It’s not just the cricket that’s first-class at Kent County Cricket Club – the turf at the 175-year-old county ground has given top-class innings too.
In fact, Head Groundsman Simon Williamson couldn’t be happier with sowings of a new perennial ryegrass, which has helped rocket the club from second bottom in the playing field quality league table to top five in just six years.
Judged by umpires and match managers from the English and Welsh Cricket Board against 16 other county cricket clubs across the country – and coming 3rd in the table in 2015 – it’s an accolade Simon is rightly proud of.
“Grasses within the cricket square of a top level domestic ground have to stand up to a lot of pounding, not to mention the weight of a 2 ½ tonne roller!” says Simon, who has been a groundsman for more than 40 years, starting out at St Lawrence College in the 1970s. “When I first came to the club we had problems with clumping, which causes bumps and undulations on the surface, and this is an absolutely no-no for players because it allows the ball to deviate. We have none of these problems now.”
With more than 500 matches played on the prestigious St Lawrence Ground in Canterbury since it was founded, and at least 16 championship games a year – not to mention the roots of a famous Lime Tree on the playing field to contend with – the club has always required a resilient grass.
Six years ago, when Simon became Head Groundsman at the club – and after multiple problems with clumping in the square and patches of bare soil – Simon realised it was time to take action.
“There were gaps where the grass seed hadn’t taken and in the winter months no density, so algae and moss would form,’ says Simon. “We spoke to our seed supplier, Avoncrop Amenity Products—who we’ve been working with for 20 years now and always provide us with excellent advice—and they suggested we conduct some trials.
After trials with three or four different seeds, some of which looked unnaturally green, we chose Barenbrug’s ‘Bar Extreme”.
“We stripped back the turf and overseeded the practice area and the square, and since then we’ve had great coverage, no patches, and green colour even in the winter.”
Indeed, while Simon and his team were used to dousing the pitch with a whole bag of seed each month in order to reseed bare patches, now less than half a bag is used, which has helped to cut costs.
“We saw good results straight away,” says Simon. “The first sowing was up in seven days and within 10 days we were cutting it on the square.”
Getting to the grass roots
The new grass seed certainly seems to have got to the root of the problems. “Our tests have shown that the roots now reach down at least 10 inches below the soil surface,” says Simon. “And this means the wicket holds together very nicely and thanks to the root density, the turf retains its moisture without too much additional support.”
Also rolled out at the County Ground in Beckenham, a centre of excellence for player development, where the club plays their home games, Simon says:
“Even the coaches have commented on the vast improvement to the playing field. Cricket is played in the head and if the cricketers think the square looks better, they’ll believe it plays better.
“Unlike a lot of sports, the players look down at the grass and can poke about with it with their bat, and if it looks good it puts them in the right mindset and mood for a good performance.”