Natural Cricket Grounds Articles

Natural Cricket Grounds Articles

Cricket Ground Flooding: Be prepared….

With most end of season works now complete it’s a quiet time for the cricket groundsman, which means it’s the ideal time to do some careful planning in case the worst should happen – in this case, cricket ground flooding…

In the past few years, we’ve seen a huge increase in the number of clubs affected by cricket ground flooding. From minor inundations to entire grounds being submerged, it’s a groundsman’s worst nightmare as a lot of the potential damage isn’t visible to the naked eye.

Cricket ground flooding action plan

With the great British winter looming before us and no certain way of telling what it holds, we’d strongly advise clubs in flood risk areas to do their homework now and put in place a robust flood action plan. Not only will it help prevent a drama becoming a crisis, but it will be useful in supporting bids for funding set aside by both the ECB and Sport England for clubs affected by flooding.

A good place to start is the flood plan template available via the ECB website – This will help not only in terms of mobilising the clean-up effort but can ease the progress of insurance claims and any bids for grants for remedial works.

Once you have your plan on paper, ensure all committee members know their role and exactly what to do in the event of a flood. Safety is the prime concern – stay clear of the site until water has subsided and it is safe to enter. Once it’s safe to do so, assess the damage and thoroughly list all equipment and facilities affected.

Before you do anything in terms of clean-up work on your natural or on-turf pitches, engage the services of a professional grounds operative to thoroughly assess the damage. Many contaminants are invisible to the naked eye, from tiny particles of silt that can cap off the surface of the soil to chemicals and pollutants. Doing too much without expert advice can result in greater damage being caused.

Contacting the club’s insurance company is next on the checklist – and thanks to your list of the items and equipment affected it shouldn’t be too arduous a task. It’s also worth getting together a list of volunteers who’d be happy to be part of a flood task force that you can call on to do jobs like pumping out water and clearing large debris before any specialists start work.

Cricket & Football Grounds – Dual purpose sites

Former first-class cricket groundsman and MD of cricket surface specialist total-play Ltd, David Bates, talks about the impact of using cricket outfields for winter sports and how to minimise any potential problems…

With clubs now shutting down after the playing season, many will see their playing surfaces switched to use for winter sports, with areas of the outfield used in football and lacrosse pitches. However, providing the wickets are left to rest, dual use of cricket outfields isn’t always bad news – so long as clubs are properly prepared.

The impact winter use will have on an outfield is really down to two factors – the volume of out-of-season use and the quality of the surface at the outset. These really are key in terms of how the surface holds up for the start of the next cricket season. A common problem on dual use surfaces is fielders finding it difficult to pick up and ‘feel safe’ on the surface early in the cricket season – something which is basically down to grass coverage and surface levels. Football pitches get the heaviest wear around the goal and centre pitch, which can result in a surface being very ‘bobbly’. To combat this, as soon as possible after the end of winter games season, the groundman should aerate, level, compact, overseed and fertilise the areas – potentially adding a layer of top dressing to smooth out the surface.

While these works are vital, the real secret is not to over play these dual use pitches during the winter months and to ensure they start the winter games season in as good a condition as possible to help minimise wear and tear. I fact, careful management of winter use can offer some benefit to the cricket groundsman in that use typically reduces the organic matter in the surface; alleviating a common pre-season headache!

Cricket Grounds – Preparing for the Winter


With winter on the horizon. MD of total-play Ltd and former first-class groundsman David Bates shares his tips on ensuring your ground equipment survives the worst of the weather

OK, so you’ve been busy with those vital end of season works on the pitch – now’s the time to put your feet up and relax, right? Not quite – time spent now checking and safely stowing your cricket ground equipment you’ll save time – and money – at the start of next season. Here’s my hit-list of tasks to carry out before the bad weather hits…

Mobile pitch covers
– Remove PVC cover tops & printed banners and store away

– Chain frames together and secure them to reduce the chance of them moving in high winds

Flat sheet ground covers
– Lay cover out flat and clean it using a soft brush and water – avoid detergents
– Examine carefully for any damage; if damage free allow it to dry thoroughly and store, ideally in a protection bag or sleeve, in a dry frost-free place, raised off the ground and out of sunlight
– If damaged, check manufacturer’s guidelines – small repairs may be sorted on site using a repair kit but more severe damage will need professional attention. Booking it in to be fixed now will avoid the rush at the start of next season.

Sight screens
– High winds are the main risk to sight screens – at the very least, position in a sheltered area on site, secured away from prevailing winds
– If your model has removable mesh panels or planks it’s worth taking the time to take them off now, rather than regret a damaged screen later

Mobile batting cages
– Again, wind is the enemy. Remove the netting from the frames and store out of reach of vermin

– Store frames be in a sheltered part of the site, chaining to avoid unwanted movement

Non turf practice facilities
– Remove batting curtains, advertising banners and anything else attached to netting
– Inspect netting for any damage
– Depending on manufacturer’s recommendation, remove and store netting
– Brush surface lightly to remove debris weekly to prevent a build-up of organic matter
– Do not attempt to rectify any issues with surface levels or carpet damage yourself – seek professional advice

Cricket Grounds – Flooding

Emergency Stations

With floods having devastated many areas of the country this winter, total-play Ltd’s David Bates shares advice on what to do it your natural square has been affected

The old saying ‘come hell or high water’ pretty much summarises the attitude of most groundsmen when it comes to ensuring their square is ready for the season ahead, but this year many are facing this in the most literal sense. If you club has been affected by the recent floods, safety comes first and foremost. Don’t be tempted to approach the site until the water has completely subsided – so no pulling on the waders or getting out the kids’ dinghy in your eagerness to inspect the carnage!

Once the waters have dispersed, the initial clean-up is where a club task force can really come into its own – clearing the site of larger items of debris before calling in the experts to assess the situation. Don’t be tempted to do anything further until you’ve sought advice – not only can it assist your bid to the insurance company, but the major risk to the square is from tiny particles of silt that can ‘cap’ off the soil surface; reducing porosity and therefore the drainage.

This inhibits grass growth and, in turn, reduces the durability of the surface. pH testing will show whether silt or pollutants have affected a square, and, if an issue is detected, it is likely that the pitch will need to be fraize mown, scarified, re-seeded and cultivated to provide the optimum conditions to encourage grass growth. In some cases – depending on the source of the floodwater – a suitable disinfectant may need to be applied to the site prior to major works commencing.


Natural Cricket Pitch – Pitch Renovation During the Season

Column One:

In his latest column, groundsman David Bates explains what to do after play…

End of season works and pre-season prep are all well and good – however, if you’re aiming for peak pitch performance a sound approach to post-match maintenance is key.

It all starts with the planning. Ideally, you want to give your pitch at least eight weeks between matches, so will need to plan each game so that any pitches you want to keep dry for future matches won’t get affected by the recovery process.

So, what to do at the end of each game? The basic principle is the same as at the end of the season, only not as vigorous. It might be necessary to repair the pitch by clearing off any dead leaves and debris, then add 2mm or 3mm of top dressing before levelling the pitch back out again, particularly around the bowling creases. Mix some loam and seed in a wheelbarrow, give it a light roll when it’s dry and level it out, ready for the seed to start germinating again as quickly as possible.

The surface will already have been but short for the match so, if you’ve got a scarification machine and a brush to hand, you’re looking at a morning’s work. The nest part is key – and also where your match play planning as adjacent pitches will also get a soaking: Flood the surface to rehydrate those grass plants whose roots are still alive, then overseed it with a dimple seeder to get a good seed-soil connection.


Column Two:

Back to life…

Depending size square and the number fixtures in a season, clubs may need to bring a pitch back to life after early use for match play in the second half of the season. total-play’s David Bates talks us through how to prepare a used pitch for ‘round 2’….

If you’re looking to get a pitch ready for use a second time in a single season, the best route is to carry out a less invasive version of the end of season renovation process. Firstly you want to bring the existing grass plant back to life ASAP – so give it a good water and the pitch will start to ‘green up’ after just a few hours.

The next stage will be to clean off any dead grass and matted debris either by power brushing the surface or very lightly scarifying (just a few mm as opposed to 5-8mm depth end of season) before starting repair works. Prior to reseeding it’s a good idea to flood the pitch to get plenty of moisture back in the profile to encourage germination.

For re-seeding, either overseed into the light scarification grooves or dimple seed the with a saddle roller or mechanical dimple roller. It’s also worth lightly top-dressing to relevel the bowling creases and marks and also any undulations or damage caused by play in the centre of the pitch – but take care not to smother existing grass plant and create layers.

A good top-dressing tip to put a bagful of loam in clean wheelbarrow and hand-mix seed in gradually before spreading on top of the bowling creases and levelling out. If the depressions are deep, heel the loam in to give it some compaction or use a hand roller prior to watering.

Once these repair works are complete, the pitch can them be fertilised and covered with a good germination sheet that you can water through. After 7-10 days the grass will really start to grow – once it’s approximately ½ an inch take the cover off to allow UV light to the pitch – then follow your usual prep works to ensure the pitch is ready for its next match.

Natural Cricket Pitch Profile – Cracking up

David Bates, MD at total-play Ltd looks at one of the main issues faced by the cricket groundsman.

In an ideal world, a cricket pitch would be a solid block of clay loam – hard and at the correct moisture content to give the ball a true surface with pace and bounce required for the modern game. In reality, most pitches have seen years of top dressing; forming layers of varying materials and buried organic matter.

Think of an old, tired pitch profile as pieces of plyboard laying on top of each other. When the ball impacts the top board, the energy is lost between the gaps as they move.

The goal is for all of the layers to be strongly ‘glued and strewed’ together; giving the surface the solidity to return energy back to the ball. The clay content in the soil act like the ‘glue’ and the roots act like the ‘screws’; pulling it all together.

You find that, when layered profiles when they dry out, cohesion between different layers fails & the ball’s energy dissipates in the breaks instead of creating bounce.

An even grass covering is key to preventing cracking (the root structure will help to bind the soil) followed by a controlled drying process to reach optimum moisture content.

To maximise grass growth the soil needs to be the correct pH and contain the right mix of nutrients. Your local amenities supplier should conduct a free test so that you can tailor application of fertilizer to your pitch’s needs and address any pH imbalance.

The key to knowing your pitch is to understand how it’s made!

Natural Pitch – More bounce!

One of the questions we get asked most frequently in cricket groundsmanship is ‘How do we generate more pace and bounce in our cricket pitch?’. A simple question, but one that doesn’t have a simple answer.

First, the ‘science bit’ – it’s all about energy. To get a ball to bounce, you need its energy to be returned to it from the surface. Think about bouncing a ball on concrete and then on mud – the hard surface will return the energy leading to bounce, but on the mud it will leave an indent; dissipating the energy into the surface. The same principle applies to cricket pitches.

The aim of the cricket groundsman is to produce a solid block of clay loam down to 100-120mm, with root mass growing through it to hold it together and moisture content at optimum level. This ensures the soil particles are held together and solid enough to return the energy to the ball and create bounce.

Sounds simple in theory? In practice, not so. In essence, bounce is all about the pitch profile. A pitch can look great but not perform well – think of historic squares that have great grass cover, but play low and slow. This is often due to profile issues that have built up over the years, which could include one – or all – of the following:

• Organic layer at the surface

• Limited root density

• Layering of materials

• Low strength soils

All of these factors can compromise the surface and lead to less bounce – and, unfortunately, there’s no ‘quick fix’. Even the best preparation techniques cannot overcome a weak profile and significant works will need planning into the end of season programme to help overcome the issues and improve bounce.

Depending on the severity of the problem, the Cricket Square Restoration or Profile Regeneration & Recycling processes defined as part of my Framework for Natural Cricket Table Processes could solve issues and see the pitch back in action the following season. But for more severe issues, full table reconstruction and the pitch being of action for an entire season may be the only option. Either way, the investment will be worthwhile – the secret to a great cricket pitch is its profile.

Natural Cricket Pitches – Performance Quality Standards PQS

Pitch perfect…

This month, total-play groundsman David Bates looks at Performance Quality Standards in the world of cricket…

Set and presided over by the Institute of Groundsmanship (IoG) and England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) Performance Quality Standards – or PQS – are not only key to ensuring fair play on a pitch that is fit for purpose, but can also be a useful tool for groundsman when it comes to planning maintenance and remediation works.

PQS provide a benchmark against which the quality and performance of a natural or synthetic cricket surface may be assessed. The PQS set out by the ECB and IoG provide tolerances within which an outfield, natural cricket table or non-turf pitch must achieve if it is to pass testing. Natural cricket surfaces are tested for criteria that include grass sward coverage and height, surface levels, pitch gradients and the depth of cricket loam etc. Non-turf cricket pitches are tested on, for example, traction, ball bounce, surface levels, compaction etc. In both cases all of these elements must meet minimum standards for the surface to pass muster.

Testing, carried out by trained individuals, follows a standard format throughout to test the pitch against the benchmark characteristics and provide consistent feedback. Methods include the use of a straight edge for measuring surface levels, a clegg hammer to test hardness and a quadrant to measure grass coverage.

Alongside PQS, most leagues – from first class down to local leagues – implement pitch assessments by officials. More subjective than PQS as they reflect the opinion of officials as opposed to the result of physical testing, these reports are nonetheless useful – especially with natural surfaces where they can highlight trends and show areas of weakness. The key is not to be disheartened and to view this feedback as an opportunity for improvement.

Natural Cricket table – ‘Knowing your square…’

David Bates examines how appearances can be deceptive when it comes to cricket pitch performance

The saying ‘beauty is only skin deep’ is especially relevant when it comes to cricket pitch performance. Grass coverage, height and density play a limited role in cricket table performance; it is the profile of the pitch that really counts.

The pitch profile is THE limiting factor in the performance of a cricket square. The profile should be one solid block of a clay soil held together by the strength of the soil and roots of the grass plant. The aim is to return the energy of the ball impacting the surface; thus providing pace and bounce. The moisture content of the profile and its compaction are controlling factors, the optimum levels of of which are obtained through the correct pitch preparation practises.  However, even the best preparation techniques cannot overcome a weak profile, which can contain one – or all – of the following features:

• Organic layer at the surface

• Limited root density,

• Layering of materials

• Low strength soils

The soil or, in cricketing terminology, the ‘loam’ is the foundation. For a good standard league pitch you should be looking at a profile of anywhere between 25 – 34% clay with then a balance of sand and silt content. Firmness and compaction is the key, with the aim of returning energy to the ball, giving it pace & bounce. The softer or weaker the pitch profile, the less pace and bounce.

In short, the profile is what really matters– you can have a beautiful looking, well-covered pitch but if the profile isn’t right performance will be poor. Likewise, a pitch that doesn’t look great in terms of grass coverage but has a good, dense profile can perform brilliantly.

Natural Cricket Tables – Pre Season Rolling   

‘Rolling with it…’

The aim of rolling is to consolidate your pitch’s profile after the winter. The most important factor to consider is the weather on your chosen day. You will get more benefit from an afternoon’s work on the square one dry day with a good breeze than a fortnight of work in damp and overcast conditions.

The thing to remember is what is going on below the surface level. When water evaporates it leaves behind pore spaces in the soil, and the act of rolling pushes these gaps back together. If the soil is saturated, it’s like trying to compress a glass of water. It will simply squeeze out to the sides. And you are liable to damage your grass plants by smearing them in the process.

When the weather is right and the soil is warm enough, roll your pitches in a Union Jack pattern but ensure the last roll is always wicket to wicket. You should spend anything up to two hours on each pitch but make sure you set aside enough time to roll your square as a whole.

Natural Pitches – Moisture Content and how Water matters!

The key to good pitch preparation is moisture content. Under-prepared wickers have too much water so the ball creates divots and seams all over the place. Over-prepared wickets get flay, slow and low because the pitch has dried out, the grass plants have dies and the soil layers have started to separate. In between the two is the optimum on which the ball rebounds evenly and plays at maximum pace.

To understand fully it is advisable to take a profile of the soil and find out what layers and organic matter lie beneath the surface and how those different layers bind or fail to bind.

But before you prepare any wicket it is important to first flood it to allow the roller, once the surface has dried, to achieve maximum compaction of the layers. And also it will ensure that the grass roots have sufficient water to survive the subsequent drying process, which will ideally take place over 7 – 10 days before a match.

There is no exact rule of thumb. A square with a mixture of old and new pitches will require different treatment for each strip. That is the skill of the groundsman.

Pre-season cricket pitch maintenance

By now, the club’s supporting equipment should all be ready for action – mowers serviced and returned with their and blades sharpened; all covers out with repairs taken care of and the sight screens back up. Many will have enjoyed being involved in the NatWest CricketForce weekend, seeing vibrant volunteers help bring club back to life after winter months and cementing team spirit ahead of the playing season.

With all this taken care of, it’s time to turn attention to the pitch itself. Now’s the time to think about the first cuts to bring the sward from winter height down to ½ inch or 12mm. This should be done in stages, cutting no more than 1/3 length at a time so as not to put the grass plant under stress.

Now is also a good time to check surface levels, look for any bare areas and carry out a health check on the grass plant. A soil analysis will test pH and nutrient levels so that any fertilizer application can be tailored specifically. Worms will no doubt be a hot topic at this time of year, and hopefully you will have already applied a worm suppressant containing Carbendazim. If worm cast are present, reseeding the affected area using a dimple seeder will provide good results but an alternative is to overseed by hand or using a cyclone spreader with the seed then rolled into the surface.

That said, you should hang fire on any rolling until the surface is becoming firmer and there are good drying conditions – rolling in overcast or damp conditions will have absolutely no benefit to the sward or profile otherwise. This should get your cricket pitch maintenance programme off to a good start.

Time for action…

Aside from carrying out regular inspections on the ground, hopefully everyone has enjoyed a good winter break and is now looking forward to a busy season ahead.

Despite uncertainties over what the weather holds for us over the next few months, before we know it the playing season will be upon us so there’s really no time to waste in making sure the infrastructure of the ground and club site is up to scratch. It’s worth bearing in mind that this is the busiest time of year for companies involved in anything cricket-ground related; from agronomic supplies to ground covers and machinery maintenance, clubs across the country will be placing orders and booking appointments. This can mean long lead times so, by acting early, you stand the best chance of getting the supplies you need or repairs and maintenance tasks on kit done in time for the start of the new season.

Mowers are particularly important as a sudden uplift in temperatures will trigger spring growth in the grass plant, and you will need to start mowing. If they’ve already been booked in for a service and blade sharpening, you will need to organise their return as soon as possible but if they’ve not yet been attended to book them in for the next available slot – the last thing you want to do is get caught out and miss the all-important first cut of the year.

Now’s also time to stock up on all the essentials you keep in your shed – including your usual seed, fertilizer, loam and chemicals for spraying. By stocking up you’ll be ready for action in any eventuality. It’s also worth having a good clear out of the shed now, organising your working environment for when things get busy.

Other things to look at around the ground include checking any mobile pitch covers for leaks or damage – especially if they’ve wintered outside – and also getting flat sheet ground covers out to check for damage by vermin. If you need to replace a cover or get it fixed remember those long lead times, so the sooner you get this job done the better. Also give the rest of your ground equipment a thorough check over – make sure sight screens are in good order and don’t need painting. It’s well worth taking a leaf out of the NatWest Cricket Force book and putting together a working group who can carry out any essential maintenance tasks that are identified – the painting of site screens being a perfect example.

By doing all this in advance you stand the best chance of being ready for action as soon as pitch preparation work needs to start, and will avoid any nasty surprises like discovering worn or broken kit when you really need to use it.