Graham Harradine of Hay Park Cricket Club

In our first nomination for  SLOG Ezicover Australia’s Best Amateur Club Curator comes from Western Australia. Jono Whitney FROM Hay Park Cricket Club has nominated their curator, Graham Harradine.

 

Harradaine is a huge part of the furniture at the Redbacks with duties ranging from club treasurer, runs the bar on training nights and distributes club kit, but most importantly club curator.

 

As a club member, they’ve run out of accolades to give him, he’s a life member and a club patron but Jono reckons that some recognition from outside of the club would be great and that he should be in contention for Australia’s Best Amateur Club Curator.

As curator, Graham is considered to produce some of the best decks outside of Perth. This all comes down to his dedication and attention to detail, producing the goods for Hay Park week in and week out. He does it with the essential equipment as there is only a small shipping container for storage with everything fitting in like a jigsaw puzzle piece and no room for covers,

 

This where Jono believes Hay Park and Graham would benefit from a SLOG Ezicover as the covers they currently have are too heavy to put out by one person. Due to their limited storage space on site, Graham keeps them at his house and is regularly left to get them onto his trailer by himself (which is exceptional in itself). When it comes to getting them on the wicket it requires a minimum of 10 people to get them on comfortably and most know curators know what Graham experiences often and that the job is left with the curator and one or two other people to get done.

Thanks to Jono Whitney and Hay Park CC for nominating Graham! Graham will surely be in hot contention come closing date to be one of our five finalists. For more information on nominating for Australia’s Best Amateur Club Curator click here!

If you’re interested in purchasing a SLOG Ezicover, get in touch with Chris Cay via slogezicover@hotmail.com.au or mobile 0449 752 684

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Australia’s Best Amateur Club Curator

The Perfect Pitch and SLOG Ezicover are teaming up in 2019 to find Australia’s best Amateur Club Curator. Nominate your curator for them to go in the running to be awarded The Perfect Pitch prize pack (shirt, hat & curating kit) along with winning their club a SLOG Ezicover to continue to assist with lightening the load of preparing wickets at their venue and focus on getting the best pitch up and cricket played.

To enter and qualify

  • Nominate yourself or nominated by a club person or official
  • Provide your contact details, club and two contacts from your cricket club
  • Provide a profile shot, pictures of the pitch and areas maintained, work shed and machinery along with relevant details around wicket block, ground, any issues or maintenance problems etc.
  • All pictures submitted must be from the 2018/19 season
  • Paid and professional curators are not eligible (the position is your full time job and/or you are currently employed as a turf professional and make the pitch in your own time). We accept that some clubs offer remuneration for pitch assistance that is minimal and we will consider those entrants on a merit basis however as a guide the remuneration must not be over $150 a week to be considered.
  • Tell us why your club could do with a SLOG Ezicover system.
  • Entries from outside of Australia will not be eligible.
  • Entries will only be accepted via Facebook direct messages to http://www.facebook.com/theperfectcricketpitch/ or theperfectpitch@perfectcricketpitch.com
  • Terms & Conditions

The nomination period has opened from the 3rd February 2019 through to closing date 1st July 2019.

All entries will be featured at the discretion of The Perfect Pitch to promote the Award during, after completion and for any reason as deemed appropriate by The Perfect Pitch along with the promotion of the SLOG Ezicover.

The Perfect Pitch will select five entrants in total and then allow The Perfect Pitch fan base to vote to decide which curator will be awarded Australia’s Best Amateur Curator. The selection of these entries may include club visitation by The Perfect Pitch or nominated representative.

Runners up will all receive The Perfect Pitch hat and shirt.

Winner will receive The Perfect Pitch hat, shirt and curating kit along with one SLOG Ezicover system and trophy.

Winners will be notified by their email and/or phone.

If you’re interested in purchasing a SLOG Ezicover, get in touch with Chris Cay via slogezicover@hotmail.com.au  or mobile 0449 752 684

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Q&A with Nick Larkin

Recently valuable contributor, passionate sports turf manager and part of the admin setup for The Perfect Pitch, Darryl Davidson poised some great questions to NSW Blues opening batsman Nick Larkin. Nick is one of the premier cricket batsmen in the country (Sydney University Cricket Club), with a penchant for big scores with his most recent Sheffield Shield match making 109 for the Blues against South Australia and currently in the Melbourne Stars BBL setup.  Besides being an outstanding cricketer (if you think you’re having a good cricket season, check out his MyCricket stats), Nick is also approachable and responsive to the game. We thank him for taking the time to give some insight from an opening batsman’s perspective on curating and what The Perfect Pitch is.

Daryl Davidson:  The Perfect Pitch would like to know from a player’s perspective what is The Perfect Pitch. Obviously, you’re a batsman but what do you consider to be The Perfect Pitch?

Nick Larkin: Even contest between bat and ball. Needs to offer assistance to either quicks through good pace and carry or turn for spin bowlers. Even bounce is key, whether that be consistently low or consistently steeper.

The best batsman negotiates these conditions, and it sorts the wheat from the chaff.

DD: You have seen a lot of pitches over the years, do you think you can judge a pitch by looking at it or have you been surprised over the years after judging a book by its cover?

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NL: Generally, fairly easy to gauge as to how they will play. More to do with the nature of the surface and underlying hardness as opposed to what it looks like on top.

DD: Playing as a professional cricketer coming back to grade cricket do you think at all a good pitch can be made to look below average from the players using it?

NL: Yes, I believe that is true. Lower scores don’t mean worse wickets. Weaker batsmen generally can’t deal with extra pace or bounce. And the nature of batsmen is that they will whinge if things aren’t perfect for them.

DD:  In your experience as a player do you ever look at the weather in the area your meant to be playing in leading up to a game or do you just look out the window and think we should be right even though you’re playing 30kms away?

NL: Personally, I take all those things into consideration and try not to judge the wicket until the latest possible time before play starts to allow the preparation of the wicket to be completed.

DD:  Over the years have you ever noticed when a player looks at a field and asks themselves what was played there during the winter, what concert or event was held, or do they just rock up and expect the perfect surface every time?

NL: Most players understand that there is churn from winter to summer, particularly with their home grounds. It is still challenging to deal with though when the state of the field impacts your ability to execute skills and players definitely react in the heat of the moment to blame the state of the ground.

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DD:  Do you know what variety of grass or soil you are playing on and if so, what is the best variety you have played on around the world?

NL: I honestly don’t know any details like this. My club in Belfast used Surry Loam (I think that is why it was called) and it spun a lot in dry weather.

DD:  With Shield pitches what day do you expect it to be dead or break up? And do you investigate each grounds history of how the pitch usually plays, and the weather expected or do you just rely on players feedback?

NL: Consideration given to both historical nature of pitches and how they have been playing recently according to players. Expect break up or general deterioration to start taking impact day three. Wickets that deteriorate provide the best cricket. Whether that be cracking up and variable bounce, or footmarks for turn.

DD: Can a green pitch be a great batting wicket

NL: Absolutely. As long as the bounce is even.

DD:  Have you ever investigated the clay content on the pitch you are playing on, and the moisture content apart from the old pressing the spikes into the deck?

And did you know each wicket soil is very different from state to state and country, meaning that if you had more knowledge on the soil you would be more confident on a decision at the toss to bat or bowl?

From a soil analysis perspective, higher clay content will dry out slower than a clay with less clay content, but as clay has such a high field capacity to hold moisture it also has the highest permanent wilting point percentage. A lot of the moisture in clay is unavailable to the plant as the particles are so small meaning a pitch with high clay content over five days should really affect the health of the grass compared to a pitch with a lower clay content with the same soil moisture at the start of play, this could possibly change a pitch dramatically over five days and highlight differences between venues.

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NL: Had never given consideration to any of the above. I generally use both spike test and test the wicket by tapping my bat to hear what it sounds like, hard or dead.

DD:  Do you think Cricket Australia should provide training to all curators to help provide better quality turf pitches around Australia at all levels?

NL: Yes, I do. I think education around how to produce the best wickets for the style of cricket desired in that state association is essential. It shouldn’t be expected that curators across the board know how to make wickets that are conducive to good cricket. And high scores don’t mean good cricket.

Thanks Nick Larkin!

Acknowledging Australia’s Best

The Perfect Pitch is looking for expressions of interests to assist with acknowledging and encouraging curators across Australia (if we get big enough worldwide).

We are taking feedback on what the award levels should be and would encourage everyone to send in so we can identify the right mix and the level we extend to. We are thinking that the categories should be

  • Best Curator
  • Best Young Curator (30 and under)
  • Best at Major Ground
  • Best at Premier Cricket
  • Best at Council
  • Best at Subdistict
  • Best at Amateur
  • Best at Country
  • Best at Backyard

Ideally we’d like to be able to reward each category with something more than a The Perfect Pitch apparel and acknowledgement and if enough interest is warranted extend it into State & Territory.

If you’re an individual, business, brand or product that is related to cricket and would like to support our wicket artists and assist with getting a national award system for our trade off the ground get in touch theperfect@perfectcricketpitch.com

We want feedback, inclusion and transparency, so any thoughts, ideas and suggestions that will get the possible result for our trade is the aim.

Your Wicket Table, Watering & Hot Weather

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With the Australian summer starting to kick in, it is paramount that you manage the irrigation on your wicket block to ensure that you can maintain the turf coverage & recovery through the hottest part of the season. While couch is extremely hardy and can recover well from extended days without water it is essential that there is moisture in the lower half of the profile that the turf can live on to push through those hot summer days where it may not get water for three to four days. This article is on keeping the wicket table (resting pitches) in a healthy state during the preparation and use of a match day pitch.

It’s never too late (unless prior to play) to water your turf if you think it is struggling. If it needs water, it needs water. Only issues you’ll generally run into if you’re irrigating on a hot day are;

  • You setup some irrigation, turn it on and then get stuck into other work, a couple of hours later you remember and your square is flooded.
  • If the irrigation isn’t running, the item used can heat up extremely quickly, example being a sumi soaker which can leave a nice long burn mark the length of your table.
  • You over water, get the weather wrong, example, a cool change comes in and suddenly the square or bare areas won’t dry out.

A good indication of where your wicket block should be in the run of a mill preparing for a Saturday fixture is no deep or wide cracking at all on the wickets in rest. The first areas to generally crack open like this are the bare areas around the creases, in practice, it is good to give these spots an extra amount of water. The example shown below is where you should be happy going into a game the day before play. Jigsaw puzzle cracking, small but lots of pieces means that below the surfaces there is still plenty of moisture and the table should hold together nicely for the weekend.

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This next picture shows the snake cracking that you don’t want happening before a match. Snake cracks which lead to large plate cracking should never appear on the wicket table unless you’ve had several days of cricket played and you’re unable to replenish the square. A snake crack indicates that moisture from below the 10 to 50mm of the profile is starting to dry out. If extended drying of the clay profile continues, larger deeper snake cracks will form where the moisture trapped in the bottom profile will be lost.

Small snake cracking
Snake cracking just starting to appear through the middle of smaller jigsaw puzzle size cracking.

Continually drying and cracking at this level of a clay can cause irreparable damage to your square. It was previously believed that this was the best option to aerate the clay profile but this is no longer recommended. Large wide cracking (over 10mm in width) does significant damage to the turf, snapping root the system as it widens, causing damage to the plant itself but also leaving behind dead organic matter (thatch). If not properly prepared or maintained, low spots will then form where the major cracking has occurred, and significantly the cracking will return along those initially fractures and can be extremely hard to stop appearing once the issue presents.

Large and wide snake cracking should only generally appear on a pitch in use that is for a four or five day fixture as pictured below. If you are finding cracks like this on the your resting wickets, you need to up the watering, either time or add extra intervals.

Snake Cracking
Large snake cracking appearing on a test pitch. This is the only time a curator should find such cracking acceptable, in the long form games that are four to five days in length.

Key points to remember about maintaining moisture in your wicket table;

  • Keep an eye on the weather, every day and look ahead into the week and even seasonal forecasts. If you know the week is going to be hot, putting extra water in earlier to prevent damage and keep your turf and clay healthy.
  • Watering early in the day or late evening is better, when temperatures are at their lowest and ground has cooled, allowing the plant and profile to absorb more. However, you can and should water during the day if your turf is struggling and your clay profile is breaking open.
  • Deep watering is required with a clay profile. This means pushing the water down with two to three sets of watering each day, before pitch preparation begins. With hot weather, you can lose upwards of 20mm a day in evaporation and transpiration. You want to replace this and then some. Water moving throw compacted clay can be as slow as 2mm an hour.
Clay Profile
This section of the clay profile (roughly a 100mm) shows the depth of root growth. However in this photo there are significant issues with this pitch, layering and thatch are present. From the Sports Turf Association of Queensland.
  • If you’re hand watering, give the foot holes and bare ends on resting pitches extra, these areas dry out quickest due to the black clay.
  • Get the water back in after the completion of a match as soon as possible. This will enable better turf recovery and ensure any large cracking is minimal.
  • Mow your square earlier rather than later in the day. Hot weather will shock the plant and mowing will double the damage if done in the heat of the day. You don’t want to stress your plant. Going up in height of the cut can also ease stress on the plant. 10mm is about right but if you have a sparse square, you may want to go slightly higher.
  • If you have the funds, look at anti-stress fertilisers and foliar application like silica for your turf. These will aid not only with getting the turf through hot conditions but recovery, plant and root strength.
  • These watering recommendations are recommended for Australian climates and countries that have temperatures continually going over 30 degrees during the summer.
  • Without moisture underneath the surface of your wicket table, the process of making a good cricket pitch becomes harder. Moisture is required for compaction of clay and without this ingredient in the area 10-200mm below the surface, your ability to prepare a good surface will be compromised.
  • And while the players might not thank you for it, if you are able to maintain a grass coverage on your square, you’ll have a surface that is less likely to cause grazes and cuts when players are fielding.

In short;

When dealing with watering, keep an eye on the weather, adjust to increase watering early in the piece rather than making it up later and don’t be afraid to water on hot days or before game day if you know there is adequate time for surface moisture to dry.

Do you think we’ve covered all the right areas, maybe left anything out or got it wrong? Don’t hesitate to get in touch, leave a comment on facebook, join the discussion so that everyone learns.

Cricket Pitch Post Match Maintenance

This article is directed at heavy clay wickets found in Australia and South Africa which have warm season grasses, however general clean up processes explained in here are still followed across the curating fraternity in Australia and internationally.

Proper care of a cricket pitch post match is vital for it to recover and maintain its integrity for years to come. Failure to do so will result in organic matter build up (thatch), hollowing out of the ends (batting crease/bowlers landing), poor turf recovery, general pitch unevenness, along with affecting pace & bounce. This can also lead to undesirables elements in the pitch such as disease and weeds.

The level of your clean up should revolve around the machinery you have available, when the wicket will next be used and if any issues were identified. The following equipment is commonly used;

Once a match has been completed, the first course of action is the decision of when you will clean begin maintenance on the wicket. It is optimal to clean the wicket up as soon as possible to aid the recovery of the turf with deep watering and return any lost moisture to the clay profile so that the table is in the best possible shape for preparation on the next match.

In club land, you have to accommodate what your timings are and if you are a club/part time/volunteer curator, try to find the best solution for you to ensure the best recovery of the wicket. The general process I follow is;

  1. Match completed on Sunday afternoon
  2. Irrigate the entire square on Sunday night
  3. Inspect pitch in the morning
  4. After lunch if pitch is  dry enough begin clean up proccess
  5. Brush out the ends heavily with a thick bristled broom into a dustpan/shovel
  6. When the pitch is dry or only slightly tacky, run the scarifying rake/broom over the entirety of the pitch (helps to lift/dislodge organic matter stuck in the clay)
  7. Use either a yard vacuum or rotary mower on the lowest setting to clean up debris lifted from rake/broom.
  8. Fill areas that have been kicked out during the match with with fresh fine clay (preferably processed to <5mm in thickness). If you identify any small low spots on the pitch you can also fill these areas, ensure that you are not putting the clay over the top of organic matter or turf (fresh clay is going on to the existing clay profile).

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    The pitch cleaned up with a rotary mower (acts as vacuum) and the ends filled with with clay, ready to be rubbed in with a lawn leveler. This pitch was being used again in a couple of days so minimal clay was used.
  9. Use the lawn leveler to rub the fresh clay in and even up the surface.
  10. Cylinder mow the entire square to finish off (catcher on) at 10mm in height
  11. Irrigate the entire square Monday night

The reason I irrigate the pitch on a Sunday night is because I want to get the turf growing as soon as possible and it also helps to lift any grass clippings out of the clay which are then easier to remove during the clean up process. This also based on my location being in Darwin, NT where cricket is played in the Australian winter. When a match finishes as scheduled at 6pm, you would have 20 to 30 minutes of good light to do the above with cricket played on the pitch on both days of the weekend which leaves you limited time to complete your work. Also a point to consider if it is the first day of a two day match, depending on the dead organic matter on the pitch, you can avoid using the scarifying rake/brooming the wicket for the first week of maintenance. However, if grass snakes are prevalent, I would recommend raking/brooming the pitch regardless. Grass snakes are where grass clippings/matter clump together after flooding the pitch.

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Grass clippings prevalent after the pitch has been irrigated.

Anecdotal evidence from my observation is the turf recovers quicker through this method than potentially waiting another 12 hours, with the bare areas only taking a couple of weeks to fill in. Darwin also experiences heavy dew all year round and cleaning up on a Monday morning can get a little messy, so leaving it to the afternoon would be a further couple of hours without water. From my position in Darwin, I would recommend the above method as a part time curator would need to only attend the ground for approximately an hour or so on Monday afternoon before returning for preparation on a Wednesday or Thursday morning.

However, in different areas of the Australia, weather conditions vary, along with the opportunity to do this on a Sunday if there is no cricket on your ground. You should be full aware of what is going to ensure you can adequately clean up a pitch after the match. If you are in the position to follow best practice, the steps I would take are as follows;

  1. Match completed
  2. Inspect pitch to identify what is required
  3. Yard vacuum pitch/rotary mow on lowest setting
  4. Lightly irrigate pitch only to lift stuck clippings.
  5. Let dry or to a slightly tacky state before proceeding.
  6. Run the scarifying rake/broom over the entirety of the pitch (helps to lift/dislodge organic matter stuck in the clay)
  7. Yard vacuum/rotary mow on lowest setting
  8. Fill areas that have been kicked out during the match with with fresh fine clay (preferably processed to <5mm in thickness). If you identify any small low spots on the pitch you can also fill these areas, ensure that you are putting the clay over the top of organic matter (fresh clay is going on the existing clay profile).
  9. Rub clay in with lawn leveler to even up surface
  10. Cylinder mow the entire used pitch and square to finish off (catcher on) at 10mm in height
  11. Irrigate entire square

In the instance that you are putting a pitch to bed (not using it for several months or its use for the season maybe completed), these are the steps that one can take;

  1. Match completed
  2. Scarify entire wicket

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    Pitch cleaned up
  3. Yard vacuum/rotary mow pitch (do a couple of runs up and down the wicket on either side)
  4. Lightly top dress entire wicket (extra in the kicked out areas as well as any areas on the side wickets which batsmen/bowlers run up/down)
  5. Use large lawn leveller/screed (ideally 2.5m to 4m in width and requires at least two people to use) to go up and down the wicket
  6. Use normal lawn leveller to even out areas and do side to side/diagonal directions across the pitch, this also helps to rub the soil in

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    Doing a full square clean up and leveling three wickets to be used in a couple of months for an Australian test camp.
  7. You can do the 5 and 6 process as much as you want to get the most even surface possible.
  8. Run light roller over the pitch
  9. Fertilise (and seed if it is your preference/apply seed prior to top dressing)
  10. Irrigate.
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This is a couple days after a full pitch clean up and being put to bed for later in the season.

A couple of tips with your clay, if you can’t get it in finely processed option, so it is coarse greater than 5mm in size. Top dress the pitch as per step five but also run the heavy roller or light roller over it up and then repeat step five again. If your clay still doesn’t break down to a workable size, the next option is to give it a light water, the clay will absorb the moisture. Let dry, this may mean coming back the next day, from here you can either run the heavy or light roller over it again and then repeat step five. If you don’t have a light roller, you can use your cylinder mower (do not have the blades running and either lift the cutting height so the bedknife doesn’t hit any bits of clay and/or lean the machine back while moving so that the front roller is lifted).

Fresh clay will tend to swell more than the existing clay profile, so be careful filling the kicked out areas on the crease and bowlers follow through especially if you are using the wicket the following week as you might have little hills that could end up being stuck to the barrel when you do your first roll.

To finish, clean up is important and for you to get the best out of your pitch, you need to ensure you remove detrimental elements to the wicket after use along with your normal pre-season renovation and top dress. I would also recommend giving the square a light scarify and vacuum mid season along with an end of season clean up. Unless there are any major lows in the pitch, I would not top dress at the end of the season because you’ll be wasting time, resources and money. As per all the articles that I’m writing, you have got to do what is best for your situation and if you can’t clean up a wicket until later in the week or the next week, it is still better than not doing it all. If there are any points, suggestions or tips that you use to help with you wicket clean up, fire away!

 

 

The Dark Art – Blackening a Cricket Pitch

In opening would like to thank to Brad Van Dam, Greg Askew, Daryl Davidson, Les Burdett, photo contributors & commentators on The Perfect Pitch Facebook page for assisting with this piece along with our sponsors Mowmaster Turf Equipment and Gabba Sporting Products. And that this is by no means a finished product on the the subject of blackening a pitch and believe the discussion should continue and if you feel there are any relevant points missing, better explanations or glaring mistakes in the process, get in touch.

For many years blackening up a cricket pitch in the initial preparation was common practice among curators in Australia and abroad where a heavy clay is present. This has become less so with the development of pitch experience, preparation, the science behind it along with the increased level of performance from sports turf management, turf coverage & recovery, irrigating techniques and the maintenance of the clay profile.

Having discussed with curators across Australia at various levels and grounds, there is a variety of opinions on this method that all have their merits. It is always important to consider the resources and weather conditions of your venue and what you can physically achieve specifically along what the result you want to produce with the pitch.

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Contributor to The Perfect Pitch, Dylan Kokotis blackening up some practice wickets.

Speaking with former Adelaide Oval Head Curator and now Cricket Australia pitch consultant Les Burdett, his opinion is to avoid the practice, arguing to “never push black”. It can get quite messy if you’re preparation is not on. This can produce inconsistencies in the pitch along with extra work when timing is a crucial part. Whereas Bradley Van Dam at Manuka Oval who practices this method and is a great example to follow with his preparedness and the results he produces, focuses on having everything in order and working the wicket up and over a couple of days. The results speak for themselves with continually high scoring belters at Manuka for the PM’s XI and the ODI matches.

As a curator, a key component of growing and developing is to try different things to ensure your knowledge of the craft expands, and it is also make the best wicket possible. Sometimes you’re forced into this situation (particularly the curators in clubland), trying to rectify wickets from bad/unfavourable conditions. By trialling different methods prior, you’ll be able to apply these in practice such when you’re confronted with a wet pitch and need to ensure a game goes ahead.

I’m not advocating going out all guns blazing with making a wicket against tried and true methods, but a good way of learning is making mistakes in controlled environments. It is about what works for you. However, if you’ve got an apprentice curator and an old wicket or practice facility that you can experiment with, it is great to be able to give them this as a sandbox where they can try to make something against convention, so they can learn the game and what the physical results are. This will ensure they’ve got tangible evidence to back up what they could be potentially teaching others in years to come along with solutions when presented with a challenging pitch.

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Dylan Ryhys-Jones uses the process at Como Park where he has a thatchy table.

Why do we blacken up a pitch? The idea behind it is, that it creates a better seal and locks in the moisture, producing a truer surface both in bounce & pace by pushing the grass into the clay profile and locking it in. Along with making that aesthetically eye
pleasing white playing surface (not the only way to be achieved), which in turn gives you all the ideal elements for the short form game. However, it is not limited to that or just trying to produce good pitch. It can also be used to;

  • Disguise flaws, where a pitch is bare, you can throw a mountain of clippings on and roll it all in, making it look like a highway.
  • An old slow pitch, that needs a better seal to prevent dusting up/falling apart
  • High temperatures location as per above
  • High thatch content meaning you won’t get a strong press/compaction
  • Similar to the above, weeds or undesirable grass like Kikuyu prevalent, that present similar compaction problems with the larger root systems/runners on the surface that you are trying to push into the clay.
  • Bring up/get rid of moisture on the surface (limited preparation time)
  • Highlights low spots and undulations in the pitch
Patchy Pitch
An example of where rolling all the grass into the wicket may have helped hide these bare areas from a fungal disease.

Why shouldn’t you blacken up a pitch? You shouldn’t blacken up a pitch if you’re not experienced, don’t have the time and resources and are plain unsure about it. If your clay table saturation levels aren’t right, a variety of issues can occur. Picking up clay on the barrel, which in turn picks up more clay and you have a snowball effect from there to a nice afternoon of scraping the barrel (every apprentices dream). This will also create low spots (however small) in the wicket, and besides wasting your time it can put you under further stress to get a pitch up.

  • Root shearing – If the only the top portion of the clay profile is wet such as the first 20mm with the profile below that hard, you can damage the root zone through shearing. This is where the top portion of the clay profile moves with the use of heavy roller and the deeper roots remain stationary and are snapped or damaged. This can lead to long term issues with wicket, such as thatch build up, poor turf recovery/dying and opening up the weaker turf to disease/pests damage.
  • Plating profile – As per the above happening, it can actual create a long term issue of plating/layering where the clay profile is visible separate when cored and you have different drying rates along with individual layers moving throughout the rolling process.
  • Pushing water/too much moisture – If you’re pushing water in bow wave, it can create undulations in the wicket, by moving the loose clay on the profile and create streaking in the presentation of the pitch and different drying rates.
  • Turf – Stops growing, slows the process of respiration and photosynthesis which draws moisture from root zone and potential shortening of the root zone, along with slow recovery
  • Type of turf – Rye/cool season grass or couch can vary the desired result along with future use of the wicket, with rye grass taking longer to recover after use.
  • Clay profile – As above can move around/create undulations, particularly with the heavy roller and/or areas of the pitch are drying at different rates
  • Variable wicket – May be two paced, variable bounce if moisture levels aren’t even across the surface when prepared.
  • Roller – Besides the clay sticking, can get stuck/wheels spinning which can result in gouging out clay. Usually happens around the foot holes where it can be slightly lower and with fresh clay holding more moisture.
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An example of spinning the wheels.

A rule of thumb in all forms of preparation regardless of the approach is always be prepared to stop, observe, reassess, hold off and start again. Making a mistake early and starting again is much easier to do than forging ahead and having significant issues later which you can’t iron out. Observation is key and without can lead to disastrous results which can be detrimental to a pitch and yourself as a curator. Start off gently, especially if you’re looking at trying this for the first time and if so, looking at grabbing someone to observe with you if you don’t have a curating mentor that you can turn to. Don’t make a mess for the sake of it and don’t decide to make a wicket completely different to how you would normally do it when you’re under pressure and conditions being either time or weather are unfavourable. And don’t expect to get it right first time.

There are different methods to blackening up a wicket, having trialled these methods personally in different locations across Australia, there are good and bad ways to go about it. This comes down to time, materials, equipment and support. To begin with, what is blackening up? This is the point of initial wicket preparation and the beginning of sealing a wicket.

When you first roll the pitch, moisture is prevalent enough that when pressed with your fingers, foot or going over with a roller be it the heavy or light roller, it will appear on the surface and wet the barrel of the roller, it may appear discoloured and picking up grass clippings. As you progress with the first set of rolling the couch leaf is pushed into the black clay, the leaf is coated with water/clay particle mix and the pitch becomes black/dark brown. This can occur in the first set of rolling across the pitch or with several sets as you compact the clay and the moisture comes up. Key points to follow;

  • Have all the materials and equipment ready to go
  • Plenty of couch/rye grass clippings (clean up a wicket properly after the match has been completed to ensure theremove organic matter/clippings)
  • A pitch with full coverage or close to full coverage of grass
  • Take your time
  • If the roller barrel is picking up clay, stop.
  • Observe the weather, know the time frame you have to work in.
  • Have someone assisting where possible

As with all pitch preparation, identify and string line the pitch that you are going to use. String line is pegging in and running builders string taught along the two length edges of the pitch. Do not attempt to blacken up a wicket that has poor grass coverage on your first go, and do not do this if you do not have grass clippings in large supply to ensure clay does not stick to the barrel (you can never have enough couch/rye grass clippings ready for use).

Even with a pitch that has full coverage, it is good practice to still clipper up the wicket with grass clippings. This helps to hide any blemishes that may appear after cutting the wicket and during the initial rolling where some areas maybe thinner with grass coverage than other. The clay will push through these areas and stick to the barrel which in turn creates low spots on the pitch. There is no harm in throwing clippings on the wicket all through the pitch preparation process (cleaning up clippings will be explained in another article).

If you have good grass coverage and are short of dry clippings, you can double cut the pitch in with your cylinder mower with the catcher off (depending on the normal height of your square, cutting it in at 8-10mm is the best option and gives you the opportunity to reassess after your first run). If you have clipped up the wicket as well, this also helps to give the pitch a cleaner look while also acting as your first light roll. Giving you a good indication of the moisture levels, if the pitch is too wet still to get the roller on or if it is just right. Remember, clay sticking to the cylinder mower is also bad, so stop and reassess.

Depending on your preference, there are a couple of preferred methods to blacken up a pitch. Either having the moisture level at the point where you continue to push moisture out of the clay profile and which each pass, the pitch colour darkens. Or to add moisture, so this would mean starting off with a tackier wicket, where the first pass might not change the colour that much or at all but giving the wicket a fizz (quick fan spray of water with the hose along the length of the wicket) and then rolling that new moisture in. You may need to do that several times to get the desired colour.

There is another option which is extremely messy and would not recommend doing, this is wetting the wicket down heavily while rolling it. Having been involved in a wicket
preparation like this in WA and trialling it myself, it is very unlikely to produce a good result. The pitch needs have excessive moisture right through the profile for it to work without creating a mess.

What roller do you use first? You may not have a light roller option or as written about above, use your cylinder mower for the first run. When blackening up with a light roller, it will take considerably more time. Wearing a flat sole shoe is a wise choice to ensure you don’t leave large indentations while walking the length of the pitch. The light roller is easier for doing your cross and angle rolling if you’re looking to work any undulations out. I would recommend using only the light roller any angle/cross rolling until you have your experience up on the medium/heavy roller (see Manuka Oval’s pictures below).

As with all rolling, you need to ensure you start on the edge of the pitch, do not go straight down the guts as when the pitch is too wet, and you need to get the roller off as fast as possible, you’ll be doing damage in the danger zone/corridor of play. In your first pass or set of rolls, observe the barrel of the roller and the pitch. On the barrel of the roller, it is key for moisture forming and grass clippings sticking but not clumping. It is fine for the whole barrel to be coated in clippings but if excessive clippings fall off as clumps, you need to remove them before continuing to roll.

If any areas that may have exposed clay or darkened in patches, this is when you will need to apply more clippings. If you know your pitch, you should be aware of areas to look out for. There are a couple of techniques commonly used when rolling they all pretty much do the job, it’s all about ensuring that pitch gets the same number of passes over it by the roller to ensure even compaction. .

rolling

The amount of rolling you do while blackening up is up to personal preference, the conditions and the overall pitch preparation time allowed. The pitch may have a heavy black look to it after a couple of passes, therefore you may do shorter periods, alternatively it may need a good 30 to 40-minute roll to really present that dark look. Creasing in the wicket during this process and the first days of rolling is an indication of the pitch compacting, this will roll out over the course of the preparation.

From here you continue with your standard rolling and cutting procedures, depending on the level of cricket, the overall pitch rolling time from start to finish is generally three to six hours over the course of two to four days before the first day of play as an idea but not a rule. Remember it is about what works for you to get the best result for your wicket and the game.

In finishing, the main forms of the game I would produce a wicket through the above method is for limited overs cricket, where it favours the batsman but you still are seeking pace, bounce & carry. This still allows reward for the bowler when they put the ball in the right area but also has high value for run scoring. I would also look at producing a similar style wicket for two day fixtures depending on the quality of outfield and weather.

Here is a fantastic set of photos from Bradley Van Dam at Manuka Oval that highlights the process along with some points;

  • This process is very dependent on timing, so part-time curators may find it difficult as they may miss the optimum conditions to roll or water
  • Best to have a full coverage of grass when trying for the first time.
  • Make sure you have good moisture in the soil profile before starting.
  • Always check weather before starting, due to the high moisture levels.
  • Where possible try and blacken the pitch early in the day, temperatures are cooler and humidity is higher. It can be difficult and problems arise when the temperatures are high and humidity is low.
  • Don’t try it a couple of days out from a match!
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The beginning process of rolling to blacken up a wicket. Each pass brings more colour to the surface.
  • The beginning process of rolling to blacken up a wicket. Each pass brings more colour to the surface.
  • You can always try light browning first, then progress through to blackening once your confidence and are getting an understanding of the process.
  • When rolling monitor the actual roller that will indicate when to water, once you see soil or clipping sticking to the roll, time to only light spray.
  • A good indication of the preparation has worked the roller is completely clean only with a bit of moisture on the barrel.

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    Later stages of the process, with a shot of cross rolling involved. As the surfaces drys the colour of the wicket starts to change to that desirable look.
  • If there is a lot of grass it can up to 45min with a heavier roller and much longer with a light hand roller. We do cross roll sometimes when black but generally the pitch has a complete grass coverage, we do cross roll later in the process when still plasticine like.
  • Later stages of the process, with a shot of cross/angle rolling involved. As the surfaces dry’s the colour of the wicket starts to change to that desirable look.
  • Then we might medium brown the next day or two, then light brown. Each time mowing the pitch and dropping the height by a millimetre each time/ day. We pretty much try and shut the plant down to achieve the look.

When the desired result has been achieved, you will need to wait to seal roll. The signs when you are able seal the pitch is when you can press the pitch with your fingers. This drying time is situational may take a couple of hours or the next day.  The pitch should feel plasticine like with no moisture or wicket soil sticking to your fingers. Remember test the pitch in a few spots as it could dry process can be different due to various factors. The amount of rolling can be up to the curator but generally 6 passes is enough. You can give the pitch a light water straight after rolling this will release the grass and relieve some of the stress on it.

NOTE: If the pitch dries out too much before the sealing roll it is good to give it a water and wait till touch dry to roll.

Mankua Oval
Finished Product

Club land – Kensington District Cricket Club

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Women’s junior and Limited Overs Turf cricket predominately use Ford Oval.

In early January of this year, it was awesome to return to Adelaide and spend a day back rolling the decks at Kensington District Cricket Club (located in the picturesque Kensington Gardens parkland). It surprised me a couple of months ago when the Daily Telegraph released their pick of XI South Australian cricket grounds and the famous club’s old haunt featured ahead of their now home of many years.

Having played at Kensington from 2000 to 2008 and previously worked the wickets as a lackey and as a curator, I do my best to return to the gem that is the Browns. Aptly, the head curator and captain of the Browns is Jake Brown. Brownie runs Adelaide Sports Turf Services and has now been curating KDCC since 2010 with fellow player Scott Aufderheide.

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Aerial view of the Kensington District Cricket Club

Inside the Browns pavilion are a feature in themselves, with Grimett and Bradman standing out on the honour boards while premierships photos across all grades litter the walls. The pavilion looks out onto the the main and middle ground, Parkinson Oval, while to the left is Ford Oval and to the right, above the creek bed is Colonel Waite. They share the facility with Burnside Rugby Union Club (who take over from April to September with separate club rooms), which they’ve formed a strong relationship with in recent years and ensure that squares get through the winter in as good a nick.

The Parkinson square is a six wicket block with Santa Ana couch grass and in recent years has changed from being a slow wicket favouring the batsmen to a the pitch offering pace, bounce and movement early to become a fair cricket pitch. Besides a period in the mid 90’s the wicket hasn’t had any major work. Ideally the pitch could be a seven wicket block and proud of the outfield. The irrigation that surrounds the square is slightly out and doesn’t provide the most even coverage so sumi soakers do get a fair run.

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Premier Cricket and Second grade feature on the main ground during the regular season.

On the rise opposite the club rooms, being the far side of Parkinson Oval are their turf training nets while at the duck pond end (where many a ball have been lost) are their hard wicket nets. Their turf training nets are of a great quality, with a strong covering of couch through out bar the block holes which cop a serious pounding due to large number of juniors and seniors training. The net system itself while doing the job, is due an upgrade.

One of the great assets of preparing wickets at Kensington is the grass tennis court and bowls club next door, which at times has an endless supply of clippings to use in the early preparation of training wickets in particular (do not use bowling greens clippings on a pitch due to potential sand on the leaf). Jake has continued to foster a strong relationship with them along with the Burnside City Council who maintain the outfields and irrigation.

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A 24m wide turf practice wicket, allowing four nets to be prepared and used from Tuesday to Thursday.

The top oval and predominately 3rd/4th grade, Col. Waite is a small ground, with cow generally being the bigger hit. Going straight is rewarding particularly if you can get the new ball into the creek, but early on the five pitch square which has South African couch grass, does offer assistance. However after tea, it flattens out considerably and runs are to be had. Batsmen enjoy jumping on the front foot here and stay there all day, so if the bowling team hasn’t taken early wickets, it can be a long day. The SA couch does present extremely well and comebacks beautiful even after the hottest periods which are frequent in Adelaide during the summer in late January/February before the weather turns in March.

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Used by 3rds & 4ths along, this Col. Waite’s square features rarity on Australian wickets, South African Couch.

Ford Oval, most notably for it’s large gum tree on the ground (the Kensington eblem) is a cricket square in it’s prime and would rival most premier cricket pitches in Adelaide for presentation. Less than a decade old, the pitch was dug up several years ago and replaced due to the thrashing it receives in a regular season. Previously it was only 2.5 wickets wide and had a infestation of kikuyu grass while the clay profile had a high level of thatch.

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Ford Oval in early stages of preparation.

With the amount of junior cricket along with women’s and limited overs turf, the Club made the correct decision to relay the square and increase the size. Now a five wicket block, great coverage with a nice collar of Santa Ana couch, Ford Oval  even with the short straight boundaries, would easily be able to host high grade cricket.

All in all, Jake Brown does a great job preparing and maintaining the turf facilities at Kensington and while not a great deal has changed at face value, a major purchase of a Mowmaster roller a few years ago has definitely made an impact to wickets, with Parkinson Oval definitely enjoying the heavier pressing.

If you’re in South Australia and need an expert turfie, though biased, I highly recommend Jake. Don’t hesitate to get in touch @ Adelaide Sports Turf Services website/Facebook for a renovation and/or regular maintenance of your lawn, tennis court, cricket square or other sports surface.

Additionally if you’re a cricket club that would like The Perfect Pitch to come past review your club in the summer of 2018/19 drop me a line at; theperfectpitch@perfectcricketpitch.com

 

The Fizzer

A lot of critics after the first day of the Boxing Day Test. Arguably the biggest fixture in the calendar of the game. Close to 100k in punters, mostly wanting English blood either through the stroke of the willow or the pace of the leather. It seemed with the toss that one was going to happen with a rampant David Warner but at the end of play, us Aussies were contained to a slow scoring day.

Every time a picture is posted on The Perfect Pitch, of metal box that is a drop in deck, negative comments arise. And as it is with this Boxing Day Deck that we again see these comments capitalise. Lets put it all in perspective though, it’s the first day, and now we obviously have the second completed, England are even and this pitch while docile is offering. Is the pitch to blame, the grounds staff and curator or is it CA and ECB, or just this modern age of T20 and millionaire cricketers?

I have to be tight with my tongue when commenting on but I can tell you this, the curator isn’t paid enough to cop all this shit (salary for the year wouldn’t be 50 cents off everyone who attended this test) and the powers that be that want exciting cricket but for it to last five days are kidding themselves to say the least.

No one is coming to the defence of a new curator, doing the gig for the first time, err on the side of caution cause this might be your last pitch. Not one commentator or pundit will praise the ground staff for whats provided besides a sleek outfield which is their wage per year times 100, and no one is saying they should but where they offer critcism, there is never respite and when a bowler bowls a good ball that gets a wicket or a batsman plays a true stroke that makes a run, the skill isn’t in what was provided.

The pitch today was flat as a tack but then two paced but once you’re in it gets easier to score and on day two and three it’ll be a treat but wait a second here it’s different with the new ball or old ball or something you find in your bathroom sink. The critics of the wickets know more about it than the techniques behind hitting or bowling the ball but when they see a blade of grass they say, aren’t you going to cut that? Like they’re scared of green but in England and New Zealand it’s called seam.

As Aussies I believe we’re tough cricketers and as a Curator, we have to be but at times we let ourselves down by bowing to the skipper or profile of the match that is being played to ensure the result is not as contrived as it seems. This is not to say there shouldn’t be home ground advantage but it is to say that Test Cricket doesn’t have to last five days and that the teams that are good enough don’t give it up and that Curators are artists that have a brush and that if you’re a batsman that doesn’t like green or a quick that can’t move the ball off the seam then maybe you should favour spin but it is unlikely you’ll find reprieve.