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.

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