Fresh thinking about seed has transformed the turf maintenance programme at Sussex County Cricket Club's main stadium.
The club currently hold the prize for the best wickets in one-day First Class cricket, so are no strangers to working at the top end of turfcare. Now in his fourth year in charge at the club's headquarters in Hove, West Sussex, Andy Mackay has once more raised standards by moving over to a new form of coated grass seed, not only in his practice nets but also on the main square.
It is the dramatic results he achieved earlier in the year trialing Johnsons Ji Premier Wicket iSeed mixture that have prompted him to shift to the mix across the board.
The thiteen practice nets at Hove are used intensively year-round, with each rotated three times during any season, so the pressure is on to turn wickets round quickly, Andy says.
The main square comes in for a battering too, he adds. "We have just eleven first-class wickets on the main square, but only nine were available this year as we are in the midst of relaying them all."
"Added to that, most of our home fixtures were crammed into the first half of the season so, by the end of June, we had used them all and desperately needed to overseed with a mix that would produce a fast turnaround."
He learnt of iSeed from Matt Merchant, head groundsman at Old Trafford, when the two met at the England and Wales Cricket Board's spring conference for first-class cricket groundsmen, held at Derbyshire County Cricket Club.
"I remember the date, 14th February, Valentine's Day," recalls Andy. Was it a case of love at first sight then for his encounter with the coated seed mix? "Initially, I was sceptical of the claims being made, and was perfectly happy with our existing choice, but decided to test it out after reading and hearing about Matt's experiences in the Pitchcare magazine."
In April, Andy started trialing the seed in the nets area at Hove, in direct competition with his favoured mix and pre-seeder fertiliser. As iSeed comes coated with quick and slow release fertiliser, he had no need to apply any additional feed, he says.
In fact, fertiliser accounts for half the weight of iSeed. To compensate, rather than oversow at 75g/m2, as he had done with his usual mix, he increased the rate to 120g/m2 - a strategy that has paid off handsomely for him.
"The iSeed germinated at the same speed as the competitor, but really kicked on around day ten," says Andy. "After two weeks, the renovated wickets were like chalk and cheese and I was amazed by the vitality of the grass plants: they were thick, upright and actually felt stiff underfoot."
"The colour also bears out the health of the plant, and we are achieving superb density of cover. We were achieving pretty good results with our previous seed - a three-cultivar mix of dwarf perennial ryegrass - but even the players are noticing it and commenting."
The test results in the nets prompted Andy to rethink his choice of mix for the mid-season renovation. "I needed to revisit every wicket on the square and had a sixteen day gap in the fixture list to resow everything," he recalls.
On day nine, the Hove ground played host to Elton John, leaving Andy an even tighter deadline in which to complete the renovation. He reseeded throughout with iSeed and, by the end of July, could survey what he describes as "a very healthy-looking square".
The price per bag for iSeed is slightly more than the existing mix, says Andy, but adds: "The extra cost kg for kg of seed is more than recouped, I believe, by the savings in fertiliser and, most importantly, the benefits to be gleaned. This is a big thumbs up from Sussex County Cricket Club."
Good news travels fast, as they say, and Andy was able to extol the virtues of his new find to forty-five cricket club colleagues around the county at a Groundsman's Association meeting held at Hove recently.
"I can't believe I ever doubted it but, until you see something with your own eyes, you never know."
He recalls a moment, a few weeks ago, when a visiting player walked into the nets carrying his bag, got halfway across a wicket that had been recently renovated and stopped. "He put down his bag and proceeded to examine the grass and to stroke it."
"As many a groundsman can confirm, once your players are behind you, you've cracked it," said Andy with a smile.