New County wicket responds well

David Markhamin Cricket

New County wicket responds well

By David Markham

Groundsman Andrew Mackay is pleased that his newly laid pitch won general approval following Lancashire's four day championship game against Worcestershire at Stanley Park, Blackpool.

Worcestershire collapsed to 113 all out in their second innings to hand Lancashire an innings victory, but batsmen on both sides also made good use of the pitch with the home side amassing 562 for eight with two century makers and Worcestershire making 376 in their first innings before following on.

Success with his new pitch has encouraged Andrew to continue the re-laying process on the Stanley Park square, with some modifications, provided the club can finance the cost. He said: "The strip we used for the county game was a new strip, which was laid two years ago - in September 2003. We prepared a backup wicket as well as the new one and when we offered the choice to Lancashire's cricket manager, Mike Watkinson, he went for the new one.

"The final preparations for the county match were left to me. We used the wicket in the early in the season, at the start of May, for a league game so we could have a look at it. It cracked, which was expected, and there was some movement in the cracks. This meant that during the course of the match there was variable bounce because it is still settling in. After this, four groundstaff came to Blackpool from Old Trafford and we forked the wicket and smashed the plates up with hand forking. We then worked top dressing into the tine holes and re-seeded.

"So, when we started preparation of the wicket for the county match 12 days beforehand we had first to implement a pre-season type rolling programme in order to pull the wicket back into shape, and then a normal rolling programme, which ultimately involved about 12 hours rolling. In the last week we used the covers to dry out the wicket slowly."

Now, Andrew is waiting for the club to give permission to continue the re-laying process across the square. "It isn't cheap for the club to do," he said. "I would like to do two at a time, £3,000 a wicket if I do the work myself."

The new strip was what Andrew describes as an Old Trafford construction. He said: "It is a perched water table construction, which means there is about six or seven inches of gravel underneath so that it has a firm base. We then put eight inches of Surrey loam on top, the theory being that when it dries out fully, the pitch should dry more comprehensively, be harder and therefore have more pace in it.

"I would like to re-lay the whole square and continue re-laying. When I next re-lay a strip I will do it in a similar way, but with slightly less loam. I would like to reduce the layer of loam and put in two inches of sand. The sand would act as a blinding layer, but my theory is that it will also be symathetic to sub-surface movement caused when rolling, ultimately meaning fewer cracks and a more solid surface.

"I have consulted with Peter Marron at Old Trafford and I am just waiting for the go-ahead from the club for the money to start the work.

"We have an old square, we need to increase pace and bounce and, while the square has improved massively over the last couple of seasons and the pace of the wickets is increasing, the only satisfactory solution is to excavate and re-lay it bit by bit. We have 12 decent strips and two other strips for junior matches. We have already built four wickets at the end of the square for practice. The eight central wickets are constructed of Surrey loam and the others and the practice pitches are of Mendip loam. The Mendip produce the better wickets at the start of the season because it dries out quickly. Surrey loam wickets are great when it is warmer but, if you can't dry them, then they never realise their full potential. So, although it seems odd to have a square with two very different loams, it works well."

The club have also been doing some levelling on the outfield. "There is a one and a half inch thatch layer on the outfield and the ground is very slow to dry out if wet," said Andrew. "You don't want that amount of thatch. I would like to reduce it to about a quarter of an inch, similar to a golf green. Thatch is not neccessarily a bad thing, and as we cannot irrigate the outfield it provides an umbrella effect and stops the soil drying as fast. I would like to reduce the thatch with hollow tining rather than scarifying. If we started scarifying it would tear the outfield to bits. The best way is to aerate regularly and not over feed. Since the sward is purely bents and fescues and lots of poa this lean and mean approach works well and the outfield is very dense. Cutting at 8mm and using a mower fitted with groomers keeps the outfield running fast and true."

The club recently bought new lighter mobile covers. Andrew also has at his disposal a Torro ride-on greens machine, an Ammann road roller (four feet wide), a Lloyds Paladin wicket mower as well as aeration equiptment.

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