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.

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!

 

 

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

 

Fletcher Park

Fletcher Park Vandalism & Recovery

Great to see the recovery only a few days later from Brett Fraser at Fletcher Park. Home to the Perth Cricket Club in Western Australia, Brett is a regular contributor to The Perfect Pitch. 24201185_10215301991207556_1204306440_o.jpg

Vandals attacked the square on Saturday night on November 25th, doing circle work with a bike. The pitch still being rock hard has limited the damage however it does cause some distress for the curator regardless.

Brett was able to make a full recovery for the weekend just gone presenting a belter where the runs flowed.

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Cricket pitches are an easy target for reckless vandalism, with costs generally never recovered. Last year Brett also had a similar experience with the pitch being attacked with the star pickets that are used to rope off the square.

Again, he was able to rectify the damage and ensure the game goes on.

Pitches of the Week

Pitches of the Week supported by Mowmaster Turf Equipment

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A variety of wickets made the cut this weekend with a couple that didn’t see any cricket at all with temperatures reaching the low to mid 40’s around the South Eastern states.

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Marburg Mt Crosby Thunder Cricket Club, Ipswich QLD

Marino Nugter has contributed regularly over this season and his wickets continue to improve. Curating in QLD, here’s a little about the wicket he maintains;

Marburg Mustangs and Mt Crosby Sharks were two separate clubs but officially merged three years ago. Since the merger, they left grounds at Marburg and we now use two council fields at Tivoli Sporting Complex and  one field at Mt Crosby Weir. Marino Nugter, Kel Janke and Peter Johansson look after the wickets at Tivoli, which is shared with St Edmunds College. St Edmunds only use them for cricket for about 8 weeks on Saturday at the start of the school year and then Thunder seniors play on them rest of time.

The juniors then play on the Sunday. To keep wickets/blocks in good nick, Marino and Peter look after them as they don’t have a cricket groundsman at Edmunds. Before these three came along, the squares were uneven and sparse. In their first season, the wickets were still inconsistent bounce, low balls shooting through but with a lot of work going into them, they’re now close to flat. Bounce and carry has improved with the extra attention and rolling. Unfortunately no play on this belter with the matches called off on the Saturday and Sunday with temperatures in Ipswich reaching 40 and 43 degrees.

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Prince Alfred College, Adelaide SA

Daimon Jones sent in this quality school wicket from Adelaide. Along with Phil Penn, they look after the 1st XI wicket for Prince Alfred College. Daimon recently made the move to PAC a month ago to take up the position of Manager Grounds. This wicket saw an uneven contest against close rivals. Dismissing Pembroke for 90, it was easily chased down by PAC with loss of only two down. Coaches were happy with the pitch, commenting that it played well and offered turn to the spinners.

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Trinity College, Gawler SA

Wilson Otto shared this beauty of a pitch is located at Trinity College, Gawler SA where Trinity College First XI took on Sacred Heart College First XI in a T20. SHC batted first posting 5/137 and then bowled Trinity out for 88 much to a surprise as it was a batsmen’s paradise. This match was a tussle between two private schools looking to win the One Day State Knockout Tournament later this season.

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Merrylands Oval, Parramatta NSW

Brad Horn is the curator at Merrylands Oval which is one of the leading and most well kept decks in the Sydney Premier Cricket Competition. This pitch in particular was prepared for a Parramatta 1st XI match against Blacktown but was canceled due to the heat wave on the weekend. Brad will get the same pitch up for this weekend, with the match being reduced to a One Day game. Should be even better this week having a good base on it from last weeks preparation with scores in the high 200’s expected if the weather doesn’t intervene.

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Fletcher Park, Perth WA

Brett Fraser did a cracking job to get Fletcher Park up and about for the recent two day fixture between Perth and Melville in 2nd XI WACA Grade Cricket. Last Saturday the pitch was vandalised with star pickets but was rectified and play commenced with Meville batting first to make a competitive 5 for 318.

The second week of play saw the weather intervene, Thursday and Friday copping 122mm of rain fall.  Fletcher Park and one other were the only two grounds not abandoned, with second day starting three hours late. There were some delaying tactics from Perth with concerned raised about with a wet area in the outfield. Needing 319 off 55 overs but were bowled out with three overs left in the day.

Posting Pictures to The Perfect Pitch

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Thanks for liking The Perfect Pitch. Please consider the following when submitting/sharing pictures;

*Pictures unless otherwise stated maybe used for promotions, memes, timeline and/or profile pics along with being shared on our instagram and twitter accounts www.twitter.com/iamcricketpitch and www.instagram.com/theperfectcricketpitch/

Due to the influx of pictures now being sent in pictures that are direct messaged or emailed to theperfectpitch@perfectcricketpitch.com will take priority. Following the below will increase your chances of your images being shared;

When posting a picture of a cricket pitch (ground or backyard), try to provide the following;

–  A good centre shot of pitch that is preferably landscape if it’s your first time contributing for that pitch or with additional pictures of the venue

– Get the whole length of the pitch in the shot ie don’t cut either end off, standing roughly where an umpire would/slight back from, normally givesa good result-  Provide information on the venue, ie venue name, state/city/town/suburb, team, league/grade,

– Provide information on the pitch ie grass coverage, how it plays, type of couch, cracks up, dusty, knowledge of the clay profile etc.

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