0 ECB pitch advisor chats openly

Editor: Welcome to the latest in our Pitchcare live interviews, we are pleased to welcome Jon Buddington, an ECB pitch advisor, to answer questions on everything to do with cricket maintenance. Feel free to submit questions to Jon, and I will filter them in during the course of the discussion when appropriate.

Editor: Hello Jon, thanks for being with us this evening

Jon Buddington: Hello, Thanks for inviting me onto Pitchcare

Editor: I suppose I ought to ask you a little about your working history.

Jon Buddington: I left school in 1984 and attended City & Guilds in horticulture, where my main placement was at Roker Park, Home of Sunderland football club

Editor: Well, how did you move onto cricket maintenance?

Jon Buddington: I was playing rugby for Sunderland Rugby Club, and their venue was a multi sport facility, the club offered me a position as a trainee Groundsman, which I grabbed at the time

Editor: What year was that Jon?

Jon Buddington: It was about 1987, but can I add, the facility was superb, the people in charge looked after me and paid for me to go on courses at Durham Horticultural College to get my NVQ'S level 2 and 3

Editor: That's great, what experience did you gain, while at the club?

Jon Buddington: The club hosted some of the Durham 2nd team fixtures and also the Sunderland CC played in the Durham Senior Premier league.

Editor: A very high standard was played there then, is this where your love of cricket came from?

Jon Buddington: Yes I was lucky to work under the guidance of one on the most respected Groundsmen in Durham at the time, Burt Boston, he taught me an awful lot

Editor: You must have gained a lot of technical expertise from him?

Jon Buddington: He taught me the value of scientifically proven techniques, rather than anecdotal pass-me-downs, if you know what I mean by that.

Editor: I do know exactly what you mean, I am forever listening to Groundsmen who follow procedures like old wives tales. You must meet that all the time as well Jon?

Jon Buddington: It is an unfortunate aspect of the recreational game that the average Groundsman tend not to follow detailed soil analysis and particle size distribution and most importantly compatibility of soils

Editor: Indeed, perhaps now is the time to talk about these more in depth, starting with the latter, compatibility of soils, what does that mean Jon?

Jon Buddington: Well, most importantly the clay content within the sand, silt, clay and organic matter in the dressing must be compatible with what is already existing in the square. All to often, Groundsmen will top dress with what they feel, or what they have been told is best for them, or what is cheapest and available at the time.

Editor: Is false advice a big problem?

Jon Buddington: The main problem with advice is that very often it isn't qualified advice, in other words it's not backed up by a soil analysis.

Editor: Some people think that a soil analysis isn't that important, how often would you advocate doing one?

Jon Buddington: If you're thinking about changing your loam dressings or you are new to the facility, or planning some major renovation then getting a soil analysis should be your first step, even before starting up a machine! If you already know what you're dealing with, then I wouldn't expect to do core samples more than every couple of years, although nutrient and ph tests should be carried out at least annually, particularly before planning any fertiliser programs

Editor: Have you got more to add about soil compatibility?

Jon Buddington: Oh yes, for instance if you have a square with a clay content of 26% you would not want to be over dressing with a loam containing 35% clay

Editor: One of the standard questions I get asked is 'how do I change my wickets from being low and slow?'. How can you change the clay content then to improve the hardness of the wicket?'

Jon Buddington: After a core sample analysis, which would normally run to a depth of 30cm, which in the recreation game would ideally show the indigenous soil under the square, the heavier the underlying soil the easier it will be to produce a harder, faster surface.

Editor: Can you explain that a little further please Jon?

Jon Buddington: Yes of course, lighter soils absorb the force of a pitched ball and don't necessarily release that force back out. This is mainly due to the pore space between particles, the more air space or pore space the more force that is absorbed by the ground. Clay soils have far less pore spaces therefore air, because the clay particles are much smaller themselves and lock together very well. So the more clay the harder and faster the surface

Editor: Ok, if that's the case why not have a 100% clay loam?

Jon Buddington: Good question, the clay on its own would be just one particle size, therefore it wouldn't be mechanically able to bind. A soil needs particle size distribution, i.e. similar amounts of clay, silt and sand to provide a binding surface along with a small amount of organic matter for water and nutrient retention.

Editor: In Australia, I'd heard that the wickets were as high as 70% clay, is that right?

Jon Buddington: That is correct, but with the British weather a square with those sorts of proportions would be like a pudding most if not all of the summer season-let alone the winter!

Editor: Yes but you said that proportions should be even, so why in Australia can they have much higher clay content?

Jon Buddington: Because in this country, we need to allow evaporation of water trapped in the soil, causing the particles to draw together making the surface harder. It still comes down to the weather, and with the recent test games in Australia, the surfaces haven't seen rain for two years, so obviously there isn't the need for this to take place and they can afford a much higher clay content. The wickets there don't need to draw out moisture from any depth, because of the permanent state of dryness.

Editor: That's very interesting, moving on, can you explain your role as an ECB pitch advisor?

Jon Buddington: Each county has one senior advisor and a number of assistants depending on the size of the county. The advisors are employed by the county, and work within the county control. All advisors must be able to assess pitches to a standard that is recognised nationally and conforms to ECB/IOG performance quality standards.

Editor: That sounds like a mouthful, what does that mean in layman's terms?

Jon Buddington: It means that we're here to help and advise 'anyone' who wants to gain knowledge, advice and help on their cricket square.

Editor: How are you and the other ECB advisors contactable then?

Jon Buddington: Through the county cricket development officers, any club can obtain their local advisor. For me, when a club gets in contact, I arrange a suitable time and day and go along to offer my services in any way I can.

Editor: If I was a club, and I had invited you along Jon, what sort of help, advice could you offer me?

Jon Buddington: If you can pinpoint the main reason for the visit, we will no doubt start at that point, for example, if your pitch was offering inconsistent bounce we will, through core sample analysis, both visually and chemically, determine the root of the problem.

Editor: What are the common problems that you meet at local clubs?

Jon Buddington: Well, I suppose if you list them, then severe surface thatch, root breaks, too high a fibrous content, weed infestation, inconsistent loam dressings, a buried thatch layer, annual meadow grass, severe crowning of Rye grass, the list goes on and dare I say, all of these are usually the result of poor cultural practice.

Editor: On that point, one of our member questions asks will the grass on my square thicken out during Feb/March?

Jon Buddington: The growth habit of rye grass, Lolium perenne, is to crown outwards as well as vertically, so therefore the more grams per square metre that you sow during autumn renovation will reduce crowning and produce a denser sward. So in answer to the question, brushing and training the grass to grow vertically, as well as regular cutting (when weather allows) to encourage tillering will all help to thicken out the square. You could also overseed half the square, and not allow play until perhaps half way through the season on that half.

Editor: Another member asks: Should I be concerned about a couple of bare patches that seem to only have few grass plants there?

Jon Buddington: That depends where it is on the pitch. If it's on a length, it could be a concern, I would try at this stage to overseed, because many squares are still very wet and it's ideal to get seed into good contact with the loam, be generous with the seed, if the rate is usually 35 grams per metre put on 70 grams per metre in this instance. But try to keep play away from these problem areas for as long as possible into the season. You could also consider using germination sheets to speed the process, but keep an eye on fungal growth and remove sheets if necessary.

Editor: Do you mind exploring some of those common problems you listed-how about severe surface thatch?

Jon Buddington: The majority of Groundsmen, in my opinion are frightened of the possibility of untold damage through heavy scarification, because of this fear, there is a build up of thatch on many squares in the recreational game.

Editor: Are they frightened or is it a lack of funds?

Jon Buddington: It's not a lack of funds, because many cricket Groundsmen have a scarifier, but they are worried about killing off their green surface, and maybe of what other 'untrained' members might say.

Editor: What would you advocate in terms of scarifying then?

Jon Buddington: Scarify it hard, and if you think that you've done it, then do it again. The more severe the scarification, the better the germination and keying in of new dressings. Thatch is the build up of dead dying organic matter, which occurs from grass cuttings and the dying older leaves. This material, when it lies on the surface causes reduced air and water exchange into the soil.

Editor: Presumably a build up of thatch will cause the wicket to become slow and low as well-at what point do you say the square is past the point of scarifying?

Jon Buddington: This is dependent on club finances as to what I'd recommend. But as a rule any thatch layer above 50mm thick, would mean stripping off the surface. Under that thickness it would still be possible to remove, not all in one go necessarily and a management plan must be undertaken and stuck to rigidly.

Editor: You also mentioned buried thatch layers-how do you resolve this problem?

Jon Buddington: Autumn aeration work, once the new seed has germinated and the surface is damp enough to take a solid tine, combined with the use of a bio-stimulant program, will help to break down this interface. If using bio stimulants, professional guidance must be taken.

Editor: Why's that Jon?

Jon Buddington: There are many stimulants on the market, each with their own claims, under differing conditions, therefore it is imperative that you know what organic material exists in that layer to know which group of organisms will successfully break it down.

Editor: So you've been impressed with the use of certain bio-stimulants?

Jon Buddington: Yes I have, particularly seaweed based products.

Editor: Ok-you also mentioned root break as a common problem-what does that entail?

Jon Buddington: The main problem I have seen with root break is the use of incompatible loams, this is a classic result of dressing with soils of different swelling and shrinking characteristics.

Editor: What are the signs of root break Jon?

Jon Buddington: A good example is when taking a core, remove the core and hold it between the thumb and forefingers at the grass end. Gently shake the core. The result of this action undoubtedly shows where the soil breaks are, which is where root break occurs.

Editor: How does root break affect play?

Jon Buddington: You cricketers/Groundsmen will no doubt understand the term 'featherbed', the majority of wickets with this characteristic will have some form of root break. There will be somewhere through the soil profile and air pocket or air gap caused by the shearing of roots due to two different layers of incompatible loams.

Editor: What do you mean by feather bed-as I'm a non cricketer and Cricket Groundsman?

Jon Buddington: A very gentle slow paced pitch!

Editor: Ah right, silly me! How do you overcome this problem?

Jon Buddington: I would overcome root break, by autumn solid tining and brushing of new and existing top dressing through the root break into the incompatible loam below. This will cause an amalgamation of the two loams. Over time the differing levels of shrinkage and swelling will be reduced as more new loam is introduced through this layer.

Editor: Jon, I really appreciate your time, there is still much to talk about, would you mind doing another session, perhaps in February with me?

Jon Buddington: Its been a great opportunity to talk openly, and I would be pleased to do another session to talk further about cricket maintenance.

Editor: That's great- thank you Jon and thank you to all of you watching tonight- Good night

Jon Buddington: Good night

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