Did you know that the maximum length of a cricket bat is 38 inches? My cricketing days having passed, I no longer have my Gunn & Moore close at hand to check its length, but I'll accept that it was no more than 38 inches. Based on my height and simulating the holding of the bat (from years of memory), 38 inches would seem about right. Three feet and two inches.
It's one of those reassuringly old-school facts that the Laws of Cricket give preference to an imperial measure. Let's hear it for the MCC, which retains the laws' copyright. Only the MCC can actually change the laws which, when first drafted in 1744, may or may not have determined that a bat could be a yard and a bit long. The MCC didn't exist when those first laws were drafted, but after its founding in 1787, was it the MCC who came up with the definitive length of the pitch - stumps to stumps? You'll know that this is 22 yards, but are you aware that there are 22 yards in a chain? Oh for imperial measures. Oh indeed. There's another sporting anachronism that is imperial, and rather more commonly used than the cricket chain. The furlong of horse racing, all ten chains of it. And a mile is of course eight furlongs.
Despite the many years of playing cricket, it had never once occurred to me to wonder how the long the bat was. A bat was a bat. It is only now that the bat length has come to mind. The reason being ... how do you figure out 4.92126 feet? The bat, to give the maximum metric length, can be no more than 0.9652 metres. So, roughly speaking, we will all need to be observing one and a half cricket bat's length distance for now and quite possibly eternity - one point five metres, aka 4.92126 feet.
I confess to not being much good at conceptualising length or distance. In fact, is anyone much good at this? There are certain measurements that one can have a decent crack at getting, such as a foot. Familiarity from school days of the foot ruler will have left us all with a reasonable idea. See something that looks like a foot in length, and school-day memories will come flooding back. A foot makes more sense than 0.3048 metres, slightly less than a third of a cricket bat.
One point five metres, or almost five feet of cricket bat, would be pretty unwieldy. But in a way it's a shame that this isn't the length of a bat. Because, if I still had the Gunn & Moore, I could carry it with me at all times and ensure that no one encroaches within the bat's distance. This would be before the police come along and arrest me for carrying what they might assume to be an offensive weapon.
The new normal is soon to be with us, and the Spanish government has decided that until there is a vaccine or an effective treatment, we will all have to live our lives at a distance of 4.92126 feet from each other. This distance, as most will appreciate but many will doubtless ignore, is already enshrined into sort of regulation for safe distancing. When driving past a cyclist, there is meant to be a distance of one point five metres. Which is fair enough, but how do you judge it?
The virus crisis has placed great strain on us in trying to fathom out distances. There was the one-time rule about not going any further than a kilometre. And a kilometre is? Well, I know how long it is, but I can't conceive it in my mind's eye. Just as I couldn't a mile or a furlong. A chain on the other hand, yes. It's the length of a cricket pitch, and there was all the familiarity of the pitch, like the ruler, to provide the brain with an ability to compute.
The government hasn't really done us too many favours by having announced that there is to be a shortening of safe social distancing by half a metre. We were just being accustomed to two metres and trying to figure that out. But as the new normal is to be lived according to the principle of 4.92126 feet, we need some sort of guidance. One that you might wish to consider is the broom handle. I have checked on three in a cupboard, and two of them are just under 1.4 metres. So, if you carry one of these around with you, hold it at your side, you'll be more or less safe in judging your distance. And a broom handle is certainly less threatening than a cricket bat.
Or will we, after a while, just say to hell with it?