Defining natural turf processes: Cricket table construction
To complete the series on end of season works, we now look at the most drastic solution to severe cricket pitch issues – the construction of an entirely new cricket table. Due to the expense and time constraints involved, this is really seen as a ‘last resort’ – only completed when a new ground is being built or an existing playing surface cannot be brought back to the required standard by any other means. New squares are designed and built in two ways; either a ‘Full Construction’ or a ‘Profile Construction’.
A full construction design incorporates a gravel raft, binding layer and loam. A typical profile depth would range between 400-450 mm. The gravel raft is used to create stability, with an angular primary stone used to support the loam profile and reduce the risk of settlement. In some cases, a gravel raft can also help drainage when used in connection with a perimeter ring drain.
A profile construction design uses only imported loam directly on the site’s existing soil base, with a typical profile depth ranging between 100-250 mm.
Whichever construction method is decided upon, the use of laser-guided machinery is recommended. Modern laser guided machinery performs better than traditional methods i.e. compaction rates, surface gradients, surface levels, material quantities.
Construction projects greater than 75mm in depth should be granted a twelve to eighteen month period for establishment. This naturally means that the table will be out of use for a full playing season, which is why it is recommended only in the most severe cases.
I’m a believer in the old adage ‘poor planning equals poor performance’ so now, while everything is still quiet in terms of physical work being carried out of the square, is the perfect time to plan ahead.
Kit is the first place I’d start – producing quality pitches is all down to equipment so now is the ideal time for groundsmen to get in the store sheds and check their tools. Send mowers away for a service and blade sharpening, check covers for damage either by rodents or wear and tear and either book them in for repair or research replacements.
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; ensure the scoreboards are working and check the irrigation system – do you need a new sprinkler, replacement nozzles or need to invest in a totally new system? All this will mean that when the time comes for action all your kit is ready to roll and you won’t be hit with delays or unexpected costs.
Away from the ground, as soon as the 2018 fixtures schedule hits your doormat start planning the sequence of pitches you will use through the season. The last thing you want is to get to a big game at the end of the season and end up using an outside pitch or one that hasn’t had time to fully recover, so aim always aim to have a pitch either side that’s not in use or that you’re looking to repair quickly. Other than that, enjoy the last few quiet weeks before work begins in earnest!
Ready for action!
As we enter March hopefully the weather is starting improve, which will see a rise in ground temperature. Grass comes out of its dormant winter state when ground temperatures get about 6 / 7 degrees so we need to be ready for action as soon as this happens to prevent too much growth.
Monitor this and, as soon as possible, aim to cut to the optimum summer maintenance height of 12mm or ½ an inch. If the square is in relatively good shape you may be able to use a cylinder mower straight away, but if it’s quite long don’t be tempted – instead use a rotary mower for the first couple of cuts, remembering to collect and clear the clippings, before you move onto the cylinder mower.
A particularly hot topic this year is worm control – with changes in legislation cutting down on the chemicals that we can use on the square, it’s no longer simply a case of spraying to get rid of worms. This means that casts can potentially cause a problem – when machinery (or feet) pass over them then can be squashed onto the surface, causing bare earth patches that not only allow weed grasses to take hold but also affect performance. Regular brushing, light raking or using a drag mat before mowing or rolling can disturb any casts and help prevent this happening.
That said, it’s pretty inevitable that after pre-season rolling there will be one or two brown patches on the square. Over-seeding should remedy this and I’d suggest using two methods – using a dimple seeder to create a pouch in which seeds sit – and also casting seed evenly over the surface prior to pre-season rolling. While the second method won’t have as high a germination rate as using a dimple seeder, the roller will still push the seed into the soil; preventing it being blown away by wind or taken by birds.
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.
Cricket Pitch Covers: Beyond ‘getting the game on’
Modern cricket pitch covers are split into two basic categories – flat sheet ground covers and raised cricket pitch covers. Both styles have their pros and cons, and each individual ground will favour a certain style or combination of covers depending upon its topography. For example, raised mobile covers aren’t always suitable for grounds that have a gradient within or across the line of play, or where saddling is an issue, as water can run down from higher up the ground and ‘pond’ underneath the raised cover.
In this case, flat sheet covers are preferable – they can be deployed across a greater area of the ground, capturing water on their surface so it doesn’t pool. If water does collect anywhere in a ‘dip’, it will rest on top of the cover as opposed to saturating the pitch. To meet this remit, there are breathable flat sheet covers on the market that also let light through to the surface – including our own flagship Climate Cover System – which is designed to be left in place for extended periods.
Where possible, we recommend alternating the use of mobile and flat sheet covers to 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.
Whatever your budget, we’d advise investing in the best ground cover solution you can afford. At the very least, a decent single wicket flat sheet rain cover, which can be picked up for a couple of hundred pounds, will pay dividends when it comes to enabling matches to continue should the weather be against you.
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:
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.
Dual purpose cricket pitches
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 aeriate, 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 groundman in that use typically reduces the organic matter in the surface; alleviating a common pre-season headache!
Preparing for the worst…
Following a winter where unprecedented rainfall and a series of storms led to widespread flooding and destruction David Bates, MD of cricket pitch specialist total-play, shares his advice on how to minimise damage when the worst happens…
With extreme weather events becoming ever more common during the off-season, the best advice I can give – whether faced with wind, wet weather, flooding or snow and ice is to ‘be prepared’.
In many cases, it’s a case of using common sense to carry out some simple tasks at the end of the season that could save thousands of pounds worth of damage. Sight screens are particularly susceptible to wind – remove the slats, move to a more sheltered area or turn so they’re not going to catch the prevailing wind. Changing or strapping down frames will anchor them and prevent them toppling. Mobile pitch covers should have PVC tarps removed and the metal frames be stowed together, raised on bricks, to prevent rubber wheels perishing. Ground and flat sheets should be thoroughly cleaned according to manufacturer’s guidelines, dried and stowed away in their prescribed bags – ideally off the ground to avoid vermin damage.
When it comes to flooding, at the first risk of inundation get any stowed gear out of sheds and areas at risk and stored on higher ground. The aftermath of flooded fine turf pitches can be severe due to debris, stones & other contaminants. Depending on how quickly the water subsides, silt can be left on surface and cause major issues – ‘capping off’ gaps in the soil and affecting the health of the grass. To reduce effects, as soon as water levels go down but before fully dissipated, drag-mat the playing surface to agitate silt – and help prevent a contaminate layer forming.
With the worst-case scenario mow looking likely to happen on regular basis, preparation is more important than ever and should be undertaken as soon as playing season finishes.