Gordon Gill, ECB Pitch Advisor for Wiltshire, gives his views on when, how, why, and even if you should start rolling your cricket square.
It's that time of year again. Some will have already started, some will question what all the fuss is about, some will want to start only to find that the roller will not, others will not bother at all, some will not even have a roller. Who is right? Perhaps the question should be, is anybody wrong? There are so many variables. Different soil types and conditions, climatic variations, different size of rollers, is a roller available? Most groundsmen are volunteers and may only be able to roll when time is available, evenings and weekends.
In my role as an ECB Pitch Advisor I see it all, from big heavy bomag types to various forms of pedestrian to not having one at all.
One thing I am absolutely sure of, it has to be done! But how much? And for how long? Generally I would say the more time spent pre-season rolling while the soil is moist the more consistent most wickets will be. But for how long? Who knows!! Anybody who uses the Pitchcare website will know every individual will have their own theories, dependent on their own experiences.
When do we start?
There are two terms used, pre-season and spring rolling. Is there any difference? To be honest, I am not sure. My view is that the first class game carry out pre-season rolling, because they often need grass wickets ready to practice on during March.
Many will have carried out four weeks rolling by the time you read this article. Hence pre-season. However, these will still contain significant moisture. In the recreational game, wickets are not usually required until mid April, so most of us have another couple of weeks to prepare, hence spring rolling.
I like to start my programme of rolling when spring has sprung. I rarely start until the third week in February, but this can be as late as mid March. Ground and weather conditions will always dictate. When do we finish? As soon as we feel we have reached maximum consolidation. Some years that can be as early as the end of March, others the end of April.
A ball park programme will be as follows. From 1st March, roll the square daily for a period of approx six weeks. Bearing in mind that there will be wet days, family days and many other reasons why a daily roll might not take place. By mid April the square should have been passed over at least thirty times. I usually find this acceptable, but occasionally I may do a few more passes.
Many clubs will only have the option of one roller, some may have a choice. The key to success is how you utilise what you have. A 30" or 36" mower is an ideal first roller. Weighing approx 5 cwt it is perfect for the first five or six passes of the square. Adding a trailing seat for another three or four passes can be very beneficial.
If you do not have a heavy mower, you may have to make do with a small pedestrian garden roller, even your small mower, with a weight in the grass box is better than nothing.
If you then have access to a roller of around one tonne in weight, use it for another dozen passes or so. Finally, we get to the heaviest roller. This should be unballasted initially, adding a little extra ballast, after every couple of passes. Every pass of the square I make, I do in a different direction, ie both diagonals and across the line of play. I do not roll in the line of play, until the roller is fully ballasted. This is usually about the time that I am preparing my first wickets of the season.
What is the ideal ground condition?
Science will eventually tell us. Whether we shall be able to measure for optimum conditions remains to be seen. The STRI will be offering a service that will inform us of when we have achieved maximum consolidation, this will of course come at a cost, but could be very useful.
I have not met anyone yet who admits to enjoying spring rolling, so any measure that tells us that we have done enough will be very welcome. I have no desire to spend a moment longer rolling than I need to. In the meantime we all have come to rely on experience and gut feeling.
This takes years to gain, and even then there is a certain amount of guesswork involved. However, I firmly believe in a couple of golden rules. Never put a roller on the square if, when walking on it, your foot brings water to the surface, and never try to do too much rolling in one day. In the early stages at least, I never roll the square more than twice in one day.
Remember that we want to consolidate the square, not make a pudding of it. In the later stages, as the square gets harder, you may be able to make several passes, providing there is warm sunshine, a breeze blowing and you either have several volunteers to help, or that you have plenty of time with nothing else better to do.
All rollers weigh more heavy on the ground the slower they travel so, towards the end of your programme, the roller should be travelling quite slowly. Never ever use any vibrating facility that a roller has. In fact disconnect it, it will only weaken any breaks or separations that exist within the profile, leading to problems with consistent pace and bounce as the soil profile dries.
Poorly maintained squares that have surface thatch, thick fibre, light soils or layering will very rarely improve with lots of rolling. Trying to roll thick thatch and fibre will nearly always be a waste of time, as the surface will only spring back, just as a sponge would, should you roll over one.
For anyone who has read this far and is confused, then I apologise, but I am not surprised. As I stated earlier, there are so many variables. It can be a very difficult subject to get a fix on. However, I am convinced of one thing, you have to do it, it has to be done.
Happy rolling and enjoy a good 2008 season.
Pre-season rolling at Clontarf
It is that time of year again when I have to blow the dust off the rollers and look to start my pre-season rolling programme. A lot of local Groundsmen ask me about pre-season rolling, when to start, how do you know when to start, how much to do, what weight of roller do you use. There are many answers to these questions, and some people would both agree and disagree with all these answers.
What I do tell them is that it's a vital part of preparation for the season ahead. Many local Groundsmen over here are volunteers, and time to work on their square is limited to afternoons and weekends. I also tell them that it is a tedious, time-consuming job but, if they show some patience and self-control to stay off the square with the heavy roller once the sun comes out, they will get the kind of results they are looking for.
I feel it's really a trial and error process. Since I've started working here I've made some mistakes, especially in my early years. I've made the mistake of going on the square with the roller when too wet, but, the most important thing is to learn from this. Now I take note of what rolling I do and the conditions I roll in. It's a good reminder to look back on as a year is a long time to remember when you started rolling the season before.
Over the years I have learned from experience how much to roll and when to roll. Instead of sticking to times and dates I use the experience I've gained. I judge by looking at the square, and feeling the square. It's all about 'ideal conditions'.
I would hope to start rolling during the first two weeks in February. I pre-season roll up to the end of March. We always host Ireland's first Friends Provident home match in mid April so this allows me time to prepare the match pitch.
I try to roll most days but that all depends on the weather. No doubt there will be times when there is frost or constant rain, or even snow, when I may not get on the square for days. I feel little and often gets me the results I want instead of rolling for the whole day once or twice a week. It seems to put less stress on my grass as well. I also roll in as many directions as possible, avoiding rolling in the direction of play until I start wicket preparation.
This all depends on the underfoot conditions. I feel the square for moisture content. If there is any water coming up when you press your foot down it's too wet. Obviously, I am heavily reliant on the weather. For me, its all about consolidating the square slowly but surely. I start off by rolling with my lightest roller, my 24 inch cylinder mower with the blades off. I find this a good start for the square.
I roll with this mower for a few days to prepare the ground for a heavier roller. I then move onto rolling with my Ransomes Mastiff 42inch mower. This is the one I spend most of my time on doing my pre-season work. I start off by walking behind it with no weight in the grass box. As time goes by, and the square is feeling firmer underfoot, but, still with adequate moisture in the ground, I increase the weight by placing some blocks in the grass box, and then some more by using the seat behind the mower. I then move on to rolling with my Autoroller.
There is no water in the wheels, then I gradually add weight by filling the back wheel and then the front. Generally I start with the Autoroller a couple of weeks into March.
I get asked how long I roll for. I don't like saying I roll each pitch for a specific time, as it varies slightly from year to year. I am looking for a 'plasticine' like consistency in the clay. Again, it's down to experience and knowing my square.
At times, during the rolling programme, I keep the grass at a height of 16mm. I also lightly verti-cut during March to encourage the grass to grow upwards. I may also lightly fertilise around this time if I see I have a window to do so. Again, this is generally determined by the weather and if the rolling has gone well. I can stay off the square and allow the fertiliser to wash in. I also keep an eye out for worm casts and treat as required.
There have also been times where I have had to water the square during pre-season. It has not happened that often but, if I see there is no rain forecast for a while, and the square is too dry to take the roller, I get the sprinklers out. On the flip side I am lucky enough to have covers for the whole square, and I do use them, especially during March when I am using the heavy roller and rain is forecast. It is a great luxury as it means I don't have to wait days for the square to dry out.
All squares are cut throughout the winter on a regular basis using an Allett Buffalo 24" (weight 122kg - 269lb).
The main square has fifteen strips. Rolling will start as soon as conditions allow, usually from March onwards The first roll is done using a unballasted Autoroller (1.52 tonne). This will be done across the square.
The second roll will be done corner to corner using the same roller. Usually, we will get both passes done in one day so a faster speed than normal will apply. That equates to 6 hours rolling. The third pass will be opposite corner to corner followed by a fourth pass across the direction of play again.
After five days rolling we will drop the speed to a more normal pitch preparation pace.
Two weeks before the first game, around April 10th, we will start a cycle with a fifth direction added. ie stump to stump, in the direction of play. We aim to achieve four to five hours per wicket pre-season. So, 60-75 hours pre-season rolling.
Once the season is underway, but only when the conditions are drier, we then ballast the roller to two tonnes for pitch preparation.
Our other six squares are only six strips each. but we still aim to do three to four hours preseason on these. Two older T H Whites Autorollers are used for these following exactly the same method. but these are slightly heavier at 1778kg unballasted and 2438kg ballasted. We employ two students over Easter to help achieve this.
Only ninety tracks to roll
Here at St Albans we are preparing to get ready for our pre-season work on our eight squares and two blocks of grass nets - ninety pitches in total!
All our mowers, scarifiers and rollers have been serviced. The squares are about to have their first feed of the year, then we just need the weather to improve!
I will not even start to think about putting a roller on until there are some signs of new growth. This has been as early as the second week in February or well into March; it varies from year to year. I am not in a panic this year even though our first fixtures are in thefirst week of April! This is because, again, we have not had frost deep in the ground this year, so no real frost heave to put back.
As the ground starts to dry and there are signs of new growth we start cutting the square with a 36" Allett mower. We cut every day at 12mm. This is done in different directions over the square as long as this is not causing any ridging. We will then roll with our Stothert & Pitt roller (the roller that nobody likes using!). We tend to roll across the line of play, up and back on the same line, then move over half a roller width. The first time we roll quickly - if this is okay, we roll slower.
This is then the pattern that carries on daily, normally with the bigger rollers. We have a Poweroll and an Autoroller, but used these only if the ground is drying.
As the squares firm up we may lightly scarify if the grass is too dense. This can be the case, as most of our squares are put to bed early with the school finishing its season in mid July.
A couple of weeks before the season the pitch positions are all put in. We keep the corners of the squares in with Bowcom grass carrots screwed into the pitch - just check the diagonal measurements are still the same - it saves a lot of time.
As long as there is moisture in the ground, and it is drying, we will roll the squares; only four passes in one place at a time.
With ninety pitches to do, whenever the conditions are right, we will always have somebody out there!