After two years of planning and a lot hard work, Rugby School hosted its first ever first class county cricket fixture, a Twenty20 match between the Warwickshire Bears and unbeaten Glamorgan Dragons on their historic ground. Head Groundsman James Mead takes up the story, explaining how it all came about
It all stems back to my arrival at Rugby School roughly seven years ago. On first viewing of the first team cricket ground it was well proportioned and very flat, but the outfield and square looked very tired and in need of modernising.
To tackle the square, we set about bringing in a Koro to take off all vegetation and a sliver of soil, replacing it with straight GOSTD loam from Surrey Loams Ltd and seeded it with a special cricket mix. As for the outfield, we scarified until we were blue in the face, then seeded with a fescue/rye grass mix.
Over the next two years, we consolidated the standard of the ground, culminating in Northamptonshire County Cricket Club's 2nd team and other age groups using the facilities. This proved very successful, until a new director of cricket arrived and upped the stakes by forming a strong link with Warwickshire County Cricket Club; again 2nd X1 and other age groups.
So, now we had two counties on the ground, which gave rise to Warwickshire making noises about a first class game. Twenty20 and Pro 40 were mentioned early in 2012. When it was confirmed it would be a Twenty20 between Warwickshire and Glamorgan in July 2013, myself and the ever supportive team of grounds lads sat down and discussed the best way forward.
One of the nagging problems with the square had been the many layers of loam that have been used to topdress, leaving the inevitable sandwich effect. Whilst we have been managing this and slowly improving things year on year, this time the decision was made that we would take the bull by the horns, koro off the top few millimetres, leaving bare soil, hire in a tractor mounted rotavator and go in at 200mm deep.
Mixed in with this was a Johnsons Premier coated seed and an R9 coated seed, mixed 50/50. Added to this, we used Activate R granules for root development; remarkably the project only took three days!
As this was now August 2012, our immediate priority was levels and consolidation before the late autumn rains and lower temperatures set in. This we did with two rollers passing diagonally across the whole square, slowly ironing out the newly turned soil. Only when we were happy did we finally finish wicket to wicket.
Come September, there was a superb covering of grass which we cut all winter at 18mm. This sort of project has to be managed very well to be successful, and none of the above could have been achieved without my dedicated team all singing from the same hymn book.
We started pre-season rolling in mid-February, as and when conditions allowed, which meant most of the time the lads were wearing five coats and ear muffs right up to the start of the season! Again, most of the rolling consisted of diagonals, with a small amount wicket to wicket.
Two wickets are always selected for county games, and we had now been given the date of 6th July 2013 so, come rain or shine, it was going to happen - and with an estimated attendance of 3,000.
Our focus was now on wicket number eight, reseeding with Johnsons J Premier and carefully watering it to establish plenty of grass cover.
During the school season, when necessary, a coconut matting was used to protect it from scarring and, along with the rest of the square, number eight was cut at 10mm. I now had to attend meetings with all parties to make sure the day would run like clockwork; anything from the time of arrival of the beer tent to how many chairs would be needed ... and much more.
The outfield had been cut at 12mm in 20ft wide bays all season. With three weeks to go, we upped the number of cuts to six a week and boxed off clippings. With fourteen days to go, number eight was rolled for ten minutes on the hour each day, with a gradual reduction of cut height through 10mm, 8mm, 6mm to final match height of 4mm, with thinning out of the sward using the brush cassette in the Allett.
The weather had now decided to go Mediterranean, which meant number eight was always under the covers, with careful use of the roller to make sure it would peak for the game. Not too dry as to give excessive turn but, with it being a one day game, as dry as possible, which was a skill in itself in the heat.
The day of the game started for me at 7.30am, with an on site meeting with the operations manager to oversee the arrival of the catering vans, beer lorries and those chairs. At 8.00am the grounds lads were in to pin down the boundary rope, make sure the black sight screens were okay, cut the square and put out the fielding markers.
The outfield had been cut twice the day before, so no cut was required on the day of the match. Finally, we gave number eight its last cut and and a light roll; markings had been done the day before.
The ground looked great, with a full house and glorious sunshine, The covers were taken off at the last minute due to the heat, which then gave the captains and the umpires a chance to inspect the wicket. All was well, and the lads had done a fantastic job.
All we hoped for now was a good game. Warwickshire made 126, which Glamorgan chased down with fourteen balls to spare, only losing two wickets and extending their unbeaten run in the competition.
Number eight had come through with dignity, the umpires marked it very favourably and Warwickshire are planning on next year already. Not bad at all when you look back at how it all began with that rotavator.
The wicket was prepared by James Cavanagh who talks about the finer details of the work involved.
I go by the rule of a ten day preparation, where the wicket has to be well bonded together through watering at key times. I start by rolling the wicket, just to slightly compact the top few inches of the surface - it's where the bounce is - and also to make sure it is a smooth surface to play on.
I then put the cover over the wicket, so that the sun doesn't get to the surface and bake it. This is very important because you don't want the surface to crack up but, if it does, the platelets must not move. This is achieved by good root growth.
I roll and cover for three or four days, depending on the weather. I then cut the wicket down to 8mm from the cricket tables original height of 10mm. I then roll and cut the next day again, following the same procedure.
I then start to roll the pitch every hour for ten minutes, to really compact that top layer of clay soil.
The wicket is then cut down to 5mm about five days before the game, but still covering the wicket to protect it from the sun.
If the wicket is still a bit green, I use an Allett interchangeable cassette mower, with a brush fitted, to get all debris off the surface; it cleans it right out.
I then take my wicket mower down to about 3-4mm, depending on what the surface looks like. I roll again every hour to compact that top layer and mark the wicket, putting in blue wide marks for the umpires the day before the Twenty20 game.
On the day of the game, I cut the square with our Baroness mower at 10mm, also cutting the wicket again, just using the small roller to settle the surface down before the game.
Just to add that we had fantastic cricket weather on the lead up to the game. I could not have asked for better conditions to prep.
It's quite an achievement for a private school ground to hold a first class Twenty20 game. It just shows you that, if you put a lot of effort into life, it has its rewards.
As for me and the other 3500 people attending on the day, it was a fantastic event, with the school grounds making a perfect setting, with the backdrop of the famous school buildings and the historic rugby pitch where William Webb Ellis picked up the ball, and just hours after the Lions had defeated Australia in the final Test.