Harborne Cricket Club's new Head Groundsman, Peter Day, looks after two adjacent grounds close to the centre of Birmingham. One of his first tasks was to clear out the sheds of old and unwanted equipment and to draw up a wish list of replacement kit, as he explains to Pitchcare
Harborne Cricket Club was founded in 1868 and is one of the leading and biggest clubs in the Midlands, being one of the few Birmingham & District League Clubs to actually be in Birmingham rather than the surrounding area.
Six Saturday and three Sunday teams represent the club at weekends. On Saturdays, the 1st and 2nd XI play in the Birmingham and District Premier Cricket League (BDPCL) with the other four teams playing in the Worcestershire County League.
On Sundays, the 1st and 2nd XI play in the Warwickshire Sunday League and the 3rd XI (Knots) play in another Warwickshire league as a youth development eleven. It also runs a vibrant youth section with some 150 youngsters attending the coaching scheme and playing in the seven junior teams, which is sponsored by Cottons Chartered Surveyors of Birmingham.
Harborne CC is one of the oldest Birmingham cricket clubs, originally formed by a group of young men from St Peter's and the Baptist Church.
The Victorian founders could scarcely have imagined that the club would develop into one of the largest cricket clubs in the Midlands today.
The club has played at Old Church Avenue since 1874, apart from a year's absence in 1890 when the owner banned them from using the ground as a result of a rift between the Anglicans and the Baptists.
The club has produced a number of fine cricketers over the years, most notably Freddie Brown, a then future England captain, and Alan C Smith and Ossie Wheatley, later captains of Warwickshire and Glamorgan respectively. Other notable Warwickshire cricketers who have played for the club are Alvin Kallicharran, Michael Powell, David (KD) Smith, Tim Ambrose, Jonathan Trott and, more recently, Sam Hain.
The Club's centenary in 1968, with former Warwickshire spinner Derrick Flint at the helm, marked the end of an era, as the 1970s witnessed the opening of a new clubhouse, and the beginning of league cricket with the formation of the Midland Club Cricket Championship, of which Harborne were joint founder members.
The club appointed Peter Day as their new Head Groundsman in November 2013 and he is responsible for looking after the two cricket grounds set in one and a half hectares of Harborne urban green space. Peter's interest in cricket was originally as a player (batsman), having played for a number of Midlands clubs, notably Bromsgrove, Wolverhampton, Himley and Stourbridge.
It was during his final playing days at Stourbridge CC that he got interested in groundsmanship, taking the opportunity to help out and learn his trade by attending cricket groundsmen training courses, before taking up the groundsman's job at Old Hill Cricket Club. After five years there, Peter decided to accept the challenge offered by the well-respected Harborne club.
Having arrived in the late autumn/winter of 2013, he missed having an input into the end of season renovations for that year, but was focused on monitoring and maintaining the square throughout the winter months. His priority was to ensure both squares were aerated a couple of times, kept brushed and mown to a winter height of cut of 20mm. He carried out soil tests, testing for nutrient status and, more importantly, particle size analysis. Over time, this will give him a better understanding of the soils he will be dealing with. For a number of years, both squares have been dressed with Banbury loam annually.
Peter likes to use his Groundsman 345 spiker as often has he can, keeping both squares well aerated during the winter months up until mid January. Other works include brushing the square, rotary mowing and cleaning the surface of any debris.
The outfield is surrounded by a number of large mature Lime trees that shed a lot of leaves and twigs during the winter months, and these require clearing up on a regular basis.
On his arrival, Peter had a good clear out and tidy up of his sheds, getting rid of any old and unwanted tools and machinery. It also gave him time to put together a wish list for new machinery. His request was rewarded this year with the club investing in a new Ransomes triple mower for the outfield, a new Allett C20 cassette mower and a new reconditioned roller.
His first full playing season (2013/14) gave him the chance to evaluate the pitches, tinkering with his method of preparation and pitch repairs to see how they performed and, of course getting to know the players and coaching staff and how the club was run. Harborne is a busy, well run club with both grounds being used to full capacity during the playing season and the clubhouse is open seven days a week.
Peter allows fourteen days to prepare a match wicket, bringing the HOC down from 12mm to 6mm in stages, cleaning out between cuts using a verticutting unit and regular hand brushing to keep the profile clean. Depending on weather conditions, he will water and use covers to control the moisture in the new wicket.
Rolling begins seven days out from the match, with twenty-five minutes of rolling per wicket per day. He uses an old Ransomes Auto Certes to cut the pitch and his new Allett C20 for pitch preparations.
Peter aims to get several games out of each pitch on the main square, which is usually used by the first team, second team and youth sides. On the second ground, which has less pitches, he makes the pitch last as long as possible to facilitate a lot of youth games.
The squares are fed on a little and often regime, using a range of granular NPK formulations. The outfield is cut at between 25-30mm, depending on the time of the year. This coming winter, for the first time, the outfield will be used by a local junior football club.
Like most cricket groundsmen, the autumn renovations are a key time to prepare the square for the following season and, having taken soil samples, Peter was mindful that there was a slight thatch issue on both squares, so he hired in a Graden scarifier to clean out the unwanted material, scarifying in several directions and to a depth of 10mm, topdressing with between 4-6 bags of Banbury loam per pitch and seeding with a perennial rye grass seed mix. He also addressed the levels on the wicket ends during renovations.
During the summer, the job becomes a seven days a week operation, splitting his time across both the neighbouring grounds. Peter is fortunate that his wife and son actively help him on a regular basis during the summer months.
Both are adept at jumping on a mower and roller when needed, they usually come in towards the end of the week to help get the ground ready for the weekend's play. Peter likes it all done by Friday night.
His match day routine begins at 8.00am, when he checks the ground, sets out the boundary rope and, depending on the weather, he will move any raised covers and flat sheets that may be protecting the square; he will then hand brush the wicket, give it a final mow and roll (20 minutes), paint the lines and set up the stumps. It's then a case of waiting for the players and umpires to arrive, making sure they are all happy, before sitting back to enjoy the match.
Peter has been very pleased with the way the club has supported him and the progress he has made. He has already received a number of accolades for the work he has done; his pitches were voted the best in all four divisions of the Birmingham League by the umpires last season. Peter was also voted Groundsman of the Year by the Warwickshire Cricket Board, receiving two prestigious awards. So his work is getting recognised!
However, not one for resting on his laurels, Peter is keen to further improve the wickets and outfield of both grounds in the coming years. He would like to thank the club's chairman, Malcolm Willcox, for his support and, of course, his family for their love and support during his first two years in the post. Peter is also pleased to acknowledge the significant improvements that have taken place elsewhere in the club during the past 18 months.
It would seem the club have invested wisely in recruiting Peter, and long may their partnership continue. It is one of the hardest jobs of any cricket club to find a dedicated person who has the ambition and, more importantly, the skills to maintain natural turf cricket pitches to a very high standard.