July Cricket Diary
By Laurence Gale MSc
June was extremely dry for most parts of the country, some areas in the South East received less than 6mm of rain in the entire month. Coupled with the fine sunny weather we could assume that many cricket clubs have had the ideal month of weather for preparing and repairing pitches.
However, this would have only been achieved if they had an adequate amount of water available to maintain plant growth and soak the wickets for preparations. Water is essential for repairing and preparing wickets, together with the use of sheets and covers to control the rate the clay soils dry out.
The weather forecast for July is set for much the same, high air temperatures and fine sunny weather with the odd bout of stormy weather.
Not all clubs have an adequate supply of water or indeed adequate water pressure on or near the square, and so have to rely on the weather to provide enough rainfall to keep the sward alive. Some cricket clubs may have also been affected by the drought orders recently imposed in the South East.
If you do not have an adequate water supply then you are likely to face some problems. Clays soils are prone to shrinking in dry weather, the surface will soon begin to crack up, especially on bare soil areas where there is insufficient root growth to bind the soils together. Other causes of cracking clays can be associated with the aeration techniques used and when these operations were carried out.
The physical pressure of exerting a tine or blade through clay soils will fracture the soil profile. Most groundsmen, if they do choose to aerate their squares, generally aerate in late Autumn (October / November), and certainly not after December because they do not want to run the risk of these aeration holes opening up once these soils begin drying out during the playing season.
I recently witnessed a cricket square that had been earthquaked (a linear aeration technique) that slit the soil profile at 200mm centres and to a depth of 200mm in February. The end result was that the square suffered serious cracking along the drainage slit which will undoubtedly affect pitch playability and could be deemed unsafe for play.
The use of covers and flat sheets are essential for controlling the amount of moisture in your soil profile. You are generally using them to protect the soil from rain or on the other hand you are using them to prevent the pitch from drying out, getting the balance right is often a tough call.
Flat sheets come in various forms, some are breathable others are simply a plastic sheet. The decision when and how long to use them is often down to experience, there are no hard or fast rules in their use. However, leaving flat sheets down too long can cause a deterioration of the sward, it can turn a yellow colour and become weak and elongated due to the lack of sunlight and air being available whilst covered. Also, you may have induced the ideal microclimate that will suit the promotion of disease pathogens.
Soil and air temperatures are increasing, so grass growth this month is likely to be prolific, especially when there is sufficient soil moisture and nutrients present. The long daylight hours increase the amount of photosynthesis taking place in the grass plant. The net result is more frequent mowing, feeding and watering to maintain a stress free sward.
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.
Water is essential for wicket repairs. It is important to soak the wickets after matches, this gives you the opportunity to work on the damaged areas and carry out the required repairs.
Make good use of your covers and sheets to control moisture levels, you need optimal moisture levels in the soil profile for effective rolling and wicket preparations.
Sweep up all debris and mow wicket to clean up the surface, repair any footmarks, batsman scars and divots. Check for lost shoe studs that may damage mower blades. Repairing foot holes requires removing all loose debris; spike bottom of 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.
With regard to mowing machinery be sure to keep them clean and serviced. You cannot afford to have a breakdown during the peak growing period. Keep an eye on fluid levels and remember to check your height of cut and sharpness of cutting blades. Badly adjusted mowers will affect grass cutting operations, leading to problems of scalping, ribbing and tearing of the grass surface, which in turn leads to the grass plant suffering from stress and being vulnerable to disease.