cricket-judging-2008-024_website.jpgIt is surprising how quickly the weather can change and influence ground conditions. Soil temperatures should soon be getting into double figures thus stimulating some much needed grass growth.

With reference to worm control, you will be wasting your time applying carbendazim during these cold spells, it is best to wait untill the soil warms up significantly to ecourage some worm activity.

Squares that are lying wet are best left alone until they dry out enough to get on without smearing the soil. You will do more damage trying to work on the square in these conditions. Also, rolling in wet conditions will not achieve any consolidation. It is best to be patient and wait for favourable ground conditions.

I know many of you are under pressure to get your facilities up to speed now that there is probably less than a fortnight left before your first game. You will soon catch up once the weather improves.

It is not necessarily about how much rolling you carry out, it is ensuring the rolling is undertaken during optimum conditions, having enough moisture in the soil profile to allow good consolidation. There are some new guidelines on rolling aimed at both professional and volunteer ground staff, and are available to download from the Cranfield website at www.cranfield.ac.uk/sas/sst/rolling or from the ECB website at www.ecb.co.uk/rolling

Pre-season rolling involves gradually build up the weight by moving onto the next size of cylinder mower and adding weights to the grass box. The big roller should then be coming out of the shed to really get consolidation right for the season. Ideal rolling conditions would suggest the soil be in a state of plasticity, or "plasticine" like. Consolidation is your aim and the quality of pre-season rolling will show when you produce your early season pitches. The pitch is required to be consolidated throughout to a depth of no less than 100mm. This can only be achieved with gradual build up of roller weight.

The use of covers is extremely useful in the preparation, the ability to control the drying out of the soil profile is essential in the production of good wickets. However, there is a considerable skill in using covers, knowing when and how long to keep them on. Ideally, having access to both flat and raised covers enables you to have greater scope in controlling the needs of your square. Flat sheet covers are usually used at the start of pitch preparations to control the moisture in the pitch during your early rolling, whilst the raised covers are used primarily for drying out the square before play.

April is a very busy and often very stressful time for cricket Groundsmen. In most cases there are a couple of weeks left to complete all the preparation work before the first match, often played in the third week of April. However, with the evenings not getting dark until 8.00 pm this does allow additional time to complete necessary works.

There seems so much to do :-

* Rolling

* Mowing

* Feeding

* Watering

* Moving covers

* Wicket preparation and marking out

* Preparing and setting up practice net areas

* Setting site screens

* Putting out summer furniture

* Repairing worn areas

Soil and air temperatures should begin to rise substantially in April, thus stimulating grass growth both on the square and outfields. There will be a need to increase the regularity of cutting to maintain designated cutting height. The application of spring fertilisers will also increase the vigour and rate of sward growth. You can begin to apply some low Nitrogen based fertilisers. Ideally, get your soils sampled for nutrients, organic matter content and soil pH. This information will help decide on the appropriate course of action with regard to applying the correct NPK balance for your site.

Liquid fertilisers are becoming popular again. Modern products have been refined to act more efficiently, their mode of action allows the active nutrient ingredients to get into the plant tissue more quickly, and thus you tend to see a faster response to plant growth when using these products. Granular products have to rely on the granule breaking down, becoming mobile in the soil and then taken into the plant via the root system.

Wetting agents can now be applied, this is usually done on a monthly basis. The use of wetting agents will be a good tool for ensuring that any rain has the chance to soak deeper into the soil profile and not simply run off the playing surface.

Also, the recently launched Scotts Primo Maxx growth regulator has shown a lot of promise and may be a good product to control plant growth, whilst at the same time reducing the amount of clippings produced and also reducing the amount of water lost through the stomata by respiration.

Square

Mowing heights are:-

Height Time of year
25mm September - February
15mm March (depending on weather conditions)
8-12mm April-September (playing season)
5-6mm Wicket preparation
4mm
Final cut for match


Wicket Preparations

The square must be "squared off" very soon. By using semi-permanent markings, this operation can be made very simple; use the 3,4,5 system to produce your right angles.

Continue to brush daily to remove moisture from the grass surface and, also, this will allow for a much better standard of cut.

Light scarification or verticutting can be carried out at fortnightly intervals pre-season. Removing vertically growing grasses and surface organic matter is always beneficial for the onset of pitch preparation. Together with brushing, this will improve your quality of cut.

The 14 day prep shown below is only a guide, most groundsmen will have their own interpretation of these activities

Day

Task

Day 14 -12 Cut down to 6mm with mower (9 bladed), hand rake 2-3 directions with appropriate rake to clean out debris from the sward.
Day 12-10 Soak wicket until water is standing on full length of wicket.
Day 10 -1
Rolling wicket in 3 x 20 min spells 1.5-2 ton roller, consolidate and release moisture from wicket.
Day 10-5 Keep wicket dry with flat sheets/covers, if you have any.
Day 5-1 Use raised covers to keep wicket dry but still allow air movement.
Day 3-1 Reduce height of cut to 5mm (using 11 bladed mower), mark out wicket, use string lines for accuracy.
Day 1 Final mowing at 4mm, overmark, set stump holes.

Seeding of the ends where the grass is either weak, sparse or bare can be undertaken. The rise in temperature will help germination, along with germination sheets. Remove the sheets regularly to check for diseases. Remember that without good seed to soil contact the operation is useless.

Outfields should be be mown and maintained at between 12 and 20mm.

Worm treatments can be carried out, if needed, use carbendazim.

Harrowing/raking helps restore levels and keeps surfaces open.

Some cricket outfields are often maintained as winter pitches, the amount of work required to be carried out may be determined by whether the outfield is being used for other sports (football/rugby/hockey).

As with the square, a fertiliser treatment in accordance with your annual programme.

General

If you have access to a core sampler, then take a core from the edge of a pitch on a length, i.e. between 2 pitches. What are the roots like? Are they white? Are they 100mm or deeper? How do you think your square will play this season? Make notes because, without some kind of record, how can you improve the surface for the future?

Your covers - are they ready for action? No repairs needed? All machinery in good order? Remember, covers are used a lot in our climate for protecting the pitch under preparation from both rain and sun.

Keep an eye open for turf disease. The combination of moist soils and surface moisture on the leaf blade can increase the susceptibility to disease attack. Regular brushing in the mornings to remove the dew from the playing surfaces will reduce the likelihood of disease outbreak.

Ongoing inspection and cleaning of machinery after use. All machinery should now have been returned from any servicing in time for use.

Keep a good supply of materials such as loam and seed at hand for repairs and maintenance. Materials for spring remedial works should be booked to avoid disappointment or delay.

Net areas require a lot of up keep, ensure that they are safely erected and secure.