Television highlights Blackpool Cricket Club
By David Markham
It's not usual for a club cricket Groundsman to have his square picked over by cricket experts for four days on television.
Yet, this is what happened to Andrew Mackay at Blackpool last week when Lancashire's four-day county championship match against Kent was shown live on Sky TV.
The comments were that the Stanley Park pitch favoured the batsman too much, borne out by the fact that 1,211 runs were scored over the four days - one session was lost due to rain - for the loss of only 12 wickets. Kent batsman Ed Smith scored a career best 203 on a very hot first day when Kent closed on 384 for four and there were two other century makers.
Andrew Mackay, who still looks after neighbouring St Annes CC with the help of his father, became Groundsman at Blackpool just before the season began and he is in the process of a major renovation of the playing area at Stanley Park.
He said: "I have been at St Anne's for two and a half years and I was invited to take over at Blackpool just before the season started. The field was very wet. There was a two-inch layer of thatch over the outfield and the soil underneath was very compacted. This was the result of there being no aeration equipment for the outfield. So, we hired an outfield verti-drain. One of the first jobs was to improve the drainage, but that is only a temporary solution.
It is an old square and it has got layers of loam that don't bind very well. When the clay dries it shrinks from what is underneath and the surface ends up in plates. So there is a very poor root growth on the square. There is also a lot of annual meadow grass, fescue and bent on the square. Ideally, it should be 100 per cent rye grass. I am using an ethofumisate called Nortron floband to get rid of the meadow grass. This is the same treatment that has been used at the Wimbledon tennis championships over the last two years. It is an experimental method and I have been using it as a trial.
The square needs digging up and re-laying but that is too expensive so we will be trying to improve the soil with deep spiking and top dressing during the winter to try to improve root growth and possibly repeating this work each week. It is a massive job.
We have nine first team quality strips and four more making 13 in all. I am considering excavating and re-laying the square to a depth of two inches working on the outside and moving inside to the important pitches. I think it is going to take about five years to put things right but I am confident that Stanley Park can be a superb ground.
This year we have had a Lancashire four day county championship match and a one day tour match against India A in one week, which has meant five days of county cricket in a six day period. It is very difficult having two matches in a week.
We keep one strip exclusively for four day county championship cricket and the intention is for Lancashire to re-lay that wicket because they seem keen to play here at Blackpool every year. There is so much potential at this ground. The encouragement to take on the job at Stanley Park was the county matches. It is a challenge at Blackpool and I like a challenge. My priority here is the square and the acquisition of a tractor!
As regards St Annes, the ground is 89 per cent sand. It is very acidic which makes life difficult. There is a compaction pan one inch down and we eliminated that with hollow coring and brushing. We hollow core, seed it, brush the cores in and hope it rains. We have used organic fertilisers and we have got good root growth. We have done more top dressing systematically using up to half an inch extra of Surrey loam which has increased the pace and bounce of the wickets.
We are also getting a new £14,000 triplex for the outfield. The equipment we have got at St Annes is of good quality."
Anyone, who would like to get in touch with Andrew Mackay can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.