The 10th annual seminar staged by the Surrey Cricket Groundsman's Association at the Kia Oval in May showed how seriously the game at county and national level takes the work of pitch custodians these days.
The presence at the day's event of former England captain Mike Gatting, now the ECB's Managing Director of Cricket Partnerships and soon to be MCC President, was telling. Addressing the delegates, representing clubs, schools and local authorities in Surrey and neighbouring counties, he spoke of his role at the ECB, and in particular about support for facilities and resources at all levels of the game. Decent pitches are the key to raising standards of play and getting more interest in the game, he emphasised.
Gatting also offered a number of amusing recollections from his playing days and when asked what his favourite pitches had been, jokingly said 'they're always good when you score runs'. Not surprisingly Lords topped his list, but with the Oval - where as Middlesex skipper he loved doing battle with Surrey, the Adelaide Oval 'down-under', and Cape Town's Newlands getting highly commended.
The day's other 'big man' in every sense was the Kia Oval's new head groundsman Lee Fortis, who welcomed 60-plus groundsmen onto the famous 'middle' and talked them through his new approach to renovating strips - a mixture of latest technology and traditional methods. They saw how in two passes a Koro Topmaker deep scarified a used strip, collecting the loam debris as it went. Seed sowing by cyclone spreader swiftly followed, then loam and seed top-dressing and leveling by hand. It was dramatic, professional, and impressive.
Lee says this combination of old and new gives him valuable extra growing time, a vital factor when there are 56 strips in your care. His pitch 19, just used by Surrey to entertain Durham in a 4-day Division One County Championship match, provided an all-action demonstration that enthralled and impressed.
He mentioned too that pitch 13 awaited the Aussies for the final Ashes Test at the end of August. Test matches always have this number pitch at the Kia Oval. Then the rain came, the groundsmen - except Lee's team - left the field, and the seminar programme continued in the Pakistan Room of the OCS stand with presentations including disease identification and treatment by BayerCropScience, and pitch markings by Surrey County Pitch Adviser John Dodwell.
Surrey, and seminar organiser and host Chris Bullen, the County's Cricket Development Manager, get a Pitchcare 'three cheers' for staging such a fulfilling and useful day.
1) Seminar delegates watch pitch 19 get a power scarifying
2) The two 'big' men at the Surrey seminar: Lee Fortis and Mike Gatting
3) Over 60 groundsmen in attendance