Notebook, The C-word, Voluntary work

A square measure

Notebook: 29 July 2017 |  VOLUNTARY WORK | THE C-WORD

In 2006, spurred on by England Cricket’s epic Ashes win in 2005 and his love of sport, my eldest son Joe who was 11 at the time, joined the local village cricket club. He had a natural aptitude for the game and soon found himself playing for the Under 13 age group team and I was roped in as team ‘manager’. Most amateur sports clubs depend on an army of volunteers to help out – be it ground maintenance, making teas or, as in my case, ensuring that 11 youngsters were organised and turned up for matches on the right day and at the right time. They were a good bunch of boys (and girls) and they clicked as a team, enjoyed themselves and always seemed to do well. I remained manager and followed them through from U13s to U15s to U17s and in 2011 their hard work and achievements culminated in them winning the Junior Carter Cup, a knockout competition featuring the best U17 teams from across the county of Norfolk (pictured below).

Garboldisham CC u17s win the Norfolk Junior Carter Cup in 2011

Son Joe disappeared off to university and my days as youth team manager came to an end but the cricket club continued to keep me busy in my down-time, running the website and, fast-forward to 2017, helping mow and mark out the pitches. As an editorial designer I enjoy the discipline of working with grids and columns of type and lining things up. We measure in a mixture of millimetres and points and InDesign does the marking out for us. With a cricket pitch we work in good old yards but mix in metres (for good measure) and our marking out is done with a tape measure and string. I enjoy working on this grander scale and it’s good to escape from a computer screen.

This is how we mark out the pitches and prepare them for each game.

The cricket ground or field has a square within its centre. The square is more often a rectangle in shape but it is within this area that the individual pitches (aka wickets, tracks or strips) are marked out. On municipal grounds you will often see the square ‘fenced’ off to protect the playing surface. At Garboldisham CC we have two grounds and therefore two squares (pictured top). Our main square measures 33 metres by 22 yards with 22 yards being the length of an adult pitch. County cricket grounds such as The Oval or Headingley (pictured below) will often have a square that runs the whole width of the ground to allow for the numerous tracks that are needed throughout the season.

The ‘square’ at Headingley, home of Yorkshire CCC, has many tracks (aka wickets or pitches) that run almost the width of the ground

The square has steel markers hammered into the grass at each corner and it is from these markers that each pitch is measured and set out. (The markers would have been carefully positioned with perfect right angles many years ago). The width of each pitch or track is 3 metres: our square is 33 metres long which means that we can fit in 11 pitches/tracks which can be made use of throughout the season (see diagram below). Typically a track can be used for three or four games before it deteriorates and becomes unusable and is then left to recover for the following season. Alternate tracks are used, generally in the sequence shown below.

Alternate tracks are generally used in the sequence shown. 1 and 2 are old and worn and are recovering. 3 has been mown to about 1/8″ and is all ready for playing on. 4 is half prepared and will be used the following week. 5-11 will be used later as the season progresses. 

New tracks are started off about a fortnight before they will first be played upon. With the measure, we position and mark out the 3m track width. Then the mower height is reduced from 1/2″ (12mm) which is the height used for the square, down to about 1/4″ (6mm) and the first cut is made. A hand scarifier (pictured below) helps thin and lift the grass and another mow takes off a bit more.

The new track is scarified several times to help thin and lift the grass

In early spring before the season starts, the whole square would have been rolled for several hours to remove any lumps and bumps and to start to compact and harden the surface. Now the new track is rolled and this continues the flattening and hardening process and the track takes on a curious blue-ish hue. A day or so later and the mower height is dropped again and the scarifying/mowing/rolling sequence continues. Finally the cutting height is reduced down to about 1/8″ the day before the game and the track is given a last roll to remove any moisture. By now, this carefully manicured strip of grass has changed colour from green to ‘blue’ to brown but now looks almost white and shiney and is as hard and flat as a billiard table, and hopefully the perfect surface for batting on with no hidden surprises for the batsmen.

Different tracks on the ‘square’ at Garboldisham CC. The ‘white’ one on the left has been played on once and then re-mown and rolled ready for its next game. The dark green one adjacent to the right will be saved for the back end of the season. The paler, blue-ish track in the middle is half prepared and needs a bit more cutting and rolling, and to its right is an old worn track that is finished with and greening over. On the far right is a recently used track that has been left to recover.

Close up of the edge of the ‘white’ track all ready for playing on. The grass has been reduced to about 1/8” to remove its green tips and reveal the pale cream ‘crown’ beneath. The dark green grass is the ‘square’ at its normal height of about 1/2″

Using the corner markers, tape measure and string, we mark the ‘backline’ and the point where the middle stump will be inserted. All the other lines are added in using diluted white emulsion paint and a handy guide frame (pictured below). Stump holes are hammered in and the pitch is finally ready.

A large metal frame is carefully positioned on the pitch and painted around to mark out the creases

Along the way, we may well have fought off rooks, who peck the surface for grubs, with a farmer’s bird scarer; worms, who bring up worm casts, with a stiff broom; and the weather – too much rain and the pitch goes dead, and if there’s too much sun, the surface can be too dry and breakdown too quickly, so we drag out the hose and sprinkler.

No two tracks or pitches will ever play the same and it’s not until the pitch has been played upon that you know whether it’s a ‘good’ one – and in our case, a good pitch is generally one where the batsmen can score lots of runs. Occasionally a groundsman may be asked to prepare a low-scoring track that favours the bowler – maybe one where the ball grips in the surface or spits off the surface to catch a batsman unawares – but this sort of pitch preparation is a dark art and a whole different ball game…