cricket-judging-2008-024_website.jpgAfter a winter of snow, freezing temperatures and rain it is surprising how quickly the weather can change and influence ground conditions. With spring, hopefully, on its way and summer just around the corner soil temperatures should soon begin to rise, thus stimulating some much needed grass growth.

With reference to worm control though, you will be wasting your time and money applying worm suppressants such as Carbendazim while the soil temperatures are still cool, it is best to wait until the soil warms up significantly to encourage 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. Rolling in wet conditions will not achieve any consolidation. It is best to be patient and wait for favourable ground conditions. Less haste the more pace.

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 for both professional and volunteer groundstaff, 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 or adding weights to the grass box. The big roller should then be coming out of the shed to really get consolidation right for the start of 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, speed and timing.

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. Having access to either flat or raised roll on roll off 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 pitch before play.

April is a very busy month, and often a very stressful time for cricket Groundsmen. In most cases there are only a couple of weeks 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 around 8.00pm, 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
* Boundary markings
* Putting out summer furniture
* Repairing worn areas

Soil and air temperatures should begin to rise substantially as we move into 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 and summer fertilisers will also increase the vigour and rate of sward growth.

You should be able to begin to apply some low Nitrogen based fertilisers. Ideally, get your soils sampled for nutrients, organic matter content and soil pH where possible. 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. Aerating the out field prior to this operation is required but not necessary but is always good management practice. See Pitchcare Shop for a range of fertilisers.

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, Scott's 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

If you haven't managed to retain your corners to the square, the square must be "squared off". By using semi-permanent markings, this operation can be made very simple using the 3, 4, 5 system to produce your right angles.

Continue to brush daily to remove moisture from the grass surface, 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 12 day prep shown below is only a guide; most groundsmen will have their own interpretation of these activities:

DAY 1 String out pitch lines to ensure correct width, 10ft; Mow out @ 6mm. Always double mow (up and down the same line), using an 8 bladed pedestrian cylinder mower for maintaining the square. Test the pitch with a key or knife for moisture. Water the pitch thoroughly in the event that the pitch has dried out through pre season rolling.
DAY 2 Brush / light rake, mow @ 6mm, light roll to consolidate surface levels.
DAY 3 Power scarify or verti cut, @ 3mm to remove lateral growth and surface thatch avoiding deep surface disturbance. Mow @ 5mm. Remove biomass, continue medium light rolling 1000kg 10-15 minutes.
DAY 4 Test for moisture. Roll pitch increasing to consolidating surface with 1000kg roller if available.
DAY 5 Power scarify @ 3mm below the surface remove any thatch build up. Set & mow @ 4mm. Roll.
DAY 6 Light scarify (lawn rake) to lift sward, mow, roll 20-30 minutes.
DAY 7 DAY OFF
DAY 8 Light scarify by hand, mow @ 4mm, increase weight of roller to 1500- 1700kg continue rolling 30 minutes reducing speed to consolidate surface. Test for consolidation with key or knife for plasticity.
DAY 9 Continue mowing and rolling at slow speed to achieve consolidation. Cover pitch overnight to encourage moisture to rise to surface.
DAY 10 Brush / rake lifting any lateral grasses, reduce mower (with a shaver blade) to 3mm, try to avoid scalping. Roll using heavy roller slow speed (crawling) morning and again the late afternoon where possible. Cover pitch overnight.
DAY 11 Brush and mow pitch, roll morning and afternoon slow as possible (crawling). Polish surface & test ball bounce edge of pitch. Cover pitch overnight.
DAY 12 Brush, mow and roll to polish surface and test ball bounce along edge of pitch. Continue rolling to consolidate surface. Cover pitch overnight.
DAY 13 Brush, mow and roll polish up pitch. Your pitch should effectively take on a straw like coloration, a sign that the preparation has been achieved. String and mark out as in accordance to E.C.B guild lines.


HagleyRolling2.jpg

The purpose of rolling is to squeeze the remaining air out of the pore spaces and to consolidate the surface up to 100mm. Rolling is best performed when there is sufficient moisture in the pitch before the ground dries out. In the event of drought, syringing is advisable to assist keying the surface and helps polish the pitch.

Seeding of the ends where the grass is 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 mown and maintained at between 12 and 20mm.

Worm treatments can be carried out, if soil temperatures have raised; 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).

lilleshall cricket testing 039.jpg

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 for preparation and play, 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 diseases like Fusarium, ( Microdocium nival) and Red Thread. 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 is essential to good management practices. All machinery should now have been returned from any servicing in time for use.

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

Practice net areas require a lot of maintenance and up keep, ensure that they are safely erected and secure. Risk assessments should always be carried out before use.

Robert Stretton
Massey Ferguson Sports Club
Coventry