Picture the scene. Andrew Strauss jogs across the hallowed turf at Lord's for the final Ashes Test, with the rest of his England team in hot pursuit. The outfield, looking pristine and neatly banded in traditional chequered fashion, the cricket square, nestled in the middle like a green oasis, complemented by a pinstripe mowing pattern and a straw coloured pitch immaculately prepared. What a wonderful sight.
On reflection, though, we can all dream a bit but, when thoughts turn to your club's square and outfield, you may ask yourself the question; what equipment do cricket clubs require to manage and produce a quality playing facility?
As the game evolves and the standard of cricket across the country varies, from schools, social Sunday fixtures, to Focus clubs with Club Mark and 1st class Cricket Centres of Excellence, it is sometimes difficult to understand why clubs struggle to manage to produce a quality standard playing surface with all of today's technology available.
In most circumstances, apart from the excepted few clubs using contractors, groundsmen who are part-time or volunteers are putting more and more pressure on themselves to produce a higher standard of cricket pitch and outfield with the minimum amount of equipment at their disposal.
Whilst most clubs will possess a mower, of sorts, something to cut the outfield and a roller - and, possibly a scarifier - that's about it - plus a few hand tools, of course.
They are expected to make use of old and antiquated pieces of equipment that can, sometimes, be a danger to the user simply because the club cannot afford to replace it with a more modern or up-to-date product. They often opt for secondhand cast-offs, hoping to get a few more years out of it before having to buy another one.
Running an old, rusty mower over the cricket square, expecting it to cut grass cleanly and to a high standard, is guesswork and subjective, and does not produce the necessary objectives needed to manage a cricket pitch or outfield effectively. How many clubs, nowadays, have a machinery replacement programme in place, so they can replace old or used equipment before they become a liability?
Investment in modern technology would not only give the user peace of mind, but will save the club money in the long term in maintenance repairs, spare parts and labour. The more time spent producing cricket pitches the better the facility will become.
So, what does a groundsman really need in his shed to produce a better standard of pitch?
The minimum recommended grounds maintenance equipment for cricket clubs, as set out by the ECB are:
• Pitch mower
Pedestrian cylinder/rotary mower, 51-60 cm with a rear roller and collection box.
• Outfield mowers
A set of trailed or tractor mounted gangs, with a width of 1.8-2.1m, or a ride on cylinder 1.2-1.8m with a box collector.
• Hand roller - weight 75-250kg (light), width 0.6-1.0m
• Motor roller - self propelled; medium weight up to 500kg or heavy up to 1000-1750kg, 1.2- 1.4m
• Hand - 68cm
• Self propelled - working width 35-50cm with 5hp engine, thatch control/removal and brush attachments'
• Tractor mounted - working width 1.2-2.1m, depth 50mm
• Tractor mounted - 1.2-2.5m. Solid/hollow tiner, 75 - 100mm long
• 1.6 - Outfield deep slitter
• Pedestrian/self propelled - hydraulic ram 1.0-1.2m solid/hollow core tines 75-100mm long.
• Sarrel Roller - 900cm -1.2m, with 50mm solid tines.
5. Fertiliser spreaders
• Belt driven 61-92cm
• Cyclone/disk 1.2-2.4m distribution width
• Tractor mounted cyclone disk 16m
6. Tractor mounted attachments
• Drag brush
It is easy to note how much machinery or equipment listed above is required to produce a reasonable quality standard cricket pitch and outfield. But, make no mistake, to have the right machinery at your disposal does not come cheap. Time is money and, with budgets for ever being streamlined, purchasing the right piece of equipment is very important in raising the standards of your club.
The pedestrian, interchangeable cassette mower, for example, is just one piece of equipment now freely available on the market capable of brushing, verticutting and scarifying, as well as cutting, to a very high standard. Adjusting, cleaning and maintenance are made easier due to the removable cassettes.
Cricket clubs with low budgets, or seeking support from the game's governing body as well as various charitable organisations, should be looking to these low cost types of machines to help bring down running costs, instead of purchasing a dedicated piece of equipment with a single use facility, just because it's cheap.
With effective budgeting, objectives can be achieved to help speed up the production of a cricket pitch, enabling groundstaff to protect the surface from adverse weather and permitting games to be played by clubs reliant on much needed revenue from matches.
To manage a cricket square and outfield effectively, you need to know what you are managing. Measuring your pitch against a set of defined standards shows how well your equipment or machinery is working. If you do not monitor the performance of your machinery you cannot know, with certainty or objectively, if conditions are improving or, at least, achieving the desired standard.
Performance quality provides the groundstaff with the opportunity of doing the job right first time, helping reduce costs and the frustration of having to do it all over again.