By David Markham
Roll your square before the ground dries out. That is the advice to cricket groundsman at this time of the year from Headingley groundsman Keith Boyce, who is groundsman at New Rover Cricket Club in north Leeds.
The ground is the home of the Yorkshire Academy as well as an Aire-Wharfe League club and will stage 93 competitive matches in the new season.
He said: "At this time of the year my advice to groundsmen is that they should be thinking about rolling. Cricket squares have to be rolled.
"We need to do this early season. The success of rolling is to get the square rolled before it dries out. That is the only time you have got, while the moisture is in the ground so that it responds to the rolling. Once the ground dries out it is too late for rolling.
"When the rolling is done you put some compaction into the soil again. As it dries it dries as a solid mass of soil and you expect to get a reasonable bounce out of the ground.
"Rolling is neglected on many cricket squares, but it is a vital part of pitch preparation. Without rolling pitch preparation is difficult. When you roll the square after the ground dries out you break up the soil and produce slow wickets.
"Groundsmen should also be treating their square with summer fertiliser - a small amount of nitrogen - between 11 and 15 per cent - to give the grass a little bit of vigour back.
"Also, don't forget early season practice matches - these are vital areas. Try to make them as good as a match practice pitch."
The start of the cricket season marks the culmination of some six months work which began last September after the 2004 campaign came to an end.
Keith Boyce said: "The autumn work was successful. There was no reason why it should not have been. The weather stayed mild from October through into November and the land temperatures stayed reasonably good.
"There was no reason why the spiking could not be done and the aeration work went well. However, there has not been as much frost as I would have liked. You like the frost to get into the spike holes and break up the soil. It jolts the top two top three inches which opens up the compacted soil and allows the roots to grow and become stronger, but we didn't get the frosts that we wanted and you can't do anything about that.
"This year, through January, February and in March we have had our fair share of cold weather and grass growth has been slow. Because of all this, I feel I don't need to do as much pre-season rolling as usual. If you don't get the frosts to jolt the soil and break it up there is no point in rolling.
"What we did was to take precautions against moss and turf diseases - we have to keep on top of that. Cricket squares are a haven for turf diseases, but generally speaking I was happy with the autumn work.
"Fusarium is the biggest problem. It is a disease caused by dampness and high humidity among the grass. I think fusarium is around all the time, but it is only when the grass is at its weakest that the diseases manifests itself. It is a bit like human beings, we catch diseases when we are at our lowest. You have got to see the early signs. When the red rusty spots show, that is the time to apply the spot treatment.
"Moss is going to grow anyway. I apply treatment to prevent moss before it appears. I tend to treat the whole square before the moss appears, but if the moss does appear you can use the moss killer and then rake it out."
After a lifetime as a cricket groundsman, Keith Boyce's enthusiasm remains undimmed. He said: "This is an exciting time of year and cricket is nearly here. Now, we have got the grass growing, it is the end of March and there is a cricket pitch under the mobile covers that you could play a pre-season county match on. Yorkshire will practice on it this week and I am sure it will do a good job."