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Meeting the demands of user groups when building, maintaining cricket fields

Cricket clubs are very particular about how their fields are maintained

December 8, 2023  By  Mike Jiggens

Cricket field maintenance – and cricket pitch maintenance, in particular – is a much different ball game than that of other sports fields. There is perhaps no other community in Canada that understands this more than Brampton, Ont.

The self-proclaimed “cricket capital of Canada” was the host municipality for Sports Turf Canada’s sports field training day in October. Brian Macklin, Brampton’s supervisor of parks maintenance, presented a primer on cricket field maintenance at the event.

The city is home to 18 cricket facilities, including its premier field at Teramoto Park – site of the field day activities. Five of Brampton’s fields are full size while others include minor and junior fields.

Macklin said cricket is “exploding” in Brampton while baseball is on the decline and soccer is holding steady. Several of the city’s fields were once side-by-side soccer fields that have been transformed into cricket fields with the addition of a pitch installed in the middle. 

The city’s cricket fields feature a variety of different pitch types, including jute mats, coco fibre mats, synthetic turf atop a screenings base, synthetic turf atop a concrete base and natural pitches.

The pitch is regarded as the most important component of a cricket field, and it must be constructed and maintained to exact specifications to allow the ball to bounce at a precise height when it’s thrown by the bowler toward the batsman. Cricket user groups tend to be “demanding” about the upkeep of their facilities, Macklin said.

For example, all sports fields in the city were once mowed at two inches, but the cricket groups wanted a shorter cut. Cricket fields are currently mowed at three-quarters of an inch, and Macklin said they are in arguably better shape at the shorter height than they were when cut at two inches. This, however, requires ample staff to achieve as well as regular maintenance, he said.

The premier field is lit and irrigated, but Macklin said even the city’s non-irrigated fields must also be cut at the lower height. The nature of the game demands turf is cut shorter. Taller grass will slow down ground balls, preventing them from rolling beyond the outfield line and denying the offensive team four points. Achieving a lower height of cut was the city’s biggest success with its user groups, he said.

Fields are overseeded with a dwarf low-mow bluegrass.

Playing the game
In cricket, the bowler runs up the pitch and hurls the ball toward the batsman, bouncing it on the hard surface where the batsman will attempt to hit it. If he hits a ground ball, he and another batsman at the opposite end of the pitch – a 66-foot distance between wickets – will run towards each other, attempting to make it safely back to their respective wickets before the ball is fielded. Each successful crossing of one another to the wickets counts for one point. If the batsman flies the ball over the outfield line, he is awarded six points for his team. A ball that rolls along the ground and crosses the outfield line without being fielded counts for four points. The centre point of the field is 65 metres from the outfield perimeter line.

Cricket contests can vary in playing time, depending on the format of the game. Longer games can take several days to play while adjusted formats can abbreviate playing time to between eight and four hours.

“We have 18 facilities and that’s still not enough,” Macklin said. “We’re converting baseball diamonds left, right and centre.”

New land for cricket fields continues to be sought, but the challenge is that a massive amount of space is required for a full-size field. The addition of lights at the premier field has probably been the single biggest asset from a programming perspective, he added, noting there were about 600 permitted hours allotted prior to it being lit. The lights have allowed permitted play to reach upwards of 1,300 hours Monday to Friday.

Multiple pitches and varieties
A full-size cricket field tends to have multiple pitches, although only one is ever in play at any one time. This promotes a rotation of game pitches, allowing a pitch time to recover and be provided the maintenance it needs before it is used again. Play will take place on a single pitch for a full week. At Teramoto Park, the middle concrete pitch covered in artificial turf is flanked on either side by three natural turf pitches. 

Pitches undergo significant wear during a week of play from the running of both batsmen and bowlers as well as the impact made from the balls bounced into the pitch. Other factors such as rain can alter the consistency of a natural pitch or one on screenings.

Baseball mound clay, from which grass can grow, is used for natural pitches. These require precise moisture management, Macklin said, with the goal of achieving a compact enough pitch that allows the ball to bounce at a height like that atop a concrete pitch. This requires plenty of rolling to achieve the right level of compaction as well as the necessary water management to keep grass alive. The pitch must be dry enough and sufficiently firm to prevent the ball from “dying” when it’s bounced before the batsman. 

Natural pitches are grown to perennial ryegrass to prevent thatch buildup and are mowed at an eighth of an inch when in play. They are rolled for about three hours by a three-ton roller to achieve maximum compaction. A 1.5-ton roller had been used previously, but Macklin said it wasn’t heavy enough to achieve the desired amount of compaction.

Concrete pitches, by comparison, require less maintenance but must be inspected. 

This article is part of the Municipalities Week.

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