Having spent his complete working life at Leicestershire County Cricket Club, head groundsman Andy Ward is unswerving in his dedication to keep The Fischer County Ground’s square, outfield area and nets up to first class standard.
He and his five-strong grounds team’s implementation of a methodical pitch maintenance regime is coupled with the use of the appropriate machinery and equipment, as well as amenity supplies to ensure this is the case, year-in and year-out.
Andy joined the Leicestershire Foxes’ grounds team in 1985 on a youth training scheme and has gradually moved up the ladder, beginning with tasks that included cutting the surrounds, outfield and practice area. After being appointed deputy head groundsman he progressed into the position of head groundsman in 2009.
With 21 wickets – 15 of them being for first-class games – Andy reflects that “there’s a lot of variation in the job over an annual eight-month season,” he says. “And this year it has been particularly tricky weather-wise, with ice and snow followed by a period of heavy rain then drought!
“This has played havoc with wicket preparations – from April onwards we’d normally spend 12/13 days preparing individual wickets, but that’s not always been possible – for a ground that is heavily used for a variety of games by the Leicestershire CCC teams as well as, for example, T20 games and England Women’s matches in addition to non-sporting events such as music concerts.
“But with a great grounds team who between them have a lot of experience, complemented by the use of some superlative amenity products from Rigby Taylor, we’ve been able to keep pace with the demands while also be able to present a top-class playing surface - which has resulted in us winning the ECB 1 Day pitch award alongside Nottinghamshire in 2017 and being outright winners in 2013.”
Andy says the use of Rigby Taylor supplies – especially the R range of seed mixtures that have been developed using highly rated, top performing cultivars - has been a constant at the club even before he became head groundsman.
“We’ve always used R9 (100% ultra-fine rye) on the square and nets, and R11 (100% perennial rye) on the outfield – R11 being especially hard-wearing and drought-tolerant.”
In addition, Microflow and Fineturf fertilisers are used alongside a programme of Fusion fungicide and the Mascot Hi-Aktiv and Chikara herbicides (glyphosate, and contact/residual, respectively). Also, Duraline Dazzle line-marking paint is used on the wickets.
”In addition, I know that Rigby Taylor’s technical sales representative Carl Chamberlain is always available by ‘phone, and that’s a great reassurance when I need to discuss an issue or order something quickly.”
This year’s first-class wickets have been reduced to 13, says Andy, after two were re-laid last year when the top seven inches were removed and replaced with Ongar loam [all wickets are Ongar; the nets – “some of the best in the country”, says Andy - are of Boughton loam]. “The plan is to put a (second team) game on them this year. This is in stark contrast to what we used to do with new wickets – and that is to leave them for four or five years before staging a game on them.”
Wicket re-laying is part of an ongoing plan to renovate the complete square, says Andy. “The square has historically received so many different topdressings over the years, with no real science behind the applications, and with nine of the 15 squares being at least 50 years old the plan now is to gradually renovate them all to give them a new lease of life.”
This is part of the club’s ongoing improvement programme which, in 2016, saw the installation of floodlights.
Going forwards, with the use of new wickets year-on-year, Andy and his team obviously have pitch care down to an art, “which is helped in no small way by the use of Rigby Taylor products”, he adds.
©Cricket World 2018