Too many practice facilities and artificial wickets are left to their own devices over the winter yet, with a little attention during the quiet months, deterioration of non-turf facilities can be prevented, saving time and money in the long-term.
Here, Steve Foxon, Head of Technical Services at Notts Sport, shares his maintenance calendar with Pitchcare readers
Why it's worth taking a little time ...
The cricket club might have shut up shop for the winter, but that's no excuse for letting practice facilities become untidy. A well-kept ground is a great advert for your club, and you never know who might be passing by. But, more importantly, keeping synthetic carpets clean and free of moss, algae and debris means there's less to do at the start of the season, the surface is safer for all standards of user and compaction remains consistent over the entire facility, preventing disruption to bounce and pace.
Looking ahead, a clean carpet also retains its porosity, just one of the factors which will help it achieve its intended lifespan.
For a two-bay practice facility, I suggest the following time guide for maintenance over the course of the year:
Out of season: 2 hours per month
Pre-season: 4 hours per week
During season: 1 hour per week
Post season: 4 hours per week
A winter routine
Leaves, pine needles and grass clippings will rot down over a damp winter, encouraging moss and algae growth and resulting in a slippery and dangerous surface which will also affect performance.
To prevent this, brush the entire area of the practice facility with a firm-bristled broom to remove any detritus. This needs to be done regularly, now and throughout the playing season.
If moss and algae does become established, the surface can be treated using a prophylactic, non-oil-based moss killer and algaecide and the resulting dead matter brushed away. This can be carried out twice - at the end of the season, and again two to three weeks before the new season begins.
Now is also a time when more extensive refurbishment can be carried out, including relevelling and resurfacing although, with correct and regular low-level maintenance, this will very rarely be necessary.
Minor variations in the level of the ground beneath the playing surface can be caused by frost and settlement, but these are easily straightened out before the season starts using a light roller (up to 250kg) across the length and width of the bays to restore firmness and improve bounce. This should only be done when the facility is wet so, if in doubt, water it first.
If the rolling action causes wrinkles to appear at the ends of the practice area, the nails can be removed and the wrinkles pulled out before re-fixing the surface. Take care to release only three metres of the carpet at a time.
Additional out-of-season work can include the maintenance of clay stump boxes if these are a part of the installation. Simply water the clay if it's dry and work it with a heel to redistribute and flatten. Levels can be topped up with fresh clay, but be sparing to avoid unsightly mounds.
Taking care of the grass or synthetic surrounds of a practice facility is a key way to help maintain the life of the entire installation, as well as promoting an overall smart appearance.
Grass surrounds should be kept short. Check at all times to prevent them encroaching onto the surface and causing rucking in the carpet. Cutting should be done carefully using a cylinder mower or nylon-blade strimmer to avoid damage to the synthetic surface. Clippings should also be collected to avoid them being blown or walked onto the facility.
Synthetic surrounds should be maintained in a similar way to the rest of the facility, by sweeping up debris to prevent algae and moss. They can also be treated using a recommended herbicide.
Check the nets haven't worked free of the cage, and use a natural twine to replace any missing bonds as plastic cable ties will abrade the netting. Netting can also be lifted up away from the surface to avoid a build up of leaves and debris around the perimeter and to help prevent storm damage. If netting is stored out of season, pick a dry environment - and one that's out of the reach of rodents.
Keeping up the good work
Once the season is underway a mini-maintenance programme can begin to ensure good practices are kept up.
Brush the surface at least once a week to remove silt and debris, and mow perimeter grass regularly, again ensuring clippings are cleared. Lines can be touched up fortnightly using a good emulsion paint or a customised line marker aerosol.
Subject to the weather and the performance required, a light roller can be used occasionally across the length and the width of the surface to firm the base and squeeze any water from the system. During dry spells, remember to water the surface thoroughly before rolling and, again, if wrinkles appear at the batting and bowling ends, the perimeter fixings can be released and the carpet gently pulled straight.
After practice sessions, check the surface for any wear and tear, paying particular attention to the ends. Areas of frayed carpet should be given immediate attention by applying a suitable adhesive to bind together any loose fibres. If this work is not carried out quickly and efficiently then the area may need patching by the supplier or installer, using a new strip of synthetic turf.
Finally, by laying down some good ground rules for players, unnecessary wear and repair can be avoided. For example, we do not recommend the use of cricket shoes with metal spikes or studs on artificial facilities as these can result in damage to the playing surface.
Notts Sport. Tel: 0116 272 0222 or visit www.nottssport.com