Get rid of moss, and keep rolling
By David Markham
Deal promptly with moss and keep rolling - that's the advice of Yorkshire Academy groundsman, Keith Boyce, to groundsmen in the final few weeks before the new cricket season begins.
The former Headingley groundsman - one of the most experienced in the country - is the full-time groundsman at New Rover CC, north of Leeds, which is used by the highly acclaimed Academy and New Rover, who play in the Wetherby League.
He said: "There is no set time for rolling, only a certain procedure. All I know is that it is generally the coldest day of the year when I begin. Whether there is a gently drying wind with a hazy sun or a blustery cold northerly March blow, if the conditions are right I must get on with the rolling - not forgetting that half a day at the right time is worth a month at any other.
In normal weather conditions it should be possible to give the square a reasonable amount of rolling before the season starts. The reason for rolling before the soil dries out is to consolidate the whole square down to a depth of four to five inches. Consolidating below the surface can only be done before the square fully dries out. This is a very important stage in wicket preparation because you are rolling into your square the pace and bounce required for good cricket wickets. If this rolling is successful, cricket wicket preparation is simply re-wetting the top few inches and facing up to give a smooth, flat surface, cutting the grass short, then allowing the wicket to dry out."
Keith continued, "Good soil will withstand the impact of a cricket ball, good grass roots will hold the soil together and a well consolidated square will give good even bounce and some pace. My advice is 'roll your pitch frequently to consolidate.' Do not create ridging. This indicates either the roller is too heavy or the soil is too wet. In whichever case, rolling must stop until suitable conditions prevail. Eighty per cent of this early season rolling should be cross-over the square, but at the end of each session of rolling, roll from stump to stump."
After rolling, Keith recommends that the whole square should be shallow spiked, "One inch deep would be ideal to stimulate growth by allowing feed, water and oxygen to get below the surface, but do not use any slit type tines at this time of the year. I also advise lightly scarifying the surface or stiff brush to open up the grasses but take great care not to disturb the surface soil. Then, apply a second light fertiliser dressing.
Cut frequently to reduce the grass height down to about half an inch, which is a good height to maintain it during the playing season. Do not be too severe with early season cuts. Frequent cuttings mean lowering the grass height gently over time."
The weather this year provided Keith with an opportunity to get on with early season rolling. Late February was ideal and he gave the square a light dressing in early February and a satisfactory amount of rolling. Following a good autumn there is a good density of grass at New Rover so there was no problem rolling and he was happy with the rolling he was able to do in the first two weeks in March.
Keith continued, "A lot of groundsmen don't do enough early rolling. What is the point of doing everything so clinically in the autumn and then come the spring you don't roll? If you don't roll in the spring, and then the ground dries out and it isn't properly consolidated, you are condemned to slow pitches all season. In my view rolling is stage two of the preparation work. If you do the rolling it is just a facing up job for the rest of the season."
After the consolidation rolling in the second week of March, the grass didn't start growing and, according to Keith, nothing seemed to happen. But, in the last week of March, it became a bit warmer, the grass started to grow and is forecast to remain mild in the foreseable future.
"What we have found this spring has been an above average amount of moss. I don't get caught out because I always use a precautionary spray, but some grounds and bowling greens have a lot of moss on them. Moss is a problem at this time of the year. It is a massive job to get rid of it. Groundsmen have got to stop moss developing. Spray early and get a moss killer on to the square as soon as possible."
Keith recommends perennial rye 100 per cent dwarf grass for re-seeding, "The quality of rye grass nowadays is fantastic," he said. "It is much more fine than it used to be. Groundsmen complain about the amount of cricket, but you have to accept that. For instance, we have 94 matches between April 3 and September 15. Fortunately we have covers to protect the square."
Keith drained the top of the square - 100 yards of perimeter drains - involving 28 tons of re-fill last autumn. He has also been pleased with the winter weather, "I don't think the weather has been too bad. When we came to do our autumn work, September turned out to be a dry month. October, November and December were good because it wasn't too cold and we got a lot of good growth. We don't seem to get the early frosts nowadays and land temperatures were above average. We got this later growth, which was a great boost to us."