Self Isolated Groundsman Chris Johnson
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We’re all preoccupied with the coronavirus crisis, but I thought I’d write the story of my first couple of years as a retiree who has moved into cricket groundsmanship.
I was bored out of my skull in my role in PR. I had enjoyed a fascinating career but this job wasn’t exactly inspiring me when my boss told me my time was up.
Well I was 68, so retirement came. With it the launch into a new career, albeit on a semi volunteer basis, as a cricket groundsman, looking after two squares at Knebworth Park Cricket Club in Hertfordshire. It’s a beautiful setting in front of Knebworth House, and where we have a hectic schedule of cricket five or six days a week.
While over the years I’d gathered knowledge helping out and as club chairman, I found the new job more than I bargained for, yet one I absolutely love. I’d often felt more could be done on the squares than had been happening and that’s what I’ve done. Listening to experts and taking on board their ideas within the constraints of time, money and equipment resources, I’ve sought to make our squares what players should expect.
The first step was an IOG accredited Autumn/Winter course organised by the Herts county association and brilliantly delivered by Andy Clarke which dictated plenty of winter work, something which certainly hadn’t been happening. The use of scaffold and germination sheets to get the growth progressing and keeping rabbits at bay and better irrigation were two factors. Irrigation with very low water pressure was overcome with Agrovista’s reguflow hose.
2019 pitch preparation
A new spreader for fertilising and guidance on using it were important. We also acquired a rotary mower with a roller for regular cutting.
For several years we had sensibly paid for contractors to do the Autumn renovation work, using ATB Sports Solutions, who do a terrific job.
Previously to my efforts the follow-on work through the winter had been negligible. I changed that with the combination of watering, worm treatment, fertiliser, drag brushing and cutting.I didn’t really do the requisite amount of preseason rolling mainly because the roller is so heavy, it’s an old road roller. I upped the speed at first and slowing down as the rolling time progressed. This year I’m using mowers for initial rolling and weighting them.
I soon found the importance of square management which overall worked well by playing on each strip as much as possible, not cutting too low, rolling not too long and irrigating where needed, especially on up-coming tracks. Sometimes I gambled in hot conditions on used tracks by wet rolling with a very light hose sprinkle on the morning of the match. It worked, probably wrong to recommend, but was an idea I picked up in Australia.
I didn’t resurrect adult strips after I’d used them for three, four or in some cases five matches. I have designated areas on both squares for juniors matches. I have learnt on foot hole filling, using Chris Wood’s videos, developing what worked best for me.
I was treating weeds with a selected weed killer, but possibly down to my excessive spraying, did leave patches. My predecessors hadn’t used the verticutter on our Dennis too much and I soon found that it eradicated weed growth and improved playing performance. An amazing piece of kit.
Knebworth Park Cricket Club
In my view a vital factor in producing good wickets is ensuring match wickets are dry. Over the course of 20 plus years, all our efforts with flat sheets, wheeled covers and a heap of gadgets as well as removing the saddles had failed to stop the water sweeping down our sloping main square, to cause damp patches on the match wicket.
I was only prepared to continue doing the ground if I had effective covers that were easy for one person, that being me, to manoeuvre. So I set out to find a solution and hit upon the climate cover from Total Play. This flat sheet works brilliantly. It covers three strips, amazingly lightweight and acts like glue to the ground. To purchase these I set about gaining the necessary grant aid to fund them, dry wickets at last!
Where I’ve struggled is coping with adjusting the settings on our Dennis and seed pre germination to better renovate the ends. Having said that end renovation is a challenge I must conquer as this winter they’ve struggled to recover, not helped by my repair programme – and the damn rabbits. Those cute creatures are a problem for us, digging holes we have to fill and damaging young grass shoots on the square. Since fitting an electric fence the improvement has been amazing. Good relations with our contractors helped here as they loaned us the fence.
Worms have been a nightmare, too, this winter and Purity granules were far more successful than liquid or mustard. I’d like to find a more sustainable solution.
Moles have been bad as well and while I trapped a few they’ve caused too much damage and am now going to try a new treatment to send them away.
Our players and juniors coaches are really appreciative of the work I do and the quality of the wickets and always help out on match days.
Not all things go smoothly though. At a County match the roller broke down by the wicket when rolling between innings. I got it going by jump starting from my car. It taught me not to turn off the old girl once started.
All the winter work and a concerted programme of preparation during the season reaps its rewards. So much so that at the league’s AGM I received, on behalf of the club, the county ground association’s Award of Excellence. A wonderful accolade.
Where we go now with the coronavirus is another matter. As I live a five-minute walk along a quiet country lane from the ground, perhaps I’ll be permitted as a 70-year-old to go there to keep the ground in order.
Just wanted to add Chris maybe the exception as he lives a few minutes from his ground and lives in a isolated location.Chris can still continue to look after his ground without putting himself and others at risk, if you cant please stay away from your own ground.
I have been working in this industry for well over 20 years ,grass is forgiving and walking away will not be the end of years of hard work.If you can carry on without putting yourself and others at risk then do so, the season has only been temporarily postponed.
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