August Cricket Diary
By Laurence Gale MSc
What a glorious summer we're having, probably the longest period of sustained dry weather for many a year, temperatures into the high 90's with little or no significant rain for many weeks, particularly in the south east of England.
I am sure the cricketers have enjoyed playing on the hard fast tracks, however, spare a thought for the poor Groundsman, his wickets have probably had a right hammering with lots of wear and tear. Much of the grass, particularly on the outfields, has been burnt to a frazzle. Apart from the main test grounds, county grounds and maybe some minor county and private school sites, watering facilities available leave a lot to be desired. The majority of clubs barely have enough to water for their squares.
Clay soils require a certain amount of water to make them pliable for rolling and repairing, together with the key fact that grass plants need water to function effectively. Once a grass plant goes into drought stress it begins to close down growth cycles both in the leaves and roots; as root mass declines so does the binding strength of the soil.
Once we get into a situation of deep drying soils the wickets are then prone to damage and breaking up, with the added problem that they will take a lot of water to revive them.
Watering is a problem at the best of times. There's never enough time to get the job done due to fixtures being played or pitches being prepared. This summer, with the heat, watering during the day was pointless; as fast as it was watered it was evaporating.
Water pressure is often the biggest problem for many Groundsmen, not having enough to drive the sprinklers or enough to get the job done quickly. The knock on effect of poor water resources includes:
Outfields are often prone to drying out as many clubs do not have sufficient or adequate facilities to water these large areas. However, allowing surfaces to remain dry can lead to problems of dry patch, a condition that prevents water infiltration into the soil and thus forming areas of non-uniform turf quality.
To help overcome dry patch the use of wetting agents have now become an integral part of the maintenance regime with applications on a monthly basis throughout the summer.
Take care when applying fertilisers, there needs to be sufficient soil moisture present to activate these products. Fertiliser treatment and turf tonic can be continued in accordance with your annual programme. If you haven't got a fertiliser programme, have your soil tested; try an independent soil analysis company for an impartial set of results.
Most facility managers will have already applied their summer fertilisers, with the intention that the programme will see them through to the autumn when ground conditions will be more favourable for applying fertilisers.
Applying fertilisers when ground conditions are dry and arid is not viable, as the plant cannot make use of the nutrients. Dry soils do not allow effective transport of nutrients into the grass plant. Soils have to be in a wetted state to enable efficient transfer of nutrients to the plant.
Having an appropriate irrigation system, however, will allow you to fertilise as and when required. Many groundsmen are now moving towards the little and often approach, applying smaller doses of fertiliser to cater for the plant's requirements at that particular time.
Care should be taken when fertilising the square, initiating green lush growth on a wicket you are about to prepare is the last thing you want to achieve as it will have an affect on the performance of the wicket.
Disease can become quite prevalent when turf is under stress, especially during dry periods. Lack of moisture in the soil often effects the transmission of nutrients to the plant, thus stressing out the plant and making it prone to disease attack. Keep an eye on fungal disease attack, and use approved fungicides to treat infected areas.
Wicket preparations and repairs are ongoing. Mowing of the square and outfield should be undertaken on a regular basis to maintain heights of cut. The square should be maintained at between 6-14mm and the outfield between 12-25mm.
Continue to verticut, training the grass to grow vertically. If you don't have a verticut option then use a drag brush to help stand the grass up prior to mowing. If using verticutting units be careful not to mark/scar the soil surface, as these scars will be hard to remove as the square dries out.
Portable covers are very useful in protecting surfaces during inclement weather. Covers are used to control the soil moisture content of cricket wickets especially when preparing for play.
The use of heavy ballast rollers should be implemented to help prepare the wickets for matches, making sure it is done under the correct surface conditions, when the soil is moist but not too wet. Carrying out a Proctor soil test will help determine the correct timing of rolling. A simpler method is to stick a knife or slit tine into the soil profile and see if it comes out clean. If it does, it's the right time to roll. Rolling should start and finish in line with the direction of play.
Ideal rolling conditions would suggest the soil be in a state of plasticity or "plasticine". Consolidation will still be your aim throughout the season. The pitch is required to be consolidated throughout to a depth of no less than 100mm.
Proctor testing is used to evaluate the compaction characteristics of the soil. This test determines the maximum density the soil can be compacted to, and at what moisture content the soil is most prone to compaction. Proctor testing is useful in determining how compacted a soil is in the field. Proctor test (click on link to see details of carrying out a proctor test).
Preparation of the pitch should start ten days prior to a game. Mark out your cutting area with string, nails, paint or markers to obtain a straight cutting line. Your first cut should be as accurate as possible because it becomes very difficult to correct inconsistencies when the pitch is cut more prominently.
Start by hand scarifying to stand the grass up, this tool will not mark the soil surface. Cut the pitch once and repeat the process again. Dependant on weather, you may need to water. Ensure you irrigate to a good depth, you may need to cover to prevent evaporation.
Once surface water has gone you can then begin to roll. Roll pitch until the surface is visibly dry. Continue to roll each day in the run up to the match, checking the consolidation by bouncing a cricket ball on the soil surface or testing the resistance by inserting a metal rod into the surface.
The wicket can be left uncovered unless you have weather that is too wet, windy or sunny. During these conditions the wicket should be covered.
Continue to reduce the height of cut until no more grass can be removed without scalping the surface. Marking out the crease should be done with care, using frames or string lines to help achieve clear, straight lines.
Sweep up all debris and mow the wicket to clean up the surface, repair any footmarks and batsman scars, divots. Check for lost shoe studs that may damage mower blades. Repairing foot holes requires removing all loose debris, spike bottom of the hole to prepare a key for the new soil material, water and then apply new material and seed. Leave proud and cover with grass clippings to prevent the repair drying out too quickly.
Seeding of the ends where the grass is weak, sparse or bare can be continued and the rise in temperature will help germination. Use germination sheets to aid this process but remove the sheets regularly to check for diseases. Remember that without good seed to soil contact the operation is useless.
Ensure you use new seed as old material may not give you the required germination rates.