So often, new turf projects are barely noticeable on the surface. It’s what lies beneath that makes the difference.
Spectators at the first game at Lord's in April 2003 when Middlesex played Sussex would hardly have noticed any visual difference to the ‘hallowed turf’.
They would have been largely unaware that during the winter, a fleet of excavators and digging equipment had dug up the whole of the outfield to a depth of 20 inches and convoy of lorries had removed over 20,000 tonnes of non-porous London clay to be replaced with layers of gravel and sand, along with a new drainage and irrigation system.
The previous year, the MCC had agreed to become the first major Test ground to completely reconstruct the outfield with a £1.2 million project carried out in consultation with the STRI and undertaken by J Mallinson and Sons.
It was designed to make play possible on more days when rain was around. The clay base had made it well-nigh impossible for water to clear, head groundsman Mick Hunt was fond of saying “There only has to be a cloud in the sky for the ground to puddle”.
However, the outfield reconstruction had not really been able to demonstrate its extraordinary benefits until a day in July four years later.
Lord's was hosting the Second Test against India during July 2007. Rain had hampered the build up and the first day’s play, conditions were already rather damp and the weather threatening.
On the second day, I had returned to Salisbury overnight to attend to business and couldn’t get away back to the Lords until around 10.00. The radio was reporting a delayed start then news that a large storm could hit the ground.
In the event, at mid-day a storm of biblical proportions was unleashed with an estimated 2 inches of rain falling in an hour. Soon the ground was to resemble a boating lake, and the MCC were even preparing to move some valuable paintings from the pavilion.
Friends I had arranged to meet at lunchtime rang me on my mobile whilst en-route to say that they had left the ground and were heading home. One said “There wont be any play today and probably not tomorrow either”.
However, I decided to chance it and arrived at the ground as mopping up had got underway (if nothing else I wanted to see how the new outfield would cope) and I was just in time to hear an announcement that ‘Play will resume at 1.50pm’ – just over an hour after the ground had been under water!
As a result, the MCC did not have to return any ticket money as the requisite number of overs could be completed.
It was a day when Mick Hunt and his team worked miracles – and the unseen benefits of the outfield reconstruction in 2002 really paid dividends.
The work had started immediately after a one day Final in September. On- site during the work, Lord's look more like a Siberian salt-mine. The still pristine square square in sharp contrast to the sand and gravel. Turf growers In-Turf had grown 1.8 hectares of dwarf perennial ryegrass on 30mm of fibreturf to be laid on 300mm of rootzone.
The work on the outfield was complex enough, but it was the logistics of removing thousands of tonnes of original turf and soil that proved the most challenging according to John Mallinson.
The area of St Johns Wood is an affluent part of London. Residents do not appreciate a continuous rumble of lorries through their neighbourhood. So strict limits on the number of lorry movements were agreed which added to the pressures.
However that single hour in the life of Lords will live long in the memory. Even those who had commissioned the outfield renovation were opened-mouthed at the disappearing water – and the MCC had more than recouped its investment, probably several times over.
Chris Biddle has been a proud member of the MCC since 1963