hagley cc and envillegc june09 007.jpgJuly should, hopefully, provide some favourable soil and air temperatures to finally promote some decent grass growth and, more importantly, give you the drying weather to help prepare firmer wickets.

The recent hot, dry weather has dried out many cricket tables, with some showing some very heavy cracking caused by the shrinking of the clay soils. The extent of cracking will be down to the type of clay soil/clay loam you are using, the heavier clay soils tend to shrink and dry out more substantially. Maintaining grass cover and keeping the soils in a moist condition will help prevent the extent of cracking.

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.

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. If you do not have an adequate water supply then you are likely to face some problems. Clay 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 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 plastic sheets. The decision when and how long to use them is often down to experience, there are no hard or fast rules. 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 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.

In July you would be looking to use a 12:0:9 or 9:7:7 or similar compound fertiliser blend, or apply a slow release fertiliser to see you through to August. The choice of material and how well it works will be dependant on factors such as soil type and weather, with moisture and soil temperature being the catalyst for growth. The performance of slow release fertilisers can be influenced by the weather, often producing a flush of growth when you least expect it. Some grounds managers use straight compound granular or liquid fertilisers which activate when in contact with moist soil conditions, effectively stimulating grass growth within days.

Sweep up all debris and mow the 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.

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.

Summary of a 14 day match wicket preparation:-

Day Task
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.
Day 10-1

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).

Day 10-5

Keep wicket dry, if possible, with flat sheets.

Day 5-1

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.

After Care of the Wicket

This is the time of the season when most groundsmen will have had at least a month's cricket on their squares. The after care of the pitch is just as important as the preparation. Renovation and after care treatment must be carried out as soon as possible following the conclusion of the game.

As soon as the match has finished sweep and mow the whole of the pitch at final cut height to remove as much debris as possible, such as studs, from the surface so as not to damage your machinery. Then, thoroughly soak the pitch by hand in order to penetrate the surface, ensuring not to pass the 5 foot marks as the ends need to be kept dry at this stage.

When the surface has partially dried off, sarrel roll or spike with a similar type of equipment, this will help offset any compaction created by the heavy rolling during the preparation process; it will also aerate the surface and produce a good seed bed. Overseed the pitch with perennial rye grass by use of a mechanical or pedestrian spreader and apply a low nitrogen fertiliser at a rate recommended by the manufacturer.

By using germination sheets this will speed up the process of recovery of the pitch. It is of no benefit to merely scatter seed over the used pitch and leave it. In order that the seed has a better chance of germinating it is important that the seed is well worked or brushed into the holes created by the sarrel roller.

The next important step is to carry out repairs to the batsmen and bowlers' foot marks. These areas may be relatively deep, especially if repairs have not been carried out during 2 days or more of cricket on the same pitch. For repairs, use only the wicket loam native to your pitch's. This will help in the binding of the soils during recovery.

Firstly, prepare a stock of preferred virgin wicket soil to just a damp stage but still quite firm. You should be able to squeeze it together in your hand like plastercine. If you had your topdressing delivered in bags there should have sufficient moisture to carry out your repairs, if not dampen while still in the bag and leave overnight or until required. If you are repairing the ends where the pitch is being taken out of play then add some grass seed to your mix, this will assist in the germination process and speed up recovery.

The tools required will be a lump hammer, fine spray water bottle, a rammer (elephant's foot used for tarmacing), a fork and a plastering trowel.

To start, sweep in the same direction as you would for intervals, paying attention to the foot holes created by the bowlers and the deep scars from the batsmen. Put the sweepings to one side. When swept ram the dry holes very firmly and any spots the bowlers may have moved. Hammering the edges to where the damages ceases is important as it will create an edge for the new soil to be rammed against as it is hammered into place.

When the hole is prepared, give the area a light watering and ensure all parts are dampened including outside of the foot hole. Let the sign of any water dry or soak well in before starting to fill the hole.

Using the fork prick the base to create holes for the topdressing to fill, this will help in the keying of the soils. Fill the foothole with soil and hammer into the edges. This pushes the new soil against the edges you have prepared. Continue to add more soil, filling in the drill holes, you should be able to ram and hammer the soil with little or any soil sticking to the hammer.

If this happens the soil is too wet and you will need to use a drier mix. You need to know your soil to get the moisture right. When the hole is completely filled use the elephant's foot to ensure the edges are consolidated and there are no depressions in the foot hole. If so, continue to fill until level with the ground.

Always use a straight edge to level off the surrounds to prevent raised ends and a saucer shaped square! When you are satisfied, spray the surface with water. Using the plastering trowel, smear the surface until it is smooth and shiny, and cover with the sweepings you have saved.

The sweepings are much better than grass cuttings if you want the ends to dry quicker, but if it's germination you require then the ideal situation would be to use a germination sheet. It might be a good idea to keep some of your dried clippings on hand for future use if you have more than one pitch to repair.

It may require trial and error to get the moisture content just right for your soil. The time taken to do your ends will be about 30 - 40 minutes depending on the extent of the damage. The players and umpires will appreciate your hard work and efforts as well as a lot of self satisfaction.

Remember - good patching on your pitches is the icing on the cake. Do not be afraid to ask the umpires if you can carry out any remedial work during a game preferably between innings or overnight. You may need their OK.

Bob Stretton
Massey Ferguson Sport Club
Coventry