We had a chat with Somerset CCC’s Head Groundsman, Simon Lee, to understand just what it takes to maintain a cricket pitch ahead of the new season…
With the countdown on until the ICC Cricket World Cup kicks off in the UK and the start of a new season in the Northern Hemisphere, cricket is reaching absolute fever pitch as fans of the sport gear up for an incredible few months ahead. Whilst everyone is getting excited about the action on the pitch, it’s important to remember the action taken to prepare the pitch for a top-quality game of cricket in the first instance.
With all of this in mind, we were lucky enough to have a chat with Simon Lee, Head Groundsman of Somerset CCC which is home to three Cricket World Cup fixtures, to find out exactly what his days at County Ground Taunton look like and everything you need to know about groundsman life…
Thanks for taking the time out to do this Simon, with the new season upon us you must be really busy! First things first, talk us through your day-to-day routine.
Simon: We start work on non-match days at 8am, but for matches that start around 11am, we are in for 7am to make sure we have plenty of time to prepare. Most days run through until around 4.30pm but on matchdays we can be there up until 11pm depending on finish. Either way, all days start the same… we uncover the pitches on the square and then set about preparing. The outfield and square are brushed to remove the dew and then the process of cutting and rolling can start. After that, it’s a case of setting up nets on practice days or setting up sight screens and boundary sizes for matchdays. We also do a lot of maintenance work around the ground so there’s always something to fix from day-to-day.
Busy days no matter what the fixtures then?! How does the role vary throughout the year, be it playing season or offseason?
Simon: Between March and October, our main focus is the cricket pitch. Depending on the fixtures, we can be working long hours over the weeks without a break to ensure everything is prepped and ready to go. In the winter months, we move onto the ground maintenance side of things and help where we can to avoid unnecessarily getting contractors in to fix things. The ground looks after itself well at this time of year with simple verti-draining, cutting and pest / disease control. I think it’s always good to give it a rest as it gets a lot of wear during the season.
How do you typically prepare the cricket pitch then? You don’t have to reveal any trade secrets, don’t worry!
Simon: All pitches start the same, with a simple flood down with water and a slow process of rolling little and often. I like to start rolling with grass on the pitches and then we take the length of cut down depending on what kind of game it is. In four day cricket, we take the grass off by brushing and cutting to get to the loam underneath, whereas in one day cricket we leave the grass on the help give the ball some pace and remove chance of movement off the seam of the ball. Rolling wise, we always do four hours, maximum – Taunton doesn’t need any more than that. When it comes to finishing the pitches, the difference between the two games is we dry roll in a four day cricket match, whereas in a one day we will water and roll to seal the surface.
You mention four day cricket and one day cricket there. Is there any differences when it comes to preparing the wicket for an ODI compared to a T20 at all?
Simon: ODI and T20 game prep is the same for me really. As I said before, we leave the grass on and rolled in for one day matches to bring the pace onto the ball. It also helps when you have a lot of TV fixtures on the same pitches as I have added protection on the surface which makes them last longer. This is especially handy when we’re playing five or more games of T20 on the same pitch over just two weeks.
Do you ever receive specific requests from players, be it bowlers or batsmen? How do you strike the balance of appeasing everyone?
Simon: Players always like to give requests(!), but we go into the season with a clear plan on what we are looking for out of each game – something that is decided upon by the Director of Cricket, the coach, the captain and myself. Then, if we need to change something during the season, it’s a collective decision between us all. I’m very fortunate here at Somerset as there is a good line of communication regarding the pitches so we don’t get too much grumbling!
And what kind of tools and equipment do you use?
Simon: We have quite a small shed so don’t have lots of kit to play with, but have all the basics covered; wicket mowers, rollers, verti cutting unites, outfield mowers and scarifiers. We’ve recently invested in a verti drainer of our own and tractor, so if we need to do a large renovation we hire equipment in and now connect onto the tractor.
How did you first get into the industry then? Did you always want to be a groundsman?
Simon: Being a groundsman was never a plan, all I knew when coming to the end of my school days was that I wanted to work outside. I did a National Diploma in Horticulture once I left school and part of that course was a 24-week work placement in year one, which I did here at Somerset CCC in 1999 – it was the last Cricket World Cup year in this country and Somerset wanted an extra pair of hands for the season. So that was that, I finished college and was fortunate enough to receive a job offer in the spring of 2001… I’ve been here ever since!
It feels like we’ve come full circle with the Cricket World Cup kicking off in a matter of months! If you had to give an aspiring groundsman or someone starting out in their career three tips, what would they be and why?
Simon: 1. Try and help out at your local club. It’s a great way of learning what goes into making a pitch and you can get a real feel for if you want to pursue being a groundsman as a career.
2. Watch and learn! I spent many an hour watching things happen whilst sat on a roller. Take in what’s going on and then when seeing the final outcome on a net or a pitch, try to understand those processes and maybe if there is something you could do differently.
3. Do the work on the pitches at the right time. Rushing pitch prep never works – if the loam is too wet then you’re just going to cause more harm than good. Little 10-minute blocks throughout the day is better than an hour on the same pitch and if it is too wet, you can always stop and go back later.
Fantastic, thanks for taking the time out to do this Simon and good luck for the very busy season ahead!
If you’re entering a new season or it’s drawing to a close, we have the Cricket Maintenance Checklists here you need to make sure you never forget to check your equipment…
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