The game of cricket has dominated the sporting headlines this summer with the penultimate Ashes test match wrapping up at Old Trafford yesterday - unfortunately not giving England another one of those magical Sundays we've been so fortunate to enjoy this year. However one must give congratulations to Australia for retaining the urn and also commend all involved in making this series so compelling.
I also recently read in The Times that a club from Bedfordshire, Blunham Cricket Club, have just broken the world record for playing a game of non-stop cricket - playing for a staggering 168 hours and raising over £40,000 in the process.
While still on the subject of cricket I was fortunate recently to attend an Allett Mowers Groundsmen day at Edgbaston CCC, where 50 plus Allett customers were treated to an afternoon look behind the scenes at the Warwickshire County Ground and stay on to watch a T20 match in the evening with Birmingham Bears playing against Yorkshire Vikings - alas Yorkshire won by 19 runs.
Many of the groundsmen attending were from local grassroots cricket clubs, along with a number of school and university grounds professionals.
We were given a tour of the stadium and machinery sheds, plus a walk out onto the hallowed square where head groundsman Gary Barwell was happy to explain the work that he and his dedicated team of seven staff complete in the course of the year. The afternoon was rounded off with further presentations by Austin Jarrett md of Allett and Paul Farbrace, sports director for the Bears.
Austin Jarrett thanked everyone for attending and went on to explain the history of the company plus talk about the new challenges they face bringing new technologies and products to market. We then had a short question and answer interview with Paul Farbrace who spoke about the excitement of joining such a proactive club.
It was a real coup for the Bears when Paul agreed to join as sports director early in 2019. After almost a decade travelling the world with international teams, the last five as England's assistant coach, Paul was ready to step off the travelling treadmill and take on this new challenge.
His role is strategic and all-encompassing, covering all aspects of the men's and women's first teams and the performance pathways. Having steered Sri Lanka to the World T20 title and helped take England to number one in the world ODI rankings, Paul's track record speaks for itself.
"Warwickshire is a very special club with incredibly proud traditions, and I'm very lucky to have this opportunity,” said Paul. “I’m also looking forward to working with Gary and his team to continue to improve the cricketing facilities at this fine club.”
It was left to Gary to then complete the presentations with a in-depth talk on the work he has achieved since his appointment in 2011.
Gary started his groundsmanship career in 1995 working at Grace Road, Leicester, then in 2009 he moved to Trent Bridge working under Steve Birks as assistant head groundsman before finally moving to take up the role of head groundsman at Edgbaston CCC in 2011.
As with any high-profile grounds, it is the attention to detail that makes the difference. Since his appointment Gary and his team have adapted and modified their maintenance regimes to continually improve the quality of the playing and training surfaces at Edgbaston.
For cricket, the year really starts with a thorough end of season renovation of the square. This usually involves scarifying the square in five directions with a tractor mounted scarifyer, soaking down with 8mm of water, leaving overnight before seeding, fertilising and topdressing and applying around ten bags of Onga Plus loam per pitch.
Depending on the weather, he may use some germination sheets to help speed up germination, however, they don’t want to be left on too long as they may cause fungal attacks.
As for the outfield, it is usually hollow cored, seeded and top dressed with 30 tonnes of sand. In November the whole square will be solid tined using a Weidemann verti-tine type aerator.
With the playing season starting ever earlier, usually around March 19th, pre-season rolling starts with a vengeance as soon as conditions allow. With little time to carry out this work, Gary tends to go straight out with his large rollers and rolls, undertaking between 15-30 hrs of rolling depending on weather conditions to firm up the square - rolling in several directions and finishing in the line of play.
As for grass heights, the square is kept at 12mm with each prepared wicket being reduced down from 12-6mm over a 20-10 day prepping time, while at the same time being rolled and brushed throughout the preparation time until the day of the match.
Gary uses a moisture meter and Clegg hammer to help monitor the condition of the pitch during preparations, aiming to retain about 38% moisture content and a cleg hammer reading of around 270 Gravities. These are a guide to help him gauge what stage they are at in pitch preparation - the rest is done by his own experience, feel and critical eye.
To date this year, all of his prepared pitches at Edgbaston have played well and given a fare balance for both batsman and bowler. It has definitely been an unusually busy year for Gary and his team having to prepare so many competition wickets and pitches.
As another season ends, Gary and his team will be reflecting on how well things have gone and planning for next year’s season of fixtures.
For further information on the importance of carrying out a robust end of season cricket pitch renovation click here.
I would like to thank Allett Mowers for inviting me to attend this enjoyable day to see at first hand the level of commitment, dedication, skills and knowledge that is required to maintain a high-profile county club cricket facility.