IOG technical turf consultant Alex Vickers, offers helpful advice to cricket groundsman trying to make up for lost time.
“Rolling on a river…”
The words from Tina Turner’s song have come to mind as I have mournfully looked out to our wicket considering what to do. If, like me, you have watched your ground get wet, then wetter and finally disappear under a sea of water over the past few months, you have probably wondered whether it will ever get sunny again.
Well, the sun is out at least, but how do you make up for all that lost time with the cricket season imminent and players straining at the leash to get out and enjoy the sudden hot weather? In practice, those lost weeks cannot be made up for in a few hot and sunny days. The outfields still need to dry and be cut properly, the square needs to be cut, rolled, sprayed and all the moss that has grown in the wet, cold, March needs removing. The risk is that we try to do all those things at once, attempting to make up for the lost time in a frenzy of activity. Please don’t try to do this – at best you will be wasting fuel and time, at worst, you may damage your square.
Some sensible leagues have cancelled the first round of games and hopefully clubs and captains will remember the bad weather and understand that the grounds need time to catch up – my square and most other clubs I know are anywhere between 2 and 4 weeks behind where they usually are by now. If its similar for you what should you do? How can you catch up and what short-cuts are there?
There are a few things you can do to save time and bring your square on without doing damage – and though I am sure all our pitches will be a bit slow and low for the first few games even if we do everything right, the good news is the pitches will quickly improve.
7 corkers to help you get the game on
The first place to start is rolling. Despite the publication of the Cranfield Rolling Research(1) I remain convinced many groundstaff still roll squares too much so this is the place to save some time. Consider the following:
- If you have mown your square with a decent cylinder mower you will have started your rolling process at the same time. Most square mowers weigh a lot and that weight is spread over a small contact area so the pressure applied can be high. So don’t worry about starting rolling with a light roller – my advice is go straight on with your normal roller (unballasted if possible). Check to see whether the roller is leaving a large crease between the rolled pitch and the unrolled adjacent pitch – anything more than 3 mm could cause a problem so either stop and wait a day or so for the square to dry a little more or use your mower to roll, lifting the mowing cylinder and front roller off the ground and putting all the weight onto the back roller. Let the soil dry and try your heavy roller again.
- If in doubt, take a small amount of soil from the square surface and see if you can roll it into a sausage. If you can easily and you can join both ends of the sausage into a circle without the soil breaking it is still too wet. Ideally the soil should be easy to crumble and break under pressure. If you have a Theta Probe then use that -18 – 22% is going to be in the right ball park.
- The Cranfield research showed that most of the compactive effect of rolling occurs in the first pass of the roller with decreasing impact thereafter until all the compaction it is possible to achieve on that day and at that water content is achieved between 2 and 4 passes. On a given day there is no need for more than 4 passes of a roller (for clarity that is up, down, up and down again) then move over and do the next section remembering to make sure you overlap slightly with where you have just been. With many rollers this is around 10 minutes rolling per pitch so for my square with 8 pitches it takes no more than 80 minutes to do the whole square. If time is short then reduce it to 2 passes ahead of moving on, you will still have achieved most of the compaction possible and halved your time to roll your square.
- Let it dry and roll again. This week, it has been possible on a fast-drying square to get two full rolling sessions of the square done.
- You do not have to roll your square in three directions! You can save time just rolling in the direction of play, thus not worrying about having to do 3 full sessions to get the Union Jack pattern.
- Many of us need to prepare pitches as the same time as rolling the square. If you are really pressed for time then concentrate on your pitch preparation as this is the key priority. For many club grounds you only need 10 passes per pitch in the 7 – 10 days of pitch preparation time spread over three rolling events. The key thing is let to the pitch dry before rolling again. Start with two passes. Let the pitch dry for a couple of days (cover as little as necessary assuming you have covers), then roll for 4 passes. Let the pitch dry again for 2-4 days and roll again with 4 passes and you will be about there. If you get chance to do a few extra pitches after your pitch preparation then go for it but remember where you got up to so you can carry on from that point next time.
- Don’t be tempted to spend a whole day rolling to make up for lost time – it will not help, you may cause structural damage to your square which will reduce pitch quality for years to come and you may set your grass quality back. Let the pitch dry between rolling and if you need more time then don’t be afraid to cancel a game (especially pre-season friendlies) as damage done now could cause bigger problems through the season. If your club will not listen to your advice then that is up to them, not down to you.
Help your groundsman
A final plea goes to club captains, fixture secretaries, chairs and umpires. This has been a very wet late winter and spring (as bad as I can remember). It has been very cold and opportunities to work on the ground without damaging it have been very few. Grass has only just started growing properly in the last 2 weeks. Please use your brains! If you need to lose a match or two then be brave enough to make the tough choice – you will get better pitches later and ultimately will get more play from your square overall. Umpires, if you are assessing pitches then don’t do it in a vacuum – remember the weather and take that into account. Pitches should never be dangerous but as long as they are safe that is achievement enough this spring. If a pitch is dangerous then blame the captain for not cancelling the game, not the groundsman!
Good luck and a heart-felt well done from me and the IOG – this spring has been a real nightmare so well done for keeping going in terrible weather and I hope you have an excellent season