Cricket For All?
By Nick Jones
The Disability Discrimination Act applies to all sports clubs and organisations. Immediately, most people would think about access to buildings, but what about access to the actual grounds?
If a club has spent thousands of pounds on ensuring a clubhouse is accessible for use by disabled people then it is important to ensure these facilities are used, and one way to do that is to actively encourage disabled groups to play the sport.
Assuming that the buildings and pavilion are accessible, how can we ensure that the pitch is also suitable to meet the requirements of all those who may wish to use it? What considerations will groundsmen need to take into account when preparing a wicket and pitch suitable for everyone?
In essence, nothing that a groundsman is not already doing and working towards - a hard, dry playing surface which has a good root base from its grass coverage, giving it a consistent bounce and pace for play to take place on.
Preparing for disabled cricket requires the same considerations afforded to everyone else in the club and starts in the autumn after the end of a season. 'Putting the wicket to bed' for the winter is a key activity forming part of the preparation for the following season.
This is when any unevenness and poor grass coverage is remedied by redressing the square and reseeding it and levelling off any humps or hollows formed in the season.
Throughout the winter regular cutting and spiking of the square is essential (more so with the recent mild winters). This will promote good grass growth and coverage and strong and deep root growth, the key to bind a wicket together when all the grass has been cut-off!
However, to get the hard and consistent playing surface which will benefit players of all standards and abilities, rolling the wicket in the pre-season makes a huge difference. Rolling recompacts the playing surface and grass root structure to leave it hard and ready to take the wear from bowlers and batsmen spikes, and even wheelchair users.
The effect wheelchair players might have on a square is not really something that needs consideration. A quick look at the type of wear one gets from a fast bowler or the drag that some slow bowlers have roughing and gouging the wicket or batsmen digging the surface, it is clear that a wheelchair player will not be able to damage the wicket in the same way or in a worse way. In fact, the surface of a good wicket - dry, very short grass, hard - is not too dissimilar to a hard floor surface, which is fairly easy for wheelchair users to move around on.
It is possible that rutting or scorching from the wheels could be a problem, but the reality is that unless the wicket is soft and wet there will be no rutting. If it is soft and wet it's debatable whether the game should be played anyway. Soft, spongy wickets do not offer competitive playing conditions for any standard of cricket and therefore would not realistically be considered suitable for play.
This is particularly important early in the season when damage to a wicket and square due to soft playing conditions can render it unsuitable for play for weeks and months into the season - something a groundsman wants to avoid at all costs.
Other mobility aids such as crutches or spring loaded artificial prosthetic legs will cause slight indentations but probably less than that caused by any player's spikes and bats. In fact, overall, the wear and tear on a wicket from disabled players is expected to be less than their able bodied counterparts due to the less explosive and physical nature of their play.
Artificial pitches are sometimes thought of as the solution to allow for disabled cricketers to play. However, just as an artificial wicket is not an ideal surface for able-bodied cricketers the same is true for people who use mobility aids. The nap of the pitchand length of astroturf can affect the manoeuvrability of the wheelchair - important when trying to pick up a crucial catch! As a training option, artificialpitches will have the same importance it has in able-bodied cricket.
It is a useful facility for practising drills and techniques and is an option if the wicket is too wet to use, but a game needs to be played on natural turf. In putting forward these thoughts and to allay the concerns of groundsmen and clubs when offering their facilities for use by disabled cricketers, we have also taken advice from the ECB and their developmentofficers for guidance.
But let's not forget the key aim here; it's about encouraging people to play and enjoy cricket. The preparation of a ground is about providing the environment for people to achieve this, giving all people of all abilities the opportunity to participate.
Nick Jones is the newly elected Chairman of Surrey Cricket Groundsmen