As the cold start to the season continues to bite, experts are saying we have experienced the coldest spring on record across the country. Forecasters are also saying we may well have a heatwave to contend with. Roll on summer!

If June lives up to its billing, then we are in for some great weather and some fantastic cricket with International flavours; the ICC trophy and the Ashes series; what more can we ask for?

By now though, we should now be well into the cricket season with ground staff working hard to produce good quality playing surfaces for their clubs, with weather conditions continuing to dictate the work required on your cricket facility. Tailor your fertilising programmes to your conditions, so to give your square a head start when the weather turns.

The cold north east winds are drying out squares far too quickly, so keeping the square primed for moisture is vitally important in preparing new or used pitches. The cool temperatures are holding back any growth at the moment, so don't be tempted to mow too short, as stressing the sward can damage the plant's chances of recovery.

Most of your work this month will be focused on preparing wickets, as well as your outfield. Pitch preparations, such as mowing and marking, should be in full swing. Using the 10-12 day guideline, try to produce a consistent wicket with fast to medium pace. Be sure to get your lines accurate and straight, and start the month off with a good irrigation of the square if you haven't already done so. Remember to follow any feedback from your soil analysis if applying liquid or granular fertiliser.

As you move through the month, regular mowing of the square will need to be continued whilst preparing pitches. Repairs and renovation to used pitches should be undertaken, paying particular attention to your footholes, as they may require more intense work.

Do not neglect your grass practice nets, as they will also be in need of some remedial work. Try and rotate your netting bays so some recovery can take place to run ups and batting creases. Use the same process as with your footholes, albeit may be on a larger scale.

Do not neglect your outfield either, as this is the largest area of maintenance. It still needs to be carefully managed.

Diary Compiled by Robert Stretton
Massey Ferguson Sports Club

Key Tasks for June

With the drying winds, irrigation is a key management tool, so it will be a case of watering little and often when you can. Cricket clubs who do not have any water at all are often left in the lap of the gods. The use of covers or groundsheets to help protect pitches will increase the moisture content, providing they are not left on too long. Facilities that do not have or use pitch covers will also be more vulnerable to the changing weather.

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 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.

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.

Any period of rain will have stimulated the Poa grass species in the square, thus increasing thatch and procumbent growth; regular Verti- cutting 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. 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, which provides a wealth of information on construction, preparation and maintenance of cricket pitches.

Useful Information for Irrigation

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Soil Tests
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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

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Wicket preparation

Cricket StripThe 10 -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,10 ft; mow out @ 8mm. 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 @ 8 mm, light roll to consolidate surface levels.
DAY 3: Power scarify or Verti cut to remove lateral growth and surface thatch avoiding deep surface disturbance. Mow @ 7 mm. Remove biomass, continue medium light rolling 1000 kg 10-15 minutes.
DAY 4: Test for moisture. Roll pitch increasing to consolidate surface with 1000 kg roller if available.
DAY 5: Scarify with hand rake to remove any surface thatch build up Set & mow @ 6 mm. roll.
DAY 6: Light scarify (lawn rake) to lift sward, mow, roll 20-30 minutes.
DAY 8: Light scarify by hand, mow @ 6 mm, increase weight of roller to 1500- 1700 kg continue rolling 30 minutes reducing speed to consolidate surface. Test for consolidation with key or knife for placidity.
DAY 9: Continue to mow and rolling at slow speed to achieve consolidation. Cover pitch over night to encourage moisture to rise to surface.
DAY 10: Brush / rake lifting any lateral grasses, reduce mower (with a shaver blade) to 4mm, try to avoid scalping. Roll using heavy roller slow speed (crawling) morning & again late afternoon where possible. Cover pitch over night.
DAY 11: Brush & mow pitch, roll morning and afternoon slow as possible (crawling).

DAY 12: Brush, mow & roll to polish surface, test bounce with an old ball along edge of pitch. Continuerolling to consolidate surface. Cover pitch over night.
DAY 13: Brush, mow & roll polish up pitch. Your pitch should effectively have take on a straw like colouration, a sign that preparation has been achieved. String and mark out as in accordance to E.C.B guidelines.

Rolling: The purpose of rolling is to squeeze any 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.

Useful Information for Wicket preparation

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Post match regime

This is the time of the season when most groundsmen will have had a month or more of cricket on their squares. The after care of the pitch is just as important as the preparation. Renovation and repairs should be carried out as soon as possible following the conclusion of a game. After match wicket repairs begin with the brushing and sweeping up of any surface debris, soaking the wicket, scarifying, spiking, topdressing and over seeding. Additional work may be required to repair damage to foot holes. 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.

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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, raking or Verti cutting, aerating and feeding programmes to maintain a healthy sward. A light harrowing/raking helps restore levels and keep surfaces open. Apply balanced fertilisers such as a 9-7-7 as part of your annual maintenance programme to help stimulate growth and recovery.

Aerating the outfield will help to increase aerobic activity and get some much needed oxygen around the grass plants root system. Regular spiking and, if possible, an application of sand dressings to the profile will definitely improve soil water movement in the top 100mm.You may wish to hollow core your outfields and then brush the cores back into the surface (recycling the existing material); this also helps to restore levels, reduce thatch and helps speed up the surface.

Ideally, whilst maintaining a cutting height of between 10-14 mm, many outfields tend to be undulating and uneven, preventing close mowing at these heights and, in reality, most are probably mown at a height between 12-25 mm. Also the type of mower used will dictate what height of cut can be achieved.

Rotary mowers tend to scalp undulating ground, where, as boxing off with a cylinder or a hydraulic gang mower with floating heads can give a better finish. Outfields which have been predominantly over seeded with rye grasses are subject to stress if mown to short. Fescues and Smooth stalked meadow grasses are quite tolerant to close mowing and are less likely to be stressed out.

Other Tasks for the Month
  • Clean down and carry out service of machinery after use.

  • Keep you garage and storage areas clean and tidy.

  • Inspect flat sheets, covers and other cricket equipment, checking for wear and tear and that they are fit for purpose.

  • If you use a white line for your boundary, make sure it is clearly visible for match days.