0 Pre-season cricket maintenance

Editor: Good evening and welcome to all of the members. In our second live chat this week, (the first with Dave Whitaker MG, Grounds Manager at The Wisley Golf club-transcript in our consultancy section), we are pleased to welcome back Jon Buddington, ECB pitch advisor for the North East, Good evening Jon.

Jon Buddington: Good evening Dave, all of these chats and I feel like we know each other very well now, good evening members.

Editor: We've covered quite a lot of information in our previous chats, but my first burning question is about this un-seasonal warm weather-is it creating early problems or is it a bonus?

Jon Buddington: Clubs with water facilities won't have a major problem, but clubs unable to get irrigation to the square could find they have consolidated their square a lot earlier than they would have imagined.

Editor: Is consolidation a problem Jon?

Jon Buddington: If you have water available you can reduce the chances of cracking on the pitch by watering at the point it becomes too dry to roll. Unfortunately it is obvious that without water you are at natures beck and call.

Editor: Please go on Jon.

Jon Buddington: With this dry weather the pitches are already ready to play on, but there's perhaps a month to go, so the pitches are liable to start cracking too early, Groundsmen will struggle to keep the pitch damp enough without adequate water facilities. With the surface too dry, and many Groundsmen half way through pre-season rolling, the pitches will not consolidate to the depth required for play.

Editor: What is the ideal depth that Groundsmen should be aiming to consolidate too?

Jon Buddington: In a perfect world a minimum 100mm or four inches should be achieved, but with this dry weather, and without adequate water I doubt if consolidation reaches 50mm or two inches.

Editor: In terms of determining consolidation, how do you gauge it?

Jon Buddington: Usually with a welding rod or piece of strong tube a few mm in diameter, pushed down through the profile. The resistance against the force you apply will gauge the depth and quality of consolidation. i.e. if you struggle to push the rod in for the first inch or so and then it suddenly becomes easier, the depth of consolidation is apparent at an inch (25mm). Another way to determine depth of consolidation is to use a brand new cricket ball and bounce it into the pitch to determine the feel and the sound of the pitch. You should be able to determine whether the pitch is consolidated enough or not by this. It's not an exact science, and I suppose experience is really the best answer.

Editor: Great with experience-what about the inexperienced?

Jon Buddington: Sorry, Spending time gradually rolling the square pre season is the best experience anyone can gain. Getting a feel of your own ground is the only answer in my view.

Editor: A member asks: What qualifications are required for someone to become a ECB advisor?

Jon Buddington: Gaining IOG course certificates, level 1a and b, level 2, 'Understanding the science' and level 3 'Management practices', then most importantly your County Cricket Board must put your name forward to the ECB, to see whether or not in their view you have a full grasp and underpinning knowledge of the subject. Most importantly there is the course at Cranfield University which is very rigid and goes on late into each evening. During this course the candidates are continually assessed on their visual interpretation and knowledge of the square and core samples.

Editor: Apart from this dry weather, what problems have you encountered during the pre-season inspections in your region?

Jon Buddington: The two main problems are moss and bare ends.

Editor: What do you advise for moss infested squares.

Jon Buddington: A proprietary moss retardant should be applied with enough time to rake over or verticut the dead moss before the start of the season.

Editor: With maybe a month to go-is there time left to do this?

Jon Buddington: There's always time Dave, if it needs doing, do it-better to start resolving the problem now than wait and regret not doing it later! I have visited 18 clubs squares over the last three weeks and 15 have moss problems to varying extents. The worst case is at a club, who have not still done the end of season renovation from last autumn. This particular club's square had the following problems: moss, worms, broad leaf weeds, bird damage and severe bare ends.

Editor: How do you go about sorting out their problems in a month?

Jon Buddington: Like I said in the earlier answer, we must at least do something, the moss and worms are the two initial concerns, if we remove these, we can initiate some pre-season rolling.

Editor: With respect to the club in question-what on earth were they expecting to play on this year, when they have left it so late to start getting the square ready?

Jon Buddington: This club face the worst case scenario due to a lack of delegation and communication. However with that said all is not lost, and even this club have time to pull it around to at least play some form of cricket this year. Although grass coverage will be at a minimum.

Editor: A member asks: We need to stop putting the square to bed in the winter and work on the square 12 months of the year-do you agree Jon?

Jon Buddington: Totally, first of all, it is unfortunate that we still use the term 'putting the square to bed'. Multi-sport clubs have many members who comment, 'what do you do in the winter'?

Editor: Yes alright, what do you summer sport boys do in the winter?

Jon Buddington: End of season renovation work in conjunction with the closed season management plan, lay the foundations for quality surfaces, so aeration, germination, top dressing and the monitoring of disease outbreak are all massively important to us summer boys!

Editor: Ok, leading on that last question a member says: I've encountered some friction at work over aerating through the winter.

Jon Buddington: In what way have you had a problem?

Editor: We'll come back to that when ready, moving on, What do you consider to be a good pitch Jon?

Jon Buddington: In terms of play, it is stated that a good pitch provides an even contest between bat and ball.

Editor: What does that mean exactly?

Jon Buddington: Take spin for instance, a very hard clay surface where the top is just beginning to produce dust for the ball to bite and turn. Sometimes these dusty areas are found just off the onside and the same distance from the crease on the leg side-creating advantage for the bowler. This dust is caused by the bowlers footmarks and provides advantage to the bowler.

Jon Buddington: On the flip side to this, the advantage for the batsman is where you get a fibrous profiled strip, which is very gentle in pace and bounce, allowing the batsman to play his shots with ease.

Editor: So what is the ideal wicket for both batsmen and bowlers?

Jon Buddington: Normally one of Mick Hunts' (Lords) one day international or cup final pitches. These have very slight moisture, early on, thus allowing a quality bowler to find advantage and also a top batsman to play his shots. If either one makes a mistake the other should capitalise. That is the game of cricket at its best.

Jon Buddington: In other words a non fibrous, non dusty, slightly damp but hard wicket.

Editor: Going back the member says, he's suffered with ignorant line managers and another says: I always tell my manager that its the work done from October through to March that is the most important. The summer work is the easy part.

Jon Buddington: Ok, the autumn and winter work is very important, laying strong foundations for good rooting, health and vigour. A quality Groundsman shows his trademark experience through his cultural summer practices also. Presentation is hugely important in all sports, and cricket is no exception.

Editor: Moving on, rolling is probably the current buzz word as we move towards the season (present weather accepted) what is the secret to correct rolling?

Jon Buddington: There is no point rolling unless you gain the benefit of consolidation. This is achieved by the following: The first thing to do is wet the strip to saturation point.

Editor: How would you describe saturation point Jon?

Jon Buddington: It is the point at which the surface begins to puddle. I would, using a hose, walk up and down the strip, watering width ways, I would continue to do this until the surface started to hold water-at this point saturation is reached. If the weather was hot and windy, I may also then cover the strip with polythene to stop evaporation and allow water to permeate to a depth.

Editor: And then you'd roll?

Jon Buddington: No, I'd normally leave the strip for an hour or so to allow water to soak in, and then I'd check again the condition of the square with a knife blade, by inserting it into the profile and removing it. If the blade is clean, without smearing, conditions would then be fine to roll.

Editor: How long would you then roll the strip for and would it be just rolling wicket to wicket, or can you go in other directions as well?

Jon Buddington: The amount of water which is drawn up by the action of rolling will be evaporated quicker in warmer weather therefore in colder weather preparation and rolling becomes a longer process. Remember you are trying to pull the soil particles together by removing water and creating a vacuum. You don't want to be rolling on top of surface water, if the water comes to the surface during your initial roll, then you must wait until it evaporates or soaks in before continuing.

Editor: I've heard people say, get the strip like plasticine, before rolling is this right?

Jon Buddington: That's correct, because you can squeeze the air out easier when it's in this state and the strip will dry hard and flat.

Editor: I know we're talking about pre-season, but come the season, how close to a game would you water the strip or square like this ready for rolling?

Jon Buddington: I wouldn't leave saturation watering any closer than three days before a game at the latest!

Editor: Let's keep on rolling so to speak, how long would you then roll for in a session?

Jon Buddington: Early on in the pre-season would only be for one or two hours per day, but this will increase the drier the weather becomes; not the square!

Editor: Do you water the square to saturation each time you roll?

Jon Buddington: No Dave, you are trying to remove moisture and consolidate to a depth of four inches, the square will have been very wet throughout the winter, I may have confused you talking about flooding the strip. This saturation operation is done during pitch preparation in the playing season when the square is already dry, not in the run up to the season. There is already more than sufficient moisture in the square, usually at this time of year. This year however has been unusually dry as we stated earlier in the conversation, so many Groundsmen have found themselves having to add moisture to get some pliability in the square to aid pre-season rolling.

Editor: Ok I understand now, because pitches have dried out too early, water may need to be added to make rolling a beneficial operation.

Jon Buddington: Correct.

Editor: Carry on about pre-season rolling please Jon.

Jon Buddington: As the season draws closer, ballast will be added and rolling times will become longer, maybe two to three hours per day.

Editor: What sort of weight of roller are we using at this time?

Jon Buddington: We will have used the wicket mower, a ride on outfield cutter, a light motorised roller ranging to about five hundred kilos and now as we move closer to the start of the season, a one ton roller weight would now be expected-rising to one and a half tonnes by the end of April.

Editor: Jon, I am going to have to cut you short, I promised to pick my daughter up from swimming tonight, but will you join us again in April for another chat interview?

Jon Buddington: Yes Dave, most definitely, again it's been a pleasure to discuss issues which we don't often have time to talk about in enough detail. Before I go I would like to add that many if not all the responses from the lads to questions and queries in the message boards on Pitchcare, have been spot on and I am impressed with the ease that many have to offer their good advice to others.

Editor: Jon, kind words, enjoy the rest of your evening and we'll catch up soon, and thank you to all the members who have asked questions and watched this interview tonight, Goodnight.

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