Late February to early March is the time for the cricket groundsman to start his preparation work for the coming season. When conditions allow the square should be “topped” if necessary to reduce the height of the sward to between 15 – 18mm. Pre-season rolling is absolutely crucial to the production of good quality pitches, as the cricket square requires a firm even surface and rolling should commence as soon as conditions apply. As a rule of thumb this should be when it is envisaged that all the heavy frosts have passed and when the ground is firm and dry enough to allow a knife to be inserted and withdrawn leaving a clean blade.
The use of rollers to firm the surface over a period of several weeks will slowly consolidate the square. Using a light roller at the earliest opportunity and gradually increasing the weight, if possible, to a 30cwt or over, heavy roller. The pitch should be rolled in all directions, but with the emphasis on cross rolling in the early stages, but finishing on the line of the pitches. The aim is to consolidate the square to a depth of about 100mm before the commencement of the season.
Scarifying may be necessary in the early spring, but this should only be done with care being taken not to destroy grasses sown in the previous autumn. Too heavy scarification that would cut into the surface may well lead to cracking of the pitch later in the season.
It is wise at this stage to have a nutritional analysis of the soil to assist in deciding on the type of fertiliser to be applied. I normally give the square a light application of a nitrogen based fertiliser containing between 9 – 12% N about the second week in March followed by a similar application a month later, the levels of P and K in the fertiliser are decided after the analysis is known.
Make sure the square is correctly set out with the corners being at exact right angles.
Aim to start the season with the grass height on the square at between 12 – 14mm and maintain this height throughout the season cutting at least once a week if not twice during growing conditions.
The outfield should provide a true surface for the ball to run without deviation. More often than not grounds that sustain winter sports have an end of season renovation program in the spring which may involve scarification, decompacting, overseeding and top dressing to fill in divots, scrapes and hollows. Initially there may be some slight disruption, however once the seed has germinated and any top dressing has been worked in to the surface, the outfield should provide an even surface. On grounds where no winter sport is played outfields are often overlooked. Thatch levels are high and many of these outfields contain humps and hollows that may radically prevent a good maintenance programme being implemented. To bring a poor surface to a good standard may incur huge expense and is not affordable by a small club without assistance, however anything possible must be done to try to improve the standard of the outfield whether it be scarifying as much as possible which will help with drainage or keeping it weed free enhancing its appearance. Although fertiliser on the outfield is not as important as on the square, one dressing a year, usually in the spring is sufficient for most grounds.