The Cricketer Magazine Columns: 2017

The Cricketer Magazine Columns: 2017

Happy New Year!


To kick start his 2017 series of advice columns, total-play groundsman David Bates looks at disease prevention and worm control, both vital wintertime tasks…

Coming into January the amount of activity on the cricket square will depend on what the weather’s like – particularly how cold it is. Regular inspections of the table are advised to spot any signs of disease, especially Red Thread and Fusarium.

As the old saying goes, prevention is better than cure. If no signs of disease are present and the grass plant is not frozen, it’s worth brushing the pitch in the morning to knock dew off the leaf blade – you can do this by walking over the pitch and physically brushing it, by using or using a long rod/swishing pole of the type commonly used on golf greens or, if two people available, you can pull rope across the surface of the grass sward. By knocking the dew off you help the grass plant to dry out, reducing the risk of diseases that thrive in damp conditions.

Once the ground temperature warms up you also need to look out for worm activity. Worms can help aeration and remove some organic matter – but any agronomic benefits are overshadowed by the problems of casting on the surface. In the cricket pitch, casts can get rolled in causing bare patches and unevenness, so spraying to control worms is vital. However, it’s worth noting that the active ingredient in many leading brand worm treatments, carbendazim is under legislative review and could be banned, so alternative methods will need to be sought. One of these can also act as a solution if you missed the boat at prevention; namely waiting until the pitch is dry and knocking casts to disperse them before rolling. Later in the season, over seeding the pitch with a dimple roller before the main rolling takes place can help alleviate the issues.

By now, Clubs should have worked through their equipment banks and had everything serviced, and should be planning ahead what will be used when and setting out how they will overcome any challenges presented on their square over the coming months.




Time for action…


In his latest column, total-play MD and former first class groundsman David Bates explains why time is of the essence when it comes to getting the ground in order ahead of the playing season…


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 CricketForce 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.





Naturally synthetic pitches

In this month’s column, total-play MD and ex-Northants groundsman David Bates opens up the discussion on the benefits of natural vs artificial/synthetic or non-turf pitches (NTPs) within the game.

In an ideal world, cricket should always be played on a natural pitch – however, in the real world it’s not that simple.

Nothing is better than playing on a beautifully created natural pitch. It is how the game should be played. A fine turf cricket square has its own inherent inconsistencies because, after all, it is a living, breathing thing that needs care and attention to perform to its optimum level. We know that the surface has  a huge effect on the game. With a natural square, over the course of a season the surface itself will usually balance out the fight for dominance between bat and ball.

However, the great pressures of modern life – namely time and money – are having their impact on the game. The rising popularity of the short T20 format is symptomatic of this and, at professional level, its fast, spectator-friendly action requires the bat to outperform the bowler from the outset. This means the natural surface needs to be ready for play from ball one and it needs to add to the spectacle, not prevent it.

Conversely, in Test Match cricket the surface needs to encourage the spinner and seamer but also enable the batsmen to build an innings with the correct technique. The secret to bringing everyone into the game is for the surface to have enough pace & consistent bounce without too much lateral movement. A groundsman needs skill, technical knowledge, hard work (and a bit of luck along the way) to produce a high quality natural pitch.

However, cricket is not just played in the test match arena. It’s played in parks, villages, schools and clubs all over the country – and it’s at the lower tiers of the game where players want to emulate their heroes by blasting the ball out of the park or see the ball flying through to the keeper. This is where I truly believe it’s better to play on a good synthetic non-turf pitch than an under-invested in natural surface. It’s at this point where the natural vs non-turf pitches debate starts.

There is financial pressure on the game at every level – from councils finding the funds to maintain park pitches, to league clubs whose players demand increased performance but have limited budgets, through to the professional game where groundsman are under pressure maintain or increase performance levels but play more games – especially televised ones – in their arena. In all of these cases, investment into pitches either natural or artificial is vital for the good of the game.

In connection with the ECB, we are currently researching ways to move forward all surfaces – including the critical development of natural, synthetic and augmented pitches. Cricket is now a faster game with more runs, more pace, more excitement. So we need more from our surfaces. The next generation of cricketers won’t know about under-covered pitches or see batsmen struggle to make their mark – research and technology can deliver.




An exciting time for the cricket groundsman…


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.


During his residency at Northants CCC, David Bates was the youngest first class groundsman on the circuit, quickly gaining a reputation for preparing some of the finest pitches in the country. Having worked as a pitch advisor and trainer for the IoG David now heads up two companies: total-play Ltd where, over the past decade and a half, he has developed class-leading non-turf cricket pitch and pitch cover solutions, and sports pitch consultancy Total Turf Solutions.




The Spin Doctor: Part 1

In the first of a three-part column, cricket pitch expert David Bates ponders turning pitches and the modern game…

When it comes to improving or evolving the skills of the game, I believe that we first need a consistent surface. Then add pace and bounce. But where does spin come in?

On many occasions I have been involved in discussions about ‘spin or turning pitches’ and during my time at Northants CCC it would be safe to say we produced some spin friendly pitches.

It seems to be a constant topic that keeps popping its head up every few years. The longer format of the domestic game has seen a revolutionary change in whenever a coin toss now actually takes place. In essence this change is designed to promote better pitches and hopefully encourage spinners.

So, how do we encourage spinners? Give them pitches that turn easily or make them learn to rip it? What is a good pitch for a spinner? In addition, where does the batsman come in to the equation and does a turning pitch help them?

The governing bodies see that change has to happen if we are going to support the next generation of spin bowlers. But it’s not just down to the rule makers the groundsman have a huge part to play. These are all points that will be addressed in my next few columns…

During his residency at Northants CCC, David Bates was the youngest first class groundsman on the circuit, quickly gaining a reputation for preparing some of the finest pitches in the country. Having worked as a pitch advisor and trainer for the IoG David now heads up two companies: total-play Ltd where, over the past decade and a half, he has developed class-leading non-turf cricket pitch and pitch cover solutions, and sports pitch consultancy Total Turf Solutions Ltd.




The Spin Doctor: Part 2

In the second of a three-part column, cricket pitch expert David Bates ponders pitch performance tailored to encouraging spin bowlers to come to the fore.

In the UK, seamers in the main dominate game unless we have a dry, warm summer. In addition, the majority of all county and many league/school grounds have been reconstructed over the past decade. This relaying of squares has resulted is harder, faster pitches BUT it has also made the surfaces firmer and less responsive to spin.

In this column, I am going to look at what I term “The spin bowler’s surface”; which must offer assistance to a capable bowler and encourage them.

In terms of performance, the pitch must provide turn to beat the bat but not have exaggerated movement. The bounce must be sufficient to bring in to play the slip and the fielders in front of the bat. The ball should come off the surface at angled trajectory and not have looped or ‘tennis ball’ bounce. It should also enable the batsman to play off the front and back foot with confidence. The pitch must have enough pace to stop a batsman playing solely off the back foot but in return must enable the batsman to punish a poor delivery.

For the groundsman, the biggest challenge is preparing a surface which meets all those performance requirements. Turn happens when the ball hits the surface and it gains traction, the ball grips the surface as the surface deforms. The ball is then able to move off a straight trajectory by the revolutions placed on it by the bowler. You may have seen this in test matches when the ball doesn’t turn on straight but then turns dramatically when it hits a bowler’s footmarks.

Current cricket pitch construction materials and methods mean that orthodox approaches to pitch preparation produce surfaces that stay firm and hard for a very long time. Even over four days of play – unless areas are damaged by bowlers’ follow-throughs many surfaces still give very little encouragement to a spinner. This has led to some first class and grass roots surfaces being prepared in unorthodox manner. It’s the skill of the groundsman to make sure that a balance is maintained and neither batsman – seamer or spinner – overpower each other.

During his residency at Northants CCC, David Bates gained a reputation for preparing some of the finest pitches in the country. David now heads up two companies: total-play Ltd where, over the past decade and a half, he has developed class-leading non-turf cricket pitch and pitch cover solutions, and sports pitch consultancy Total Turf Solutions Ltd.




The Spin Doctor: Part III


In the third of part of his column on how to encourage spin bowlers, cricket pitch expert David Bates looks at ‘The batsman spin pitch’…


In my last column I looked at how to encourage spinners to come to the fore in the long format of the game; this month I will look at player preparation prior to foreign tours.

The ECB are currently trialling methods of preparing batsman and bowlers for playing on pitches overseas – which are generally slower and offer more turn then our domestic surfaces – including how to replicate a ‘spin pitch’ that generates exaggerated turn, with medium to low bounce and pace.

The aim is to create a pitch that mimics these characteristics to aid the development of batting skills. The turn must be enough not to just to beat the bat, but also to cause the batsman to change mind during the shot. The pace of the surface must make it awkward for the batsman to play off the front foot when driving the ball and the bounce should have a medium-to-low angled trajectory, meaning that a delivery does not bounce over the top of the stumps from a good length.

It is imperative that both batsmen and bowlers are able to adapt their techniques, so new methods of simulating these types of pitches are currently being developed.

During his residency at Northants CCC, David Bates was the youngest first class groundsman on the circuit, quickly gaining a reputation for preparing some of the finest pitches in the country. Having worked as a pitch advisor and trainer for the IoG David now heads up two companies: total-play Ltd where, over the past decade and a half, he has developed class-leading non-turf cricket pitch and pitch cover solutions, and sports pitch consultancy Total Turf Solutions Ltd.




End of Season works – defining processes….


Over the years I’ve worked on literally hundreds of natural turf cricket pitches, ranging from village grounds to first class and International venues. When surveying these pitches, assessing their fitness for purpose and making recommendations for works to remedy key issues I’ve always mulled over how to best to explain, in simple terms, the options for cricket pitch works to the club man and groundsman.

A couple of years ago I sat down and did exactly that; creating a document that defines works into four key categories – or processes – and which has subsequently been agreed a good structure by ECB Pitch Consultant Chris Woods. Over the next few months I’ll look in more detail at each of these processes – End of Season Renovation, Table Construction (Full Pitch and Profile), Square Restoration and Profile Regeneration – highlighting the kind of issues that each can help to remedy and any limitations. The processes range in scope from regular end of season works through to the construction of a brand new cricket table to remedy even the most severe of problem pitches. The intermediary processes offer revolutionary solutions that can help address issues such as uneven surface levels, saddling, thatch and profile layering with immediate improvement to performance.

While any process would need the fine detail tweaking to suit the individual attributes of the pitch in question, this series should provide club groundsmen with a good insight into what works they should plan for.





Defining natural turf processes: End of Season Renovation

These vital works are completed following the end of the playing season and provide the foundation for the next season’s playing surface. The main aim is to repair damage caused during the playing season – such as improving surface levels and grass coverage – with works carried out at the optimum time of year to control organic matter content in the surface.

The sequence of works starts with the grass sward being cut as short as possible prior to scarification to remove organic matter, relieve soil tension, remove high areas and create grooves; with all debris completely removed using blowers or powered brushes.

The grooves created by the scarifier are then used to combine the seed and top dressing into the surface, giving a seed-to-soil connection. Seed should be applied evenly using a cyclone spreader or dimple seeder followed by a loam selected for the site. Loam may be applied using belt or brush-driven top dressers, by hand casting or with a straight edge. The aim is to a cover the seed and bring up surface levels without smothering the existing grass plant and creating layers. The amount of loam used will be determined by surface levels and the depth of scarification grooves.

Once the loam has been laid, fertiliser can be applied; the type and composition of which will depend on results of a soil test and should be applied using a cyclone spreader. These works are vital in producing good pitches and should be planned and completed as soon as possible after the playing season; maximising potential growth prior to play commencing the following season. In the next column we will take a look at ‘Profile Regeneration’, a process designed to bridge the gap between surface works and pitch construction



Defining natural turf processes: Profile Regeneration

The process of regeneration and profile recycling has been designed to bridge the gap between surface works and pitch construction. It is a hybrid the two, and should be viewed as ‘going a stage further’ than the restoration process. Where conditions allow, it acts as a cost-effective alternative to construction as it can solve many of the same problems; such as severe issues with levels and profile layering.

Regeneration results in an immediate improvement to performance and will enable the square to be used the following season, thus avoiding the delays often associated with construction works. It is, however, restricted to a depth of 80-100 mm. In ‘profile recycling’, rather than importing and exporting materials, on-site soils are utilised. Organic matter is removed from the surface and the existing underlying soil is cultivated. The process is purely dependant on site soil types and depths and employs machinery used in both construction and restoration; thus requires a high level of understanding by the contractor.

Surface regeneration works, including profile recycling, can be a cost-effective solution to breathe new life into old squares, creating the equivalent to a newly constructed table. It is not, however, a ‘fix all’ solution – the site’s topography, native soil type and a host of other factors need to be taken into account when deciding whether this option is viable. In the next column, we look at the process of Square Restoration.




Defining natural turf processes: Square Restoration


The restoration process should be seen as a more aggressive operation and one step further than a typical end of season works, which can be used to correct the most commonly seen faults of an established square. The process results in an immediate improvement to performance and will enable the square to be used the following season.


The most common issues it can help combat are a thatch layer, uneven surface levels and poor grass coverage. In addition to restoring the playing surface, the restoration process can also be used to incorporate a new loam. Restoration works would include fraise mowing to remove the organic layer (thatch) and the grass sward. This operation would use machinery commonly know has a “Koro”.


The surface would also be linear aerated using machinery with contra-rotating vertical blades approximately 3mm wide. Vertical blades cut into the surface to relieve soil tension, remove high areas and create grooves. This operation helps fraise mowing by loosening up the ground, while the grooves and material which are created aids soil amelioration and over seeding.


Severe surface levels (+ 80 mm over 3m), or ‘saddles,’ can also be removed by multiple passes of the linear aerator, surface planer or another type of powered cultivator. In the next column I will look at the ‘ultimate’ solution to severe issues – the construction of a new cricket table from scratch.