The latest instalment of the internet’s least riveting historical series sees us arriving at that most delicate of cricketing equipment – the box. Or the abdominal guard if you’re worried that the term ‘box’ is not appropriate enough. The source of titillation when it is struck by the bowler, so why not try and find out more about the history of the little guy? Take a look at my three previous posts about cricket equipment – the gloves, the pads and the helmets.
There is an old cricket joke: the first box was used in cricket in 1874 and the first cricket helmet was used in 1974 – it took men 100 years to realise that their head was also important. This pretty much sums up the box. Necessary yet the source of so many childish jokes. Mind you, whenever the only box left in the school kit bag was a manky old Kookaburra ‘Little Belta’ I laughed at the guy who thought of that name.
Although the joke states 1874 as being the year cricket boxes came into existence I think it must be earlier. As Simon Hughes’ excellent book ‘And God Created Cricket’ tells us, overarm bowling was around from about 1860 – so surely the box would have been used from then, along with all the other pieces of padding?
In fact, there is earlier evidence of some kind of protection being down there, from the time of John Nyren, a cricketer for one of the oldest clubs in the world, Hambledon, and an author. It was said (however fictional) that there was a player who had something resembling an aluminium box protecting his vital organs, from which a loud noise would emanate were it to be struck. Nyren was playing First Class cricket no later than 1817 – predating our previous estimate by over 40 years.
So we know that the earliest players had their bits and pieces in mind – and were taking measures to look after them. I do not know how long aluminium boxes were used, but I would imagine that plastic took over at some point during the 20th Century. Indeed, there is an amusing David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd anecdote (watch it here) concerning the old design of boxes in the 1970s.
Supposedly, in a team meeting Bumble told his England colleagues that Jeff Thomson, the great Australian fast bowler, did not concern him – moreover, he could play him with his “appendage”. Bumble got a chance to back up his claim whilst opening the batting, as Thomson hit him flush on his ‘litesum’ – the style of box at the time. The box crumbled, and Bumble’s parts were caught up in the smashed box. A structural rethink was required.
The redesigned box that is commonplace these days are made of thick plastic (to prevent inward crumpling) and plenty of foam and rubber padding around the piece in order to cushion it should it be struck. Usually held in place with a ‘jockstrap’, nowadays batsmen wear ‘batting shorts’, which are designed to house both the box and thigh pads.
So where, if anywhere, is the future of the humble box? In 2006, an employee of the Eden Project designed, invented and tested a ‘bio-degradable’ box made of hemp and plant resin. It was successful, until the trial bowler, former Nottinghamshire and current Kent quickie Charlie Shreck bounced the chap and hit him in the face. The trial was ended, and no more has come of it.
There you go – the history of the cricket box in fewer than 700 words. Next week is the turn of the bat – so the history of the cricket bat, where we are now with it, and where, if at all, innovation will take us. That should actually be interesting, so keep checking my blog to see it!