The Cricketer Magazine Columns: 2016

The Cricketer Magazine Columns: 2016



Ground Advice: 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!





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.





Rolling with it…


In his latest column, groundsman David Bates explains how to perfect your pre-season rolling


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.





After-care: The key to a perfect finish


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.





Water matters


In his latest column groundsman David Bates explains why moisture is the key to pitch preparation…


The key to good pitch preparation is moisture content. Under-prepared pitches means the soil hasn’t dried out enough and so the ball marks the surface and so it ‘seams’. Over-prepared wickets typically become flatter, slow and low because the pitch has dried out.


Soils with low water content don’t hold together and therefore any layering in the pitch profiles means that they will 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 of not bind together don’t return the energy back to the ball.


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 profile. This will also 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.





Time to plan ahead!


Mid-season may seem early to be thinking about end of season works – but planning ahead can pay dividends – as cricket pitch expert David Bates of total-play Ltd explains…


During the Halcyon days of summer, the end of the cricket season – and the groundworks associated with it – may seem a long way off. However, now is exactly when you should be looking out for issues with the pitch that will need attention. By doing so, not only will you be well prepared for end of season works and be able to ensure you have the right equipment and materials to hand in good time, but you stand a chance of nipping potentially serious issues in the bud.


So, what should you keep an eye out for? During play ask yourself: Is the ball low and slow? Is there inconsistent bounce? Is grass coverage poor? Are surface levels poor? All are signs that your pitch may need attention beyond the ‘typical’ end of season works – including scarification, over-seeding, top dressing and the application of fertiliser.


If these more serious signs are evident, you are likely to need to call in the experts to put it right. But that doesn’t mean you can’t understand what might be the solution and why – which is why we have formulated a series of ‘Natural Turf Processes’; to help grassroots groundsmen understand the issues they are facing and the potential solutions out there. Full table reconstruction – expensive, time consuming and writing the pitch off for the whole of the following season – is not the only answer. Less invasive processes such as Square Restoration and Profile Regeneration could be an option; allowing the pitch to be ready for play for the 2017 season – but you need to act now to ensure you can plan ahead for the necessary works.







In his latest column, total-play Ltd groundsman David Bates looks into preparing the pitch for the end of the season…

By this time of year, you’re already working on used pitches that have less grass cover and are flatter than they were back in spring.

Warm, dry days mean it’s difficult to get moisture down to a sufficient depth by watering so this end of the season you are working to ‘face it up’ – or get the pitch nice and smooth for play as opposed to get depth and roll it out.

Now you should be giving serious thought to your end of season plans; organising the relevant seed, fertiliser and machinery you’ll need to carry out your renovation process. By lining up everything as soon as the season closes you’ll be able to get the works completed and grass growing on the surface again as soon as possible.

Missing that early window will mean that the ground will go cold so that the grass plant won’t establish itself and grow until temperatures rise again. Think of it like this: although there are 6 months between September and April, there could be as little as two months of conditions that allow you to clean the surface out and establish grass plant growth before next season, so the sooner you start the better!





Time for your non-turf ‘health check’…


With end of season works complete on your natural pitch, it’s worth paying some attention to your synthetic surfaces to ensure they’re ready for action at the start of the new season, says total-play Ltd’s David Bates…


Modern non-turf cricket pitch systems (NTPs) have been designed to require minimal maintenance between seasons. If you’ve have a state-of-the-art system installed in the past few years, you’re unlikely to need to do much beyond (in the case of practice facilities) checking nets and either lifting them off the surface or removing them for repair and/or storage. In this case, for both match and practice facilities, clearing debris off the carpet and giving it a good clean before the new season starts should see you with a play-ready facility.

However, while older NTPs are certainly low maintenance, they may require a little more attention, as natural wear and tear sets in. The end of the playing season is the ideal time to carry out a series of tasks that could help extend their lifespan, including:

–          Clearing surfaces of any leaf litter and / or water damage

–          Checking carpets for damage requiring repair

–          Reviewing batting curtains and nets

–          Re-marking crease lines

–          Removing and storing nets for winter (practice facilities only)

–          Weed killing playing surfaces

–          Sweeping surfaces to agitate carpet pile and ensure maximum traction

–          Installing leaf debris netting (practice facilities only)

–          Installing pest control PVC or mesh skirting (practice facilities only)

While some of the more basic tasks can be carried out in-house, for things like carpet repairs, it is strongly recommended to enlist the help of expert contractors. It is also worth checking for signs of both surface level problems and carpet tension issues – often signalled by rippling of the carpet – either of which could mean that the facility no longer meets Performance Quality Standards (PQS). Once again, these issues require expert intervention to rectify as they will involve lifting the carpet and shock pads and possibly working on the system’s sub-base to restore playability before the carpet is re-tensioned or replaced.




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, as total-play groundsman, David Bates, explains in his latest column.


In the past few years, we’ve seen a huge increase in the number of clubs affected by 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.


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.





total-play groundsman David Bates looks at how investing in quality solutions can transform pitch covers from a ‘quick fix’ during wet weather to a hugely useful part of the groundsman’s armoury…


The fundamental challenge for the cricket groundsman is to keep the pitch dry – and the grass plant alive. Cricket pitch covers are an essential tool in meeting the first objective but, when it comes to the second, need to be carefully managed – or they can have adverse effects.


There are a range of different types of cover on the market. At ‘entry level’ you will find basic flat sheet rain covers – often constructed from uPVC or PU, these can be laid onto the wicket whilst it rains to prevent it getting too wet. However, as they are not breathable, their use is limited to a few hours immediately before or during match play.


To be in place for longer periods of time – and help with the long-term objective of drying the pitch out – a cover needs to allow air to circulate. Mobile pitch covers that are raised above the surface of the pitch do this and are quick and easy to deploy when rain stops play. However, topography of the ground can lead to limitations in their use. If a ground has a gradient within or across the line of play, or saddling is an issue, water can run down from higher up the ground and pond underneath the raised cover. In this situation, flat sheet covers are preferable as they can be deployed across a greater area of the ground; capturing water on their surface so it doesn’t pool.


To meet this remit, there are flat sheet covers on the market designed to be left in place for extended periods. Breathable and allowing light through the surface, they promote rather than inhibit growth and are hugely useful in the long-term pitch preparation.


By alternating the use of mobile and flat sheet covers, meanwhile, you can control how the pitch dries out through evaporation, transpiration and drainage. Combined with an effective rolling programme this results in a surface that gives the desired hardness – and, in turn, performance.





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.