow a tree to maturity and each tree will provide sets for 30-40 bats.  So when trees planted now mature, the world population will be over 8 billion.  Careful management of production is required to ensure that supplies do not run out. 

Victorian bat maker Fisher
For cricketers want English willow.  Salix Alba Caerulea (English willow) can be grown in various places around the world, but cricketers prefer English willow grown in England and predominantly in Essex and Suffolk.  The main alternative growing area is Kashmir but Kashmiri wood is harder, heavier and more brittle because of the different growing conditions. There have also been attempts to start Australian production.  At the turn of the 20th Century Australian umpire Bob Crockett was sent six English cricket bat willow cuttings by English Test captain Archie MacLaren who had recently toured Australia.  As legend has it, only one cutting survived the journey, but grafted to a river willow, its progeny flourished in suitable conditions in Victoria. By the 1920s, bats made from Australian wood were shaped and sold under the Crockett label. At its height the company made 5,000 bats annually, until 1956 when it was taken over by Slazenger.  In that charming way of international capitalism Slazenger chopped the copse so as to protect their other sources of production.  However there remains a small craft industry in Australia most notably in the person of Lachlan Fisher, but the large growers and manufacturers are in England or in India and Pakistan. 

Poetry and myth making has not quite caught up with cricket bat making, but the willow has been seen as deeply symbolic throughout cultural history.  In Celtic lore it symbolises death and rebirth.  More conventionally the weeping willow represents lost love.  In Hamlet Ophelia, distressed by Hamlet's treatment of her, climbed a willow tree whose branch broke throwing her into her watery grave in the river below.  Desdemona sings to herself the Willow song in the scene before Othello murders her.  Cheery stuff. 

Willow pattern - no reference to bat making
Another instance is willow pattern china, which is devoid of cricket reference but depicts the story of a Koong-shee, and her lover, Chang, whose love blossomed under the bows of the willow tree. Koong-shee's father is an oppressive tyrant who disapproves of the match because Chang is a commoner. The father sends men to kill Chang. Koong-shee commits suicide after watching her father's men kill her lover. The legend has it that the gods took pity on them and transformed their souls into immortal lovebirds that soar high together forever.

Many of the 7 billion now on the planet will weep for lost love, FB hopes none of them weeps for not having a cricket bat.

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