Back to work…
With the weather hopefully starting to improve and ground temperature on the rise, March is the month for action! The grass plant will come out of its dormant winter state at ground temperatures of 6 / 7 degrees – so we need to be ready as soon as this happens to prevent too much growth.
At the first signs of growth, aim to cut to the optimum summer maintenance height of 12mm or ½ an inch as soon as conditions allow. If the square is in good shape you may be able to use a cylinder mower straight away, but on a longer sward use a rotary mower for the first couple of cuts, remembering to collect and clear the clippings, before you move onto the cylinder.
Worm control is also key – casts can get squashed into the surface when machinery (or feet) pass over them, causing bare earth patches that not only allow weed grasses to take hold but also affect performance. As we can no longer just spray to get rid of worms regular brushing, light raking or using a drag mat before mowing or rolling can help disturb any casts and help prevent this happening.
Even with the best conditions it’s pretty inevitable that there will be one or two bare patches on the square. To combat this over-seed using two methods – first with a dimple seeder (which creates a ‘pouch’ in which seeds sit) – and also hand-casting seed evenly over the surface prior to 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. With these works and a bit of luck with the weather, you’ll have your table ready for action at the start of the season.
Dealing with a delayed start to the cricket season…
With the COVID-19 crisis having pushed the potential start of the cricket season back, David Bates, MD of cricket pitch specialist total-play, looks at what clubs should be doing maintenance-wise to ensure their ground is ready for action as soon as restrictions are lifted.
We’re living through unprecedented times but, with socially-distanced practice nets activity now sanctioned, there’s a glimmer of hope that recreational cricket could be played before the season is out. So, what’s the best way to ensure your square is in peak condition for a late-season start?
In short, keep doing what you would normally do during a season for pitches which aren’t in play – and the same goes for the outfield. Keep mowing heights and standard maintenance practises the same even though no games are taking place.
Don’t let the grass grow and become unmanageable as you risk the grass plant ‘getting used’ to growing at a certain height – this can cause the ryegrass plant to become very ‘crowny’ and the thickening out of annual meadow grass which, in turn, creates even more organic matter. This means cutting is more important than ever – regularly verti-cut the square and brush to remove dead matter. The table should be kept at the annual maintenance height or ½ inch or 12mm on the table, with the outfield cut to the optimum height for your setting; still striping it up and keeping on top of the heights as if it were in play.
Many clubs will be feeling the pinch financially and so they may be a need to cut costs. But I would urge clubs to still try and invest in the playing surface. Even though the square may look better than ever before. It is still alive and growing. It still needs the normal annual maintenance operations to be completed with a focus on the table in controlling the build-up of organic matter. By keeping on top of this you stand the best chance of your ground being ready to get out and play cricket as soon as the Government gives the go-ahead.
Cricket grounds may not have seen much action this season, but that doesn’t mean you can neglect critical pre-winter maintenance tasks. MD of total-play Ltd and former first-class groundsman David Bates shares his checklist of essential jobs to ensure your ground is ‘pitch perfect’ for the 2021 season…
By now, you should have completed your end of season works on your natural turf pitch – cutting the grass sward as short as possible, scarifying, removing debris, seeding and fertilizing. This should see your square set fair for the winter and you can pretty much leave it until the grass plant starts growing again in spring, aside from removing any excess leaves and other organic matter from the surface.
There are, however, other jobs around the ground to get on with – taking care of covers and other equipment to make sure they’re in good order for what will hopefully be a busy playing season next year. Mobile pitch covers should have any PVC cover tops & printed banners removed and stored away, then frames should be chained together to reduce the chance of them moving in high winds. Winds can also be promblematic for sight screens – position them in a sheltered area on site, away from prevailing winds and, 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. Netting should also be removed from mobile batting cages and the frames chained to prevent unwanted movement.
Flat sheet ground covers should be cleaned using a soft brush and water and examined for damage before being stored, ideally in a protection bag or sleeve, in a dry frost-free place, raised off the ground and out of sunlight.
Non turf facilities – whether match play or practice – are low maintenance, but will still benefit from pre-winter attention. Remove any batting curtains, advertising banners and anything else attached to netting and inspect it for damage before removing the nets themselves (if recommended by the manufacturer). The surface itself should be lightly brushed on a weekly basis to remove debris and prevent a build-up of organic matter. If you spot any issued with surface levels or carpet damage seek professional advice and aim to get any repairs completed before winter so that you’ll be ready for action in spring.
Here’s to the groundsmen – the unsung heroes of 2020
Arguably the most important member of any club, but one whose contribution often goes overlooked, is the groundsman. Here former First-Class Groundsman and MD of cricket pitch specialist total-play Ltd gives a shout-out to these unsung heroes…
Not for them the glamour of applause for a match-winning catch or spectacular innings, more the quiet satisfaction that, without them, the game simply couldn’t go ahead. Such is the lot of the cricket groundsman at pretty much every level of the game. It may not the most glamorous role, but it is one that requires considerable knowledge, time and dedication to provide a pitch that meets the rigorous standards set by the ECB even at grassroots level.
Preparing a cricket table to a decent standard is not a quick-fix that can be achieved in a few days – or even weeks. It takes year-round attention to detail and slog to ensure that seasonal tasks are carried out on time, any issues are quickly and effectively dealt with and that the surface doesn’t get to much – or too little – moisture. When you consider that most groundsmen at league level are unpaid volunteers, this is no mean feat.
Throughout lockdown, with uncertainty hanging over the forthcoming season, groundsman across the country will have been heading out to mow, water and maintain pitches – applying covers where necessary and keeping the ground in tip-top shape throughout spring and early summer in the hope that their side might just have the chance to play a few games at the end of the 2020 season. Autumn will have seen them undertake all the usual end of season tasks to put their pitch ‘to bed’ for the winter, with hopes of a more normal start to the 2021 cricket season.
Without these stalwarts of the game, cricket pitches nationwide would have fallen into poor condition; compromising the very future of the game at grassroots level. So, this festive season – wherever and however we manage to celebrate it – let’s all raise an extra glass to the unsung hero of our game: The Groundsman.