Master blaster

Mongoose inventor Marcus Codrington Fernandez
Date:1 February 2011 Tags:, ,

During the course of a Twenty20 cricket game, it’s not considered unusual to see a couple of dozen massive hits go sailing over the boundary ropes. Six more runs: cue music, cheerleaders, gyrating fans.

Not surprisingly, cricket’s explosive short form packs in the fans, with big-hit heroics, frenetic pace and runs – lots of runs. It’s a recipe that has proved hugely successfully since the format’s inception just seven years ago.

Twenty20’s all-out-attack character means extracting maximum value out of every shot played. Until recently, that was down mostly to the batsman’s skill, restrictions on the fielding side, and the practice of shortening boundaries.

Now there’s the Mongoose MMi3. (“The shot that got you four now gets you six.”) Its blade is a third shorter than a regular bat’s, with a handle correspondingly longer. According to the maker, it produces 20 per cent more power from a “sweet spot” significantly bigger than the norm. Hits travel faster, straighter and further.

Its only potential drawback is that its smaller size may limit defensive strokeplay. Er… defensive? Twenty20, being essentially a slogfest, really doesn’t have any need for defence.

Of course, an MMi3 isn’t going to turn anybody into Shahid Afridi or Albie Morkel. Still, it is deemed good enough to be endorsed by international stars Andrew Symonds, Matthew Hayden and Stuart Law (Australia), Azhar Mahmood (Pakistan), and Dwayne Smith (West Indies).

Mass where you need it
The secret lies in optimising mass and moment of inertia (MMi), which dictate how much effort is needed to swing the bat. The higher the MMi, the greater energy imparted to the ball, for the same angular velocity. To increase the MMi, either increase overall mass or – as Mongoose did – move it further away from the rotational axis.

The mass trimmed from the bat blade’s shoulder area is relocated lower down, creating hefty 6 cm edges. An unintended side effect: smaller frontal area cuts down on aerodynamic drag, further aiding impact speed. While being much more rigid in the blade, it’s still comfortable to use thanks to handle flexibility.

A scientific study commissioned by Mongoose to analyse their design’s performance showed that, compared with a regular bat, it exhibited bending stiffness that was greater and more consistent over its length. The two designs’ vibration modes and sweet spots were similar.

Crucially, the MMi of the traditional bat was significantly less than that of the Mongoose.

The implication is that the Mongoose’s relatively stiff blade will allow more of the energy of the bat swing to be imparted to the ball. For a given weight, it will be harder to pick up initially, but its greater MMi will result in what the study laconically describes thus: “A collision of greater energy”.

In plain English, it hits harder.

Six appeal
Mongoose is an apt name, says inventor Marcus Codrington Fernandez, for a product that’s small and ferocious. Codrington Fernandez made his name as a brand guru; top mobile service provider Orange was one of his success stories. Cricket… well, he was keen, but hadn’t progressed higher than age-level representative sides.

Then, four years ago, a life-changing moment: a stroke.

“I was flat on my back for six months and had plenty of time to think,” he says. Thinking came naturally, of course: he’d been a philosophy major.

There was also plenty of time to watch cricket. “One day I was watching the IPL Twenty20 league, with (Indian wicketkeeper/ batsman and later captain) Mahendra Singh Dhoni chipping balls out of the stadium.” What a pity, he thought, that nobody had come up with a bat better suited to the format’s biff-bangwhallop style. “Dhoni’s bat, like the rest, was the same one he’d use to play test cricket. To compare it to golf, he was using a putter to drive.”

Why not a driver instead – a pendulum with a long, whippy shaft? Instinctively, Codrington Fernandez felt, power would come from the impact speed such a set-up would provide. And it would outweigh potential disadvantages – a smaller range of shots, more difficult defensive strokes.

“I’m not sure if this is true… it may be perception… but the top one-third of the blade seems to be used solely for defence,” he says. He found what seemed to be backing for this hypothesis in a bat used by England opener Marcus Trescothick to score 105 runs in an ICC final. “What is remarkable about it is that, when it comes to ball marks, there are a million below the splice, where the sticker with the maker’s name is located. There is only one mark above.”

The bat specification laid down in the Laws Of Cricket implies one-size-fits all. Codrington Fernandez, by contrast, was navigating towards a specialised design that was supremely fit for purpose.

Fame beckons
Fired up, Codrington Fernandez did what seemed like the inventorly thing. “I made a drawing on the back of a paper napkin and sent it off to a bat maker.”

When his prototype arrived, he rushed off to the nets for a trial. “The batsman hit the ball a mile. I thought, ‘I’m going to be a millionaire by the end of the week’.”

That was until ball struck bat in the area of the splice. It was a disaster. “There was a plop. It was like the ball had hit a sponge pudding. I thought, ‘I’m going to be bankrupt by the end of the week’.”

The problem was the spline, the bit that joins the handle to the blade. Mostly cane and glue, it’s as bouncy as a dead parrot.

His solution was to explore other “conjoining” methods, to effectively take the splice out of the hitting area. Moving the splice to the handle proved to be a masterstroke.

Other than that, the bat is made conventionally, but cut down differently. Though overall height is the same, the handle lends an extra whip effect. Incidentally, the company also makes a more conventional style of bat, using the same patent pending technology as the MMi3’s.

“I’ll concede that it may sound a little accidental how it all turned out. But although I don’t have a scientific background, I was conscious of the mechanics involved,” says Codrington Fernandez.

Restoring the balance
We haven’t heard the last word on this either, he says. “There’s still room for technology, even in cricket. Areas that are ripe for potential exploration include the type of rubber used, and the use of other materials. For instance, the Laws say wood… they do not say what type of wood.”

R&D may be complicated. “We haven’t got Nasa-type research budgets. However, the laws are pretty tight, presumably so that the bat can be made in the notional back garden by an individual.” In fact, the Mongoose is made in England and India by the world’s top bat makers, such as Hunts County UK.

“Ultimately, a good bat is still about skill and craftsmanship. At any rate, we’ve shown that you don’t have to spend 10 million quid to develop new equipment,” Codrington Fernandez says. He’s particularly proud that the MMi3 is the most recent winner of the Sports Industry Award for Technological Innovation in Sport 2010, won previously by the Speedo all-in-one swimsuit in 2009, and by Hawkeye in 2008.

Initial scepticism and cynicism has given way to a steady steam of enquiries from top professionals. “Our latest approach was from former England opener Marcus Trescothick. He wanted his sponsors to make him a Mongoose, but they couldn’t. Intellectual property rights, you see. “So he came to us.”

Meanwhile, pity the poor bowler. The balance has continued to tip in favour of batsmen, already beneficiaries of covered wickets, helmets, a limit on bouncers, and smaller outfields. Bowlers have certainly had to become smarter, with new skills from slower balls to tricks such as dippers and flippers. And there’s always doctoring the ball…

“If we really think the game is becoming too biased towards the batsman, then we can undo the things we have done: uncover wickets, raise the ball’s seam, and so forth,” Codrington Fernandez says.

Speaking of which… “We have an idea for a ball,” he mused. “To make it have more traction… and last longer.”

Don’t bet against it happening.

Sticking with tradition
In nearly five centuries, not much aside from the shape has changed. Originally rather like a hockey stick, the blade of the cricket bat as we now know it is still made of wood, as stipulated in Law 6 of the Laws Of Cricket. The standard is willow – Salix alba var. caerulea, to be precise. The handle has to be mostly cane, twine and glue, with a small allowance for rubber used as a covering and vibration damper.

Length may not exceed 38 inches (965 mm) and width 4 ½ inches (108 mm). Weight, although not restricted, ranges from a little over a kilogram to nearly a kilo and a half. The handle cannot exceed 52 per cent of the overall length.

Exotic composites and metals that have infiltrated other sports are forbidden by cricket’s guardians, the MCC. Fiery Australian fast bowler Dennis Lillee’s experiment with an aluminium model in the late 1970s was met with stiff resistance from his English opponents and resulted in a rule-change. Law 6, section 4 (b) now states, “The blade shall consist solely of wood.” That put paid to the Kookaburra bat made for Australian skipper Ricky Ponting, which incorporated a bonded graphite “spine”. Other failed attempts have included carbon fibre handles and even a double- sided design.

The Mongoose MMi3 – how it works
In Twenty20 cricket, to win you have to attack and score as many runs as quickly as possible. The Mongoose MMi3 is designed expressly to attack the ball. It hits harder than a conventional bat. Its improved manoeuvrability and revolutionary weight distribution send the ball faster and further.

Conventional bat
Defensive area
The splice and surrounding area is a dead spot, with little run-scoring potential. On average, most players strike with this part of the blade only 3 per cent of the time.

Attacking area.
This is the area of the bat that scores most runs. A conventional bat has a sweet spot covering just 40 per cent of its area.

Defensive area.
The thin toe of a conventional bat is a dead spot. It has low “ping” and is vulnerable to breakage.
A conventional long-blade bat has thin edges at the top and bottom of its blade.

Mongoose MMi3
The Mongoose MMi3 has a sweet spot covering the entire plane of the blade. Its increased profile and greater bat speed provide 20 per cent more power than a conventional bat.

The dead spot around the splice is removed because the splice is repositioned within the handle.

The MMi3’s elongated handle provides greater leverage and more flexibility to create 15 per cent more bat speed.

The Mongoose MMi3 has thick edges along the entire length of its blade, giving batsmen greater
margin for error.

The MMi’s sweet spot extends into its massive toe, providing more power and making it less vulnerable to breakage.

15% more bat speed
The short blade of the Mongoose MMi3 is stiffer and therefore more rigid than a conventional
cricket bat. A stiff blade combined with a longer, more flexible handle creates whip or torque similar to the effect of a golf club in swing. This relationship between stiff blade and flexible handle is optimum for imparting maximum energy to the ball. It also minimises vibration discomfort for the batsman.

The relatively stiff blade of the Mongoose will allow more of the energy of the bat swing to be imparted to the ball. Compared with a conventional bat of the same weight, the Mongoose may feel very slightly harder to “pick up”, but for the same swing will impart more energy to the ball because of the greater Mass and Moment of Inertia (MMi); this results in a more powerful collision of energy.

20% more power
The greater collision of energy between bat and ball results in attacking shots travelling faster and further.

Related material
To read Anthony Doman’s related blog and to see a smashing video starring the Mongoose, a ball, and a window…[click here]

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