Paul Tatton, the ECB Cricket Pitches Assessor for Lancashire, says the old idea of 'putting a cricket square to bed' just isn't the case anymore. There is much needed work that can be done throughout the winter to improve facilities for the forthcoming season
Changing temperatures, weather fronts, vandalism, no sign of hard frosts, firework debris, foxes and rabbits, not to mention worms and moss; just some of the trials and tribulations that face a cricket Groundsman through the winter months.
I hope, during this article, to help both the experienced and novice Groundsman to forget that dreaded phrase of putting cricket squares to 'bed'. It just is not the case. We need to continue with some much needed winter work to keep, and improve, our facilities for the forthcoming playing season.
There are plenty of jobs to be done; a major time saving project is to re-identify all the square markings, i.e. location of centre stumps and 10 ft spacing of pitches. This helps with winter presentation and cutting and spiking procedures.
Re-measure from stump to stump and check that they are square using 3:4:5 (Pythagoras therum) method, which helps you establish a right angle triangle to square off the square. Little plastic umbrella pegs are ideal for this as continually topping up with paint markings can be repetitive in wet weather. Be careful to remove them when machinery is being used, they can obviously damage cutting cylinders for example.
It is good practice to erect some sort of protective fencing around the square, which not only protects it from animals but deters people from trampling all over it and disturbing the renovations.
Mowing: keep both the square and outfield topped off when appropriate, and when conditions allow. Height of cut for square between 10-12mm, and outfield 15-20mm.
Too many clubs neglect their outfields, often leaving them alone until the spring. This is poor practice. They should receive regular maintenance regimes in the form of aeration, brushing/harrowing and mowing to keep in good condition.
The square will usually be compacted to depth after a typical season's play and it is essential to decompact our squares during the winter months. The lack of heavy frosts these days means that there is no natural heaving of the soils, so it is important to undertake a programme of aeration using solid tines with the aim to spike on a monthly frequency.
Throughout the winter until February, but no later; spiking when the ground is drying will leave you with tine holes that may affect the performance of your square at a later date.
Begin spiking as soon as there is enough moisture at depth to get full penetration of tines down below 100mm. Ensure ground conditions are favourable i.e. no frost, or too wet. Best results are achieved with a punch tine aerator - something like the Groundsman spiker that offers a wide range of tines sizes. A fifteen-pitch square will take about an hour and half to complete.
Winter time is also a good time to obtain soil samples to send away for analysis. The results will enable you to have a better understanding of the current status of the soil and turf. There are many tests that can be undertaken, but usually the main tests to consider are:
- A visual inspection of a core sample taken can reveal a lot of information, thatch and root/fibre depth, root depth and soil condition.
- Particle Size Distribution (PSD) - this will give you accurate information on the soil type and its particle make up, enabling you to match up with appropriate top dressing materials and ensuring you are able to maintain a consistent hydraulic conductivity (drainage rate) of your soil profile.
- Soil pH - it is important to keep the soil at a pH of 5.5-6.5, a suitable level for most grass plants.
- Organic matter content - it is important to keep a balanced level of organic matter content in the soil profile.
- Nutrient Levels - keeping a balance of N P K nutrients within the soil profile is essential for healthy plant growth
- Once you have this information you will be in a better position to plan your season's feeding and maintenance programmes.
Turf disease can occur when soil moisture levels increase, coupled with the presence of early morning dews. The combination of moist soils and surface moisture on the leaf blade can increase the susceptibility of disease attack.
Regular brushing in the mornings to remove the dew from the playing surfaces will reduce the likelihood of disease outbreak. Many turf grass diseases can be active at this time of the year. Systemic, curative and protective fungicides can be used to control diseases; there is a wide range of products on the market.
Some cricket grounds may have a number of mature deciduous trees nearby which will inevitably lead to some amounts of leaf debris lying on the square and outfield. It is essential to remove leaves from the square. If left to accumulate these leaves will become a wet mass that, in turn, will restrict light and air being available to the grass plant, thus putting the grass under stress and resulting in it turning yellow and then decaying. Sweep/rake up leaves on a regular basis.
Regular brushing to keep the surface clean and free of debris is essential, especially if mature trees surround your ground. Leaf debris will encourage worm activity.
The moist mild weather this year has encouraged a lot of worm activity which, in turn, has increased the incidence of worm casting on playing surfaces. Regular brushing will help remove these casts, however, there will be a need to control the worm population by applying a worm suppressant. An application of Carbendazim at 6-8 week intervals will help reduce the worm activity. Apply at recommended rates.
Please remember to ask yourself why worms are present. Ph level, organic matter and your cultural practices on the square need to be assessed.
Many grounds suffer from moss invasion. The incidence of low light, wet surfaces and poor drainage promotes moss growth. In the main it can only be effectively controlled by spraying, however, there are a number of other tasks that can be undertaken to control moss growth. Improve surface drainage by aeration, and verticutting to thin it out and increase airflow around the grass plant.
Reduce shade by tree pruning; crown lifting and thinning of tree canopies will help bring some much-needed light back. As well as increasing air flow across your ground.
The winter months also offer an ideal time for getting many repairs completed. Scoreboards, practice net posts and fences around the cricket ground can be repaired, painted or stained. Depending on ground conditions, some clubs may be able to complete drainage or reconstruction works during the winter months. Existing drainage systems can be overhauled and cleaned out, and additional drainage systems may be added.
As for machinery maintenance it is important you keep your key machinery in tip top order. Your mowers should be sent away for servicing and repair. Do not wait until the spring to get them serviced. You may even get a better deal sending them in early.
The winter months give you some time to evaluate how well this year's maintenance regime has gone which, in turn, will help you plan the works for next season. You may need to seek quotations for machinery and materials. Be prepared for next season. It is important to keep records and diaries of the activities carried out, and how well the facility has performed. The digital camera is a great tool for recording information.
It is important to remember nature waits for no one; we need to be in tune with it and work with it, especially through the winter months. You will reap the rewards come the springtime when you facility is in a prime condition for the onslaught of another new season.