We are now well into the cricket season, with ground staff working hard to produce playing surfaces for their clubs.
As always, weather conditions continue to dictate the work required on your cricket facility. Every cricket groundsman in the country will be praying for some consistent warmer weather in June, which is more conducive to preparing and repairing cricket wickets.
Grass growth has been poor, therefore shoot and root density will be poor, which may affect the pitches performance in the coming weeks. Facilities that do not have or use pitch covers will also be more vulnerable to the changing weather. These very wet soils will very quickly dry out once we get some sunny weather. I have already seen some badly cracked playing surfaces where the soil has dried out too quickly.
The use of covers (flat or raised) will be invaluable during the preparation of match wickets; take care to ensure any surface water is prevented from running on to the protected pitch.
Keeping some additional grass cover will help retain some soil moisture, thus slowing down the soils capacity for drying out. You may want to consider raising the height of cut on the square by 1mm to maintain some additional grass cover.
Also the wet period will have stimulated the Poa grass species in the square, thus increasing thatch and procumbent growth; regular verticutting will alleviate any thatch build up and stand up the sward prior to mowing.
With the drier weather now expected, the bounce and pace of the wickets should start improving.
Evapotranspiration rates should begin to rise in the coming month, initiating the need to begin watering your facilities. The combined water loss from both the plant and soil surfaces will now be rising due to the warmer weather. Watering will be essential for wicket repairs and preparation. Irrigate uniformly and ensure the right amount is applied.
It is important to ensure that the water gets down deep into the rootzone, to a minimum of 150mm to encourage deep rooting. Check with a probe. Allow to dry out and repeat the irrigation process. Allowing surfaces to remain dry for a period of time 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.
More and more Groundsmen are now taking the opportunity to measure and monitor the performance of their pitches. Having a better understanding of the condition of your square is paramount in deciding on what level of maintenance inputs are required.
The ECB have an excellent guideline booklet, TS4, that provides a wealth of information on construction, preparation and maintenance of cricket pitches.
Taking a number of soil samples on a regular basis helps monitor the condition of your soil profile, enabling you to see for yourself any problems that may be occurring, such as root breaks, poor root growth, soil layering and depth of thatch. All of which can be rectified by appropriate actions. With the advent of digital cameras we now have an excellent tool for recording what we see.
Keeping records are essential; the ECB booklet also promotes the use of Performance Quality Standards (PQS) as part of your management strategy; there are three categories of measurement that relate to the overall quality of a facility.
* The Physical Structure (the profile make up)
* The presentational Quality (the visual impact)
* The Playing Quality (the performance ratings)
Summary of a 14 day match wicket preparation:-
|Day 14 -12||
Cut down to 6mm, hand rake in 2-3 directions to clean out bottom of sward.
|Day 12-10||Soak wicket until water is standing on full length of wicket.|
Roll wicket every day if conditions allow in 3 x 20 min spells with 1.5-2 tonne roller to consolidate and release moisture from wicket. Mow as required to keep sward at desired height (4-6mm).
Keep wicket dry, if possible, with flat sheets.
Use raised covers, if available, to keep wicket dry but still allow air movement.
|Day 3-1||Reduce wicket height to 5mm, mark out using string lines for accuracy.|
|Day 1||Final mowing at 4mm, overmark, set stump holes.|
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 or scar the soil surface, as these scars will be hard to remove as the square dries out.
After match wicket repairs begin with the brushing and sweeping up of any surface debris, soaking the wicket, scarifying, spiking, topdressing and overseeding. Additional work may be required to repair foot hole damage. It is important to carry out good repairs, as you may be required to use this wicket again later on in the season.
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.
The damp outfields have been easily damaged by both the fielders and bowlers who have had to play in wet conditions. Bowlers run ups have particularly been bad, with strong depressions being made during games. There will be a need to infill and restore levels and overseed.
Remember not to neglect the outfield; it too has a major effect on a game if unattended. The outfield should be treated the same as any other natural grass pitch, carrying out regular mowing, aeration and feeding programmes to maintain a healthy sward.