It’s the Monday after the final Saturday of the cricket season, one of the busiest times of the year for the groundsman. All the equipment such as netting, covers and boundary rope has to be gathered in and put into storage for the closed season, the sight screens have to be moved to a more sheltered location to prevent them being blown over and damaged in the winter gales and the score boxes have to be battened down and locked up.
The most important work however, is reserved for the cricket squares themselves, the end of season renovation.
Each groundsman has his own routine way of doing things. I like to cut the square right down to wicket level before deep scarifying in at least four different directions. For the last three years I have been using a Graydon scarifier or similar which has the capability of penetrating to 50mm, however I set it to a depth around 20mm. The big problem using this type of machine is collecting all the debris after the operation, I have found the best way on my squares is to use a rotary powered brush.
At this stage I usually like to take a few core samples from the square and send them off for analysis so I can later determine the autumn/winter fertiliser requirements. I then spread a light application of pre-seeding fertiliser prior to overseeding the entire square.
For the bare ends I use a dwarf perennial ryegrass mixture (Bar Extreme) which contains three different cultivars, but for the rest of the square I have been trialling a mixture comprising of 80% crested hairgrass and 20% slender creeping red fescue. The main purpose of this trial is to try to achieve a better binding of the loam layer of the square. These grasses are finer than the dwarf ryes but have a supposed better root mass which in theory should hold everything together more effectively.
For best results overseeding should be carried out using a machine which actually buries the seed, as a much lower germination rate can be expected when seed is scattered randomly across the surface. I find a Sisis Variseed gives good results. If however there is no machine available to overseed, sarrel rolling may be carried out in a number of directions prior to sewing, and then brushing in the seed mixture to facilitate germination.
Top dressing using the appropriate loam is then undertaken, the rate applied may depend on whether Vertidraining is to be done at a later date, if that is the case a light application of 2 – 3 bags per wicket of loam may be applied, leaving 5 – 6 bags per wicket for a further application after Vertidraining. If there is no intention of Vertidraining top dressing at a rate of 6 – 8 bags loam per wicket can be effected. (Mixing of loams without firstly ensuring they are compatible, is not recommended as a layering effect may develop within the profile which could give rise to root breaks and also have detrimental effects on the pace and bounce of the wickets produced the following season.)
Some groundsmen prefer to aerate the squares prior to overseeding, however at this time of the year with most cricket squares, the depth to which solid tine aeration can be achieved is quite restricted and of limited value. The process of decomposing and aerating the square is probably better left until it has softened with rain and a decent penetration can be achieved. My preference these days is to Vertidrain the square in late November early December time and vary the depth of penetration each year to prevent a “pan” or root break forming at a particular depth. As a rule Vertidraining should not be carried out later than the middle of December, solid tine aeration can be performed throughout the winter months up until around the end of January. Slit tine aeration should not be used on cricket squares.
Cutting or topping the grass after germination may be carried out leaving the height of the cut grass between 20 -25 mm (¾” – 1”), with the exceptionally mild autumn encountered this year some groundsmen have had to top their squares three or four times already.
After receiving the analysis results from the core samples I took, I decided on an application of 30 grams per square meter of 5 : 0 : 20 fertiliser as there was a slight deficiency of potassium but an adequate level of phosphate, this was undertaken during the last week in October.
Hopefully my squares have now softened up sufficiently to allow a reasonable penetration with the Vertidrain, I will be aiming for around 175mm (7”), and hope to perform this operation within the next two weeks.
I regularly inspect my squares to minimise the opportunity of any diseases developing ( fusarium, red thread, dollar spot etc) and also with this in mind drag brush the square in the mornings after heavy dews.
I do realise that many smaller clubs do not have a full time groundsman, but I hope I have given an insight as to the type of operations that need to be carried out at the end of EVERY season. I believe that skimping on the maintenance of the cricket square will, in the long term be a false economy, as once a square has fallen into disrepair the cost to put things right will far outweigh the time, effort and outlay of regular provision of end of season renovation