Recently, the 2015 world cup of cricket ended with Australia coming out on top as the eventual winners beating New Zealand convincingly in the final held in Melbourne, Australia. Although cricket is a game, there is a strong and unbreakable bond between cricket and botany, since whether it is cricket bats and balls, or the outfield or even pitch characteristics (what defines pace or turn), plants play an important role in perpetuating cricket in this field of dreams. It should be remembered that from balsa surf boards to bamboo or maple baseball bats, there is a dependency of sports on botany, which makes the study of botanical cricket a truly memorable foray in to journalistic research.
First cricket, like baseball is largely defined by the impact of bat on ball, where strikes of a piece of wood, is considered to be the heartbeat of the game. A cricket bat is finely carved and produced from a tough but light consistency of wood from a deciduous tree called the cricket willow. Cricket willow which has a botanical name of Salix alba var. caerulea, is a type of willow that is grown in Britain for the harvesting of the wood to furnish cricket bats – what is colloquially named as ‘willows’. The cricket willow tree has a strong straight woody trunk and is also identified by large leaves which are painted by a bluish green tone. This tree is considered the true origins of the classic bat that is used by both the former and current crop of cricketers, from William Grace to Steven Smith. Although the weight and dimensions of the cricketing bat have evolved, in large, cricketing bats have maintained their dependency on willow wood and even the infusion of carbon-fiber polymers to the backbone of the bat has failed to establish itself as a mainstay of the game of cricket.
Another area where cricket and botany are interwoven, is the grass meadow on which the game of cricket is played. Grasses belong to the family Poaceae, and are a ubiquitous sight on the cricketing field. While the outfield grass is trimmed and cropped to suit the running (and diving) outfielder, the cricket pitch is largely given a total shave – mowed and rolled –; yet with minuscule stubs, to ensure that there is adequate green to keep the fast bowlers (and swing) interested. Therefore the more grass there is in the bowling area of a cricketing pitch, the merrier for the bowlers, in particular the tearaways or the crafty swing bowlers. Therefore whether it is a crafty Tim Southee or a fast and furious Mitchell Johnson, grass is friend and not foe to the trade of pace bowling.
Another inevitability in cricket is the cricket ball which is made up of cork in the center with a spherical leather cover on the exterior. In the interior of a cricket ball, two halves of cork are rolled together by strong reels of string. Cork is found in the outer rings of trees, is elastic and impermeable to water and is crafted by the division of a tissue called the cork cambium. Cork is obtained from a tree identified by its botanical name Quercus suber and although once native to the Mediterranean region is now predominantly grown in Portugal, which is the largest exporter of cork in the world. It is in woodland plantations called ‘Montado’s, that cork is harvested and manufactured in Portugal. Therefore, the cricket ball and not Moises Henriques is the biggest cricketing export from this beautiful country which is known for her vineyards, universities, soccer and pioneering explorers of the new world.
Therefore it appears that botany and the game of cricket are inseparable akin to conjoint twins. Botany will always serve as a vast reservoir of foods, fibers, spices, industrial resins, commodities and sporting equipment and can be termed a ‘supermarket’ of uncountable ingredients that can be used to perpetuate honorary traditions and delightful sports. So whether we are watching a game of cricket at the MCG, or taking a tour of the International Hall Of Fame in Cricket in Bowral, Australia, or playing a game of street cricket in Colombo, Sri Lanka, one should never forget that the bat and ball that is held in hand, was once part of a woody plant.