`It’s now more excitement than anything’
Recent sunny weather has relieved the nerves of the man in charge of preparing the pitch for next week’s cricket test match between New Zealand and South Africa starting on Wednesday.
“If the weather hadn’t improved it would have been more nerves than excitement but I think just because of the change with our conditions and the way everyone’s worked it’s now more excitement than anything,” Dunedin Venues head of cricket Mike Davies said.
Mr Davies has been preparing cricket pitches for six years, after previously preparing golfing greens.
He took on the job in Dunedin last year.
This is the first time he has prepared a pitch for an international game and said preparing a test match pitch was the “ultimate test and ultimate achievement” for anyone in the turf industry.
There are eight pitches or “blocks” on the ground. The number one pitch to be used for the test match was identified early on in the season and given special attention, he said.
Matches were played on it but it was protected with pitch rotation. As day one of the test match approached, fewer matches had been played on it.
The intense preparation for a test match pitch typically began 14-16 days ahead of the first ball being bowled.
Preparations involved compacting the ground on the pitch, mowing the grass and rolling the pitch, he said.
Colosseum rye grass, which was popular on South Island cricket grounds, was used on the University Oval pitch because it was a fine-leafed grass which reduced surface friction and helped deliver both pace and bounce.
Steps were also taken to ensure the outfield ran fast. This included the insertion of many tiny holes called vertical drains into the ground to help remove excess moisture.
How a pitch played could seriously affect the outcome of a cricket match which depended on such factors as pace and bounce or whether the ball spins on the surface.
New Zealand Cricket’s only direction was for him to produce a “good cricket wicket”. This meant a pitch that would bring all cricketing skills to the table including fast bowling, batting, and spin bowling, Mr Davies said.
There was a tradition of celebration for groundsmen after the completion of a cricket test match but Mr Davies was not willing to divulge industry secrets.
“That’s among the groundsmen. It’s a pretty tight industry.”