The art and science of cricket pitch management

Excellence underpins all School activities. Grounds Manager, John Shannon, discusses the steps involved in creating a quality cricket pitch.

‘Bounce’, ‘spin’ and ‘swing’ are common topics of discussion for cricket commentators, but few people know about the unheralded profession of cricket pitch preparation and management that lies behind these words. Here are a few of the elements that go into creating a pitch that supports a great game of cricket at Melbourne Grammar School.

Grass coverage, moisture and compaction

Preparing a decent cricket pitch takes 20 to 25 hours of work per pitch in the lead-up to a game. This work begins approximately 12 days out from the game with cutting, grooming and brushing the grass in the early stages in order to make sure the wicket isn’t too spongy.

Adding water and fertiliser is also part of the equation at this stage. We need to account for any rain that falls during the preparation period and it may be decided to protect the pitch with covers to ensure just the right amount of moisture penetrates the surface. The correct amount of water is one of the most important aspects of cricket pitch preparation. 

Correct timing of rolling of the pitch is another factor we need to consider. Creating the right level of compaction involves 10 to 15 hours of rolling over a period of about 10 days prior to the game. If the pitch is too wet, rolling creates problems damaging the pitch by turning it black or creating waves in the pitch making it uneven, while a dry pitch may not gain sufficient compaction.

Once all these steps have taken place, we seal and grass up the pitch and finally mark up the wicket a day before the game takes place.

Managing pitches over a cricket season

Ideally, a pitch will only be used for a couple of weeks before a newly prepared pitch takes over. This allows the used pitch to recover. Scheduling these pitch rotations for the season is a big part of planning and pitch management.

Over an entire cricket season, the primary challenge for cricket pitch managers is the consistency of the pitch. No two weeks are the same weather-wise, so preparation does vary. The grass coverage over the season will vary and this also effects pitch management. Traffic is another element to consider—turf managers will aim to spread the wear from games and try to restrict other traffic to allow grass to recover.

The joys of the job

Having spent many years in turf management both here in Australia and overseas, I know that just about everyone—from the casual cricket fans, to commentators, and pitch managers at the world’s top sports grounds—have an opinion on what makes a good pitch. One of the beauties of the job is trying to create the best possible surface for a game, allowing for changes in weather, grass coverage and traffic, to make a wicket that favours both bat and ball. Good pace and ball carry are desirable. Every week is a challenge, but job satisfaction comes from aiming to make each pitch that little bit better.

John Shannon Grounds Manager

Related topics