Perfect pitches for cricket season

With some league and recreational cricket grounds still under water after the prolonged downpours, it’s time for groundscare teams to resurface and prepare for the new season. Greg Rhodes digs out some top tips

For the myriad of small, local clubs the battle begins to salvage presentable playing surfaces fit for spring and summer fixtures.

But before rushing headlong into the tasks too soon, Phil Jeggo, Grounds Management Association (GMA) regional pitch advisor for cricket has some sound advice to offer: “Be patient,” he cautions. “Groundscare people will be twitching – keen to get out onto the square and get on with the job, especially when they may have been unable to do any work because of the wet weather.

“Social media posts showing clubs already preparing for the new season pile added pressure on others to push on,” he continues,“but make sure soil and ground conditions are right. I’ve seen too much heavy machinery stuck on outfields”.

Elite clubs have been able to cover their grounds over the last month to six weeks to keep water off the square, adds Phil, who previously worked at Essex County Cricket Club for 30 years and was chair of Essex County Cricket Board Grounds Association. “This year’s been extreme – you can’t beat the weather so work with it.”

“There are so many variables in soil types and conditions, but the basics of maintenance are the same, whether you’re an elite or village club.”

If you can get on the ground, first walk round, checking surfaces for debris and stones, then tackle worm casts. “They’re a big issue in cricket. Knock them back before bringing machinery on, otherwise you spread the casts across the surface, creating bare patches and allowing weeds and unwanted grass types to gain a hold.

“We encourage cultural methods,” Phil notes.  “Use a dragmat or brush on the square and outfield but wait until the casts are dry enough to allow you to disperse them across the surface. Hose pipes, ropes or chain harrows are useful for the outfield.”

Wickets are not the only key provision though.

“Outfields have been the forgotten area but play a greater role now. Football and rugby are played on them increasingly, as is All Stars and Dynamos junior cricket and women’s softball programmes. That means added pressure on grounds teams to ensure they remain in good condition.”

Given that Phil suggests:  “Start to reduce grass on the outfield, reducing cut height from what may be as high as three or four inches, taking a third off each time so that you have 10 to 20 mm height a couple of weeks before the season starts.” Meanwhile, grass height on the square can be 12 to 18 mm by that time.

“Always box off on the square but few recreational cricket clubs have the resources to do that on the outfield. Ride-on cylinder mowers with three or five cutting units, rotary roller units or gang mowers are fine – there’s lots of choice now.”

The scale of the work means smaller clubs should keep in touch with the larger ones, which have the resources to help out. “If you’re struggling, ask the question, or you can bring a contractor in to bring grass down to a manageable height to help get you started.”

When mowing the outfield, always alter the direction of cut, Phil adds. “This will help to encourage tilling of the grass and avoid nap. Deep vertical aeration, done at the right time, will encourage better drainage and allows air to reach down to the root zone. Rolling will not improve an uneven outfield and is one of the worst actions you can take.”

Experience weighs heavily when Phil visits grounds. “You have an instinct about ground conditions. High weed content across outfields indicates compact soil, for instance. If there isn’t any, you shouldn’t be reaching for chemicals. Pick out individual weeds with a hand tool to nip potential problems in the bud.”  Wise words wrapped up in the ECB’s Environmental Sustainability Plan for Cricket guidance it issued late last year.

“Cricket squares are quite manageable,” Phil states, “but foot traffic is one of the key factors in compaction on outfields. Some clubs play on just one or two inches of cricket loam resting on indigenous soil across their squares. If your outfields are sitting on heavy clay, then deep linear aeration can be beneficial in conjunction with deep vertical aeration, this needs to be done no later than by end of November/early December as any form of linear aeration will encourage cracking in prolonged dry spells – the kind we are witnessing more frequently when carried out in the wrong conditions.

Rolling the square pre-season is crucial to achieve a firm base, compact the soil and smooth the surface. “Ideally start with a cylinder mower before moving onto a roller of ideally minimum 1.5 tonnes then rising to 3 tonnes max if required with ballasting,” Phil advises.

But quality over quantity is the name of the game. “Always allow the surface to dry before rolling again. We still recommend the traditional Union Jack pattern to consolidate the soil profile but let the soil breathe between each pass.

“The first two are the key ones. Leave a day or so between each roll dependant on weather. It can take three to four weeks to achieve the required compaction level. Push a long-handled screwdriver down to 75 to 100 mm ideally to gauge resistance. The “thumb test” is a good way of deciding if the conditions are correct to start rolling, the soils should have a Plasticine type consistency to it once you push into surface, but no moisture should be on your thumb when removed ”

Encourage upright growth by Verticutting, which thins the sward. Just kiss the soil surface and avoid penetration as this could lead to cracking as the weather warms. Cassette mowers are good for clubs on tight budgets as they offer several functions from one machine.”

A suitable fertiliser may be applied to maintain the health of the grass and appearance of the cricket ground. This is essential to ensure that the grass plant remains healthy and strong for the upcoming season.  It is best to apply fertiliser when the immediate surface is free from damp but there is still some moisture in the soil. Avoid dry, frosty, or windy conditions – as these often result in uneven distribution and possible scorching. Always check the calibration of the machine before fertiliser applications to ensure that the spread rate is correct, follow manufacturer’s instructions.

A simple but essential job to finish off. “Always square off the square,” says Phil, “by making sure all pitch measurements are correct. Use the 3,4,5 Pythagorean method to check if soil swelling during winter has shifted your steel or stump corner and edge markers. On a big square of say 18 strips, any movement could make a huge difference so don’t assume they are where they were.”

Always seek help if you’re unsure what to do, Phil concludes. “The GMA and ECB have developed the one-stop Cricket Toolkit, which includes plenty of guidance on ground maintenance, broken down into each stage of the year. It’s particularly valuable source for volunteers. Just Google GMA Cricket Toolkit.”

The GMA also offers a range of online and offline training courses, tailored for each sport and for every level of knowledge . Visit to find out more.


1. Phil Jeggo, Grounds Management Association (GMA) regional pitch advisor

2. Use a dragmat or brush on the square and outfield to knock back worm casts

3. Rolling the square pre-season is crucial

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