I met Keith Boyce working on his “Retirement Pitch” in Leeds. After I told him I was starting out as a club cricket groundsman he kindly gave me a copy of a document he had written with advice on basic groundsmanship. I’ve copied most of it here. I’m sure he’d be happy for it to be made public in this way. Dave Twiney 11/1/2007
THE CRICKET SQUARE
By Keith Boyce
Headingley Cricket Ground
My ideal cricket square would consist of 8-10 grass wickets plus one artificial wicket which would be used for Social type matches. Large squares are expensive to maintain, it is far better and economic sense to concentrate all your resources into fewer wickets ensuring good maintenance and preparation. Then each prepared wicket will withstand several matches on it before being taken out of play and renovated. Properly renovated wickets should be available for use again within 6 weeks.
PREPARING THE SQUARE FOR AUTUMN WORK
When working out an Autumn Programme of work I have never been embarrassed or ashamed to ask some-one else who I thought had more experience than myself to help me out.
I have seen many squares that have been ruined simply because the groundsman knew something was wrong with the wicket’s performance and instead of seeking qualified help when he wasn’t sure what was causing the problem he took a chance with his autumn work with disastrous and expensive results. The common mistake many groundsmen make is to believe a good heavy dressing of topsoil will solve their problems but much of this soil is of poor quality. Be careful and be warned, once the soil is on the square there is no turning back.
My autumn program is always made out by the first week in August.
It has been my experience in visiting many clubs that the biggest fault is the poor condition of the wicket surface due to the build up of thatch and fibre. Often below the thatch the soil is very dry and compacted.
As thatch and fibre are allowed to build up batting becomes more and more hazardous until even slow and medium paced bowlers make the odd ball leap alarmingly. This dangerous bounce happens when happens when the ball seam grips the thatch and pushes it forward making a bridge for it to fly off.
The thatch problem is entirely due to poor aeration and lack of scarification work. Too much rolling, not enough spiking.
For top dressing use a loam with clay content around 30%and a minimum binding strength of 120 lbs.
Top dressing should never be used to bury organic matter. Before applying any top soil make sure the existing surface is thoroughly scarified and swept clean.
When the surface is clean the whole square must be spiked, take care not to heave the surface. I use a Saral roller with 1 1/2 inch spikes over the square in many directions.
If it is necessary to hollow core the soil must contain some moisture to allow the 3 inch penetration required. It is expensive and foolhardy to attempt hollow coring a dry, hard and compacted square. Collect the cores with a shovel and leave the holes open for a day or so to dry and expand.
The scarification will leave the square with many weak and bare patches, these must be reseeded. The type of seed is a personal choice, sow the seeds best suited to your conditions. Many groundsmen now use perennial rye grasses . My opinion is they develop a strong root structure but are not the best at recovering after being cut short and the soil dried out. Whatever your choice put plenty on, sparse swards only encourage moss and weeds.
Applying topsoil is a very important operation, too much will result in layering, too little will serve no useful purpose. A dressing of 4-6 lbs per sq yd or 3 cwt per wicket is about right. A further dressing may be applied after the new seeds have germinated. Please remember you can only top dress with dry and carefully screened topsoil in open weather and when the land is reasonably dry. Take care to make sure it is applied evenly and luted well into the base of any existing grass.
SUGGESTED AUTUMN PROGRAMME OF WORK
- Cut the whole square short
- Scarify to clean the surface, avoid wicket ends, no need to disturb those new seeds.
- Remove all the loose rubbish, finish off by stiff brushing the surface clean.
- Thoroughly spike in many directions, do not disturb surface levels. A saral spiker is ideal for this work.
- Re-seed any weak areas put plenty of seed on.
- Lightly top dress each wicket with approx 3 cwt of suitable soil, which must be dry and well sieved.
- Gently lute soil into base of existing grass and spike holes to ensure the new soil is well integrated with the existing.
- Keep new seeded areas moist but do not over water, this will cause seed dispersion.
The success of your autumn work will depend on how soon you complete it. New seeds require heat and moisture to ensure good germination so make sure the reseeding is completed by mid September whilst the land is still warm.
Do not allow the grass to get too long. Try to maintain it at 1 ½ inches, but remember to keep off the square if the soil is too wet or the grass frosted. Check frequently for disease and treat if necessary.
When all the new seeded areas are well established the whole square must be aerated, preferably by hand forking to at least 4 ins deep and 2 inch centres, but take care not to heave the surface.
Frequent spikings in suitable weather throughout the winter by some kind of mechanical spiker will help keep the top 4 ins of soil open.
Remember grass does not grow in a soil but within the soil. By which I mean grass roots develop within the air spaces , so if compacted soils are not relieved there is no way a good grass structure can be developed and compacted soils will soon encourage shallow rooting and subsequently the formation of surface thatch which will lead to rapid deterioration of the square.
This feature of groundwork is the most difficult to explain. All I know is that it is generally the coldest day of the year when I begin. Whether there is a gently drying wind with a hazy sun or a blustering cold northerly March blow.
The reason for rolling before the soil dries out is to consolidate the whole square down to a depth of 4 or 5 inches. Consolidating below the surface can only be done before the square fully dries out. This is a very important stage in wicket preparation because you are rolling into your square the pace and bounce required for good cricket wickets. If this rolling is successful cricket wicket preparation is simply re-wetting the top few inches facing up to give a smooth flat surface, cutting the grass short then allowing the wicket to fully dry out.
SUGGESTED SPRING PROGRAM OF WORK
- Feb/March get rid of any worms
- Early March lightly fertilise. 11.6.6 or similar at 1 oz/sq yd – will help withstand early rolling.
- March/April frequent rolling. Do not create ridging. 80% of rolling should be cross-over the square, but at the end of each session roll from stump to stump.
- After rolling the square should be shallow spiked 1 inch deep would be ideal to stimulate growth by allowing feed, water and oxygen to get below the surface.
- Lightly scarify the surface or stiff brush to open up the grasses but take great care not to disturb the surface soil.
- Apply 2nd light fertilizer dressing
- Frequent cutting to reduce the grass height to approx ½ inch which is a good height to maintain it at during the playing season. Lower the height gently with frequent cuttings over a period of time.
There are two main tasks. First the continuous development of strong, healthy root structure which is about frequent mowing, preventing drought conditions and sensible feeding. Secondly, keeping the surface clean with frequent light scarification, hand raking or stiff brushing.
SUGGESTED SUMMER PROGRAMME
- Cut the square at least twice per week. More often if growth has been stimulated.
- Prevent drought conditions by watering.
- Fertilise every 6 weeks using 11.6.6 at1 to 1 ½ oz/sq yd. Do not feed after 31/July
- Light scarify every fortnight
- Kill off any weeds with selective weedkillers.
If autumn and spring work was successful, wicket preparation should be comparatively simple.
SUGGESTED PREPARATION METHOD
MONDAY – Cut wicket to identify it. Rake or scarify to clean the surface. Water if it’s dry – put on plenty.
TUESDAY – Heavy roll then brush the grass back up.
WEDNESDAY – Brush and rake, cut wicket shorter.
THURSDAY – as Tuesday
FRIDAY – as Weds, mark out wicket.
SATURDAY – Brush and rake, cut to lowest setting, final 10 minutes roll.
Recovery must begin the moment the wicket is finished with. First the wicket must be cleaned by brushing the damaged wicket ends clean then running the cutter over the wicket. Next copiously water the strip. Next day shallow spike the whole wicket with a saral spiker. Then brush seeds into weak areas. A light dressing of fertilizer will help. Do not add any top soil if the wicket is to be used again that season.
WICKET END RENOVATION
With so many good species of perennial ryegrass available wicket end repairs should not cause any problems. By pre-germinating the seed you intend using for these repairs it is possible to repair on a Monday and cut within 10 days
- Sweep out old footholes
- Try to get some spike holes into bare and damaged areas
- Copiously water
- Next day – level all damaged areas using heavy clay loam. Rake to tilth all surface bare areas.
- Apply seed, put plenty on.
- Very lightly cover all seeded areas with new mown and dry grass clippings.
- Heavily water – grass clippings will prevent seed dispersion and protect from drying out.