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Preparing pitches under drought restrictions

Drought restrictions including Temporary Use Bans (TUBs), sometimes known as ‘Hosepipe Bans’ and Drought Orders will impose restrictions on the way you water your cricket square.

For more details see: Preparing Pitches Under Drought Restrictions

 

Why do cricket squares and pitches need to be watered?

Cricket is a summer sport and irrigation is essential for the preparation of safe cricket pitches.

One of the key characteristics of safe cricket pitches is that they have reasonably predictable ball bounce. This requires that they are smooth, that they have uniform hardness and a uniform density of grass cover. These three properties of pitches mean that:

  1. The ball bounce will be sufficiently predictable to make reasonable decisions about body position when batting.
  2. Protective equipment such as pads and gloves will be effective when worn normally.

Cricket pitches are made smooth by rolling them flat. To roll the clay soils used in cricket pitches smooth requires the use of water to soften the soil. This is a form of ‘watering the soil.’

Because cricket pitches are made from clay soils to give them strength when they are dry, they are prone to cracking as they dry and shrink. If left unmanaged, these cracks will cause unpredictable ball bounce and could be a trip risk to players. This is another form of ‘watering the soil.’

Maintaining good grass cover helps to maintain safe ball bounce and maintain consistency of ball bounce for as long as possible by resisting the wear of the players. Good grass cover will require supplementary irrigation during periods of hot weather, dry weather and when pitches have been under cover during rainfall. This is ‘watering the grass.’

Effective watering will apply the right amount of water uniformly over the playing area, to water the soil the grass grows in, to provide good pitch performance and to maintain player safety.

When a pitch is not watered, it becomes difficult to achieve surface smoothness, the soil can crack and become unstable, and the grass plant becomes stressed or dies. Any one of these symptoms can mean that ball bounce will be unpredictable and a pitch unsafe.

Why is it important not to waste water?

Climate change is affecting both temperature and rainfall patterns. When combined with an increasing population, increased house building and an ageing water infrastructure this puts ever increasing demand on our water resources – whether that is mains water from the tap or from over abstracted surface and groundwater resources.

As a game that is dependent upon water for irrigation for safe and enjoyable play, Cricket in England and Wales has a responsibility to use water carefully and make sure that we only use what we need and do not waste water.

As individual clubs, the quantity of water we use may be small compared to other uses of water for irrigation such as agriculture, golf, or horse racing but we all have a responsibility to do our bit to conserve water and this will add up over all the clubs taking action to do this.

Using water carefully is a win for:

  • The environment – helping to reduce over abstraction and the harm it has on ecosystems, greenhouse gas emissions from treating and distributing water and pollution.
  • Society – by helping to make sure water is available for drinking and washing.
  • Playing the game safely on the best possible pitches.
  • Your club if your water supply is metered!

To do this water should be sourced as sustainably as possible and application of that water must be as effective and efficient as possible.

We all have our part to play, so please read the rest of this guide to see how you can act to conserve water in your grounds management.

What is Effective and Efficient Watering

Effective Watering

Effective watering is making sure that the right amount of water is applied to the right place at the right time to achieve the results we want. It sounds easy but it is one of the hardest parts of grounds management – so often there is either too much water or too little water. The following table shows some of the consequences of not being effective with water:  

 

Ineffective watering

Consequence

Too little water

  • Surface cannot be smoothed – potentially unsafe pitch
  • Grass dies back – pitch wears more quickly and becomes unsafe.
  • The soil cracks excessively, becomes unstable making the pitch unsafe. It can also make watering more difficult if cracks are deep because water will flow off the surface, down the crack and drain away (this is called bypass flow – it bypasses the soil and does not solve the cracking or other problems)

Too much water

  • Not possible to dry the pitch before play, pitch is soft, damages easily, low player traction and becomes unsafe.
  • Water runs off the surface wetting an area that should be dry and wasting water.

Uneven distribution

  • Pitch bounce and pace properties are not consistent (ball does something different depending on where it bounces) – pitch can be unsafe.

Wrong place

  • Watering outside the target area can cause problems with soft areas and player traction.
  • It is a waste of water to apply it where it is not needed.

Wrong time

  • Water applied too close to match day will result in a soft surface that could be dangerous to play on.
  • Water applied during the heat of the day will be subject to maximum evapotranspiration (wasting water to the atmosphere by evaporating from here or transpiring through the plant).

Efficient Watering

Watering efficiently means that as much of the water you apply as possible goes towards watering the soil and the grass on the areas you are targeting, and that water waste is minimised. The following examples are ways in which water is wasted:

  • Drainage through the profile by applying excess water (this is hard to achieve in the slowly permeable clay soils used in cricket squares during the summer in England and Wales)
  • Run off the surface because water is being applied too quickly to infiltrate the soil – this is very common on sloping squares.
  • Evapotranspiration (ET) – ET rates are highest when the temperature is hottest and are higher in windy conditions than in still conditions. Avoid watering during the heat of the day.

 

Water use efficiency is maximised by:

Aim

Examples

Applying water in the right quantities

  • Excessive watering will result in runoff or drainage losses.
  • Insufficient watering can cause plant stress or death which will accelerate pitch wear and cracking.

Applying water at the right rate

  • Applying water too quickly (water applied at a rate greater than the infiltration rate) will cause runoff and wastewater.
  • Use soaker hoses, travelling irrigators and control flow (do not open the tap or sprinkler nozzle full bore) to avoid runoff.
  • Make sure you allow enough time. It can be really hard, especially when you have lots of other tasks to do on the ground, when there are lots of fixtures or when you are a volunteer.

Applying water at the right frequency

  • The right frequency of application (number of times per week) will depend on the weather but try to avoid little and often’ as this encourages shallow rooting.
  • Try to apply water in sufficient depths to allow it to move deeper into the profile and to encourage roots to move towards the water. It is also important to make sure that the surface does not dry and shrink at a different rate from the deeper profile.
  • Sometimes we do ‘little and often’ just because we do not have enough time to water. If that is your challenge look at labour saving devices such as water tractors (a type of travelling irrigator) or even automatic irrigation (depending on your site).

Minimising evapotranspiration

  • Minimise ET by only irrigating from late evening to early morning.
  • Apply flat sheets or dome covers to keep water in the profile and allow it to move more deeply into the profile.

Maximising infiltration rate (the rate that water goes into the soil)

  • Deep spiking can help water and roots to move more deeply into the profile.
    • For squares this should be carried out in the winter (see aerating cricket squares page)
    • For outfields this should be done pre and post season (see spiking your outfield).
  • Applying a wetting agent (a chemical treatment) to your square can increase the rate at which water enters the soil.

Encouraging deep rooting grass types

  • Perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne) roots deeper into the profile than annual meadow grass (Poa annua) and is therefore more drought tolerant and resistant to wear. Follow good cultural practice and end of season renovations to reduce annual meadow grass and maximise perennial ryegrass in your sward.

 

Water Usage Guidance for Cricket Square/Pitches in hot, dry weather

It is particularly important that pitches are irrigated effectively to allow them to be rolled effectively and to protect the clay soils from excessive cracking that can cause unpredictable ball bounce.

The key point to note is that pitches will be drying faster than normal so pitch preparation routines need to be adapted. It is likely that you will need to:

  1. increase the number of days in which you are applying water to a pitch in preparation, and/or
  2. shorten the time you have between first preparing a pitch and using it for the first time.

The optimum time for watering pitches is overnight when temperatures are lowest. However, this can be very difficult because hand-watering is often required. Some grounds with secure sites might be able to use water tractors (small self-propelled irrigators) or sprinkler hoses on timers to carryout targeted overnight watering – but be very careful if you have a sloping square because of unintended runoff to other pitches. This approach is not suitable for sites with public access or risk of vandalism/tampering.

Evening watering is preferable to watering during the day, but this can be a challenge to fit amongst junior and mid-week fixtures. Early morning watering can often be the best opportunity but try to avoid watering during the day. If you have to water during the day because of your working hours, or you are a volunteer fitting around the day job, then this is better for safe pitch preparation than not watering. If you have covers, you can reduce the rate of drying by using them after watering.

Be aware that this can affect grass condition as well as moisture content. Do not leave flat sheets on pitches for prolonged periods during hot weather – the plant will still need light, and air circulation to prevent disease.

If your pitch is drying too quickly, you can add small amounts of water: but do this evenly and in controlled, hand watered amounts. You can always add a bit more the next day, but it can be difficult to dry a pitch if the weather turns against you so keep an eye on the weather forecast.

Increase cut heights and reduce frequency of cutting on pitches and the square. This will help to maintain grass cover which will reduce the risk of cracking. Leave your final cut until as late as possible and do not over scarify/verticut the pitch too early or you could risk the pitch drying too quickly and cracking.

Where possible stay on top of end repairs – germination during very dry periods is difficult. If you cannot water repaired ends whilst providing enough water to pitches in preparation – make the levels safe and return to the repairs in wetter times. Germination sheets will help to retain moisture as well as to encourage germination.

Building drought resilience

Water is a valuable resource and sports clubs can help to reduce consumption, particularly from expensive mains drinking water. Clubs can plan for the future when mains drinking water supplies are likely to be under greater demand. There are a number of strategies including:

    • Improving irrigation efficiency – whether that is more efficient equipment, automated sprinklers so that you can apply water over night or fixing leaky hoses, improving efficiency saves water.
    • Look into whether a borehole is a cost-effective solution for your site. You will need to consider the geology under your ground and whether you need or can get an abstraction licence (abstractions less than 20 m3/day do not currently need an abstraction licence). Speak to a specialist bore hole installer for more advice.
    • Some sites may be suitable for harvesting and storing water – whether that is rainfall from roofs or drainage water. Always seeks specialist advice because managing harvested water quality is important when it is used for irrigation.

The ECB offer guidance and funding for suitable drought resilience and water saving projects – speak to your County Cricket Board.