This presentation was given by Richard Cragg to a Webinar arranged by the CCB and attended by 150 officials from the Cheshire Leagues on 1/March …………
Good evening, everyone.
Groundsmanship is perhaps not the most scintillating aspect of cricket for many cricket lovers to listen to. However, as we have seen very recently at the top level of Test cricket in India, creating successful wickets which serve up a fair battle and balance between bat and ball is vital for the quality of cricket on all our Cheshire grounds and no easy task for groundsmen to fulfil, particularly with the climate in this region. The best club wickets are the result of 14 days of knowledgeable , hard working preparation when sunshine to dry out wickets may be in short supply and heavy rain often spoils promising tracks, unless covers can be hustled on immediately during the week.
I guess that most of you listening in tonight will be on club committees or be centrally responsible for some aspect of cricket in the county or at your club, so what I am going to say I hope will be helpful to YOUR club in preparing effectively your ground for the coming season.
Pre season preparation out on the field normally starts in March, although it can be a tricky weather month. Amazingly this year, preliminary work at some clubs already started in late February.
As many of our groundsmen are well advanced in years, it may be that as a consequence of understandable Covid caution and lockdown requirements, it would be wise for your club, if you haven’t done so already, to check out your groundsman’s availability and willingness to play a full role, plus communicating similarly with volunteers who may form part of your grounds team. I use the word groundsMAN, but it is interesting to note that of 67 grounds staff at Manchester City’s headquarters 7 are female. Just as women’s cricket is developing fast so we may soon have ‘groundswomen’, if that is the right term , gracing our cricket fields. I hope so.
At this time of year in March, or very early April, there are many important grounds preparations to be carried out behind the boundary rope. As we know, many clubs organise pre-season working parties which are invaluable in getting the ground ship shape, ensuring that the practice facility is ready for play, checking that sight screens, covers and net cages are all in working order, tidying the score box and groundsman’s shed, giving the pavilion rooms a spring clean, plus sundry other tasks which ensure a smooth start to the season. Seemingly insignificant jobs are important like ordering scorebooks and checking that sets of stumps and bails are available for matchday one.
It may be that if pavilion access is limited by Covid restraints at any point this Summer outdoor changing facilities, a shelter of some description for the players on match days on the ground will be Covid required.
The date for such a working party group needs to be established by clubs very soon and notice sent out to members to ensure good attendance. At the moment The Nat West Cricket Force’s initiative supportive of working parties is currently suspended due to Covid. Over 2,600 clubs in 2019 utilised this support group and NAT West’s situation could change at any time.
Of course, at this time of year, the groundsman himself has key responsibilities on his shoulders: checking that all machinery is working efficiently, all other grounds equipment is ready for use and the essentials for the in-season tending and repair of both square and outfield: loam, fertiliser, grass seed, fuel and sawdust need to be brought in. Ah yes, sawdust, sadly but crucially and not to be forgotten!
In terms of work on the square and outfield, temperature and rainfall levels obviously dictate what can be done. Patience is often needed. March can be notoriously unpredictable!! CAG’s 3 professional pitch advisers, Paul Agar at Warrington, Alex Kegg at Chester Boughton Hall and Mark Samaru at Toft ,therefore based in different geographical parts of the county, are recommending that groundsmen commence their work now while the weather is favourable with gentle cuts of the square, light spiking to get oxygen down to what will be new grass roots which only germinated back in late September, give a gentle feed of Spring and Summer fertiliser and then, when the square is looking healthy heavy and robust, at the start of April, roll the square in as many different directions as possible to consolidate the surface with the aim of producing reliable, firm wickets with pace off the surface and regular height of bounce through to the wicketkeeper, yet with some seam and spin movement off the pitch. This combination will give reward for both fine stroke play AND skilful, accurate bowling. This is no easy blend for groundsmen to achieve! As Michael Atherton put it last week, creating an excellent cricket wicket is an elusive ‘art form not a science’.
I would like you to know that The Cheshire Association of Groundsmen exists to offer help and information through our well trained and experienced ECB pitch advisers to any of our 120 clubs that seek friendly advice or professional support in relation to their square and outfield surfaces and the development thereof. The advisers are happy to talk on the phone, make visits to your ground, offer their verbal guidance, produce written reports, whatever the club requires.
Their contact numbers are available on the CAG website. The CAG committee is working closely with Gareth Moorhouse at The Cheshire Cricket Board and he also can link you with our advisers.
I recommend our website to you . Please tell your groundsmen that it has been recently updated in its format and layout and there is a wealth of good information on groundsmanship to read and consider.
Covid-allowing, Dave Twiney, our long-serving and dedicated secretary and treasurer, is running in early April a Level One pre-season preparation course and an Autumn renovation course in late August. There is also a Level 1 interactive course on The National Grounds Management Association website, a really useful course for new grounds volunteers, and revision and update for the more experienced and only £25.
Let us hope for a full and warm Summer of quality cricket played in a competitive but civilised and sporting way.
Richard Cragg, Chairman of The Cheshire Association of Groundsmen.