1624 – This is the first time that we have any mention of a cricket bat. An inquest was carried out after a fielder was killed. The batsman had tried to prevent him from catching the ball, and had presumably whacked him on the head in the process! Originally bowlers used to bowl the ball underarm. The bat was therefore shaped very much like a hockey stick.
1770′s – The laws were changed to allow “length bowling”, which was still performed underarm. The bat became roughly parallel with a maximum width of 4.25″. This is still the same today. They were extremely heavy, with the “swell” at the bottom.
1820′s – Round arm bowling was allowed, instigating more bounce so the bat became lighter with a higher “swell”.
1830′s – Until this period all bats were one piece willow. However, because of increased breakages and shock as the ball travelled faster, bat makers started to “splice” handles into bats. Handles were either solid willow or ash.
1835 – The length of a bat was restricted to 38″, which is still the same today.
1840 – The first recorded use of a “spring” being inserted into the handles. These were initially whalebone (as used in ladies corsets) and some years later India rubber.
1853 – Thomas Nixon, a Notts cricketer, introduced the use of cane in handle making.
1864 – The laws were altered to allow over- arm bowling so there was a further lightening and more refined shaping of the blade. Handles became intricate constructions and were nearly all made of cane with Indian rubber grips.
1870′s – The shape of today’s bat evolves.
I wonder if those cricketers of the 1600′s would recognise cricket as the same game that they played. They certainly might look a bit mystified at today’s helmets!