Worcestershire CCC are taking part in a ground-breaking experiment which could ultimately lead to more durable and semi-artificial pitches coming into force at New Road and other cricket squares around the country.
The England and Wales Cricket Board have installed two SISGrass wickets at the National Performance Centre at Loughborough combining natural turf grass with twisted yarn.
And Worcestershire are also taking part in the experiment – being run in conjunction with SIS Pitches – in the net area at their headquarters.
County players have given their backing to how the surface has behaved since it was first tried out in mid August.
And, if the trial proves successful, it may eventually lead to the multi-use of a wicket rather than the limited number of times it can be played on at present.
Such hybrid pitches are already in operation in football in the Premier League and in the Luzhniki Stadium in Russia which will be used for the 2018 World Cup final.
Here Worcestershire head groundsman Tim Packwood explains how the project is working and its potential advantages in a Question and Answer session with the Worcestershire CCC website.
Question: Could you explain the experiment to do with wickets you are currently taking part in?
Tim Packwood: “We’ve done a trial with a company called SISGrass who have installed a wicket at the National Cricket Performance Centre at Loughborough, who have pioneered this through Chris Wood (ECB Pitches Consultant).
“It involves synthetic grass that they use currently in football pitches which we are now trying to see if it can be transferred into cricket to make a pitch last longer.
“What they are probably looking at for the moment is that this is going to be for One-Day cricket where, if you get a block of T20 games you may be able to use that same pitch four or five times or maybe even longer, whereas at the moment you would probably use a wicket a couple of times.
“This is the very early stages of a trial the ECB are conducting at Loughborough and we are also helping out with a trial here and the same at Edgbaston as well.
“Our trial wicket is in the net area here. At Edgbaston they have got a trial wicket on the edge of the main square which they are hoping to use as practice ‘bowl through’ area for the bowlers.”
Question: What are the advantages of such a scheme if it proves successful?
Tim Packwood: “If a wicket holds together, and it can be used for a longer period of time, then you will probably have set wickets in the centre of your square that would be solely for One-Day Cricket.”
Question: How long as it been in down at New Road and how many times have you used it so far?
Tim Packwood: “We had ours installed on June 20. Then we needed to encourage the grass that is there to grow and fill in around the fibres, which we did. We prepared that particular pitch and two other nets side by side.
“The plan was to have played on it by the first week of August but, because we had three or four days of bad weather, we decided they weren’t quite ready to be used so the first time they got played on was August 15.”
Question: What has been the reaction of the players and what is your response to how it has played.
Tim Packwood: “From what I saw visually and talking to the players, there seemed to be some good bounce, good carry, there was a little bit of turn which surprised me a little bit so early, but that was because of the length the twine has been cut off at and we can tweak that a little bit to whatever are the requirements as we go on.
“The players said that out of the two nets we gave them, the one with the SISGrass seemed to have a more consistent bounce and it came onto the bat better than the grass one that was in use.
“The bowlers said they didn’t really notice a lot of difference but visually where the bowlers have bowled, the footholds where they land and follow through, seem to hold up a lot better than in the net where there is no twine.
“The batters said the ball came on nicely but it was also noticeable where they stood, there was hardly any wear and tear either.”
Question: If it is successful, does that help you out as a groundsman, in terms of the number of wickets and would you introduce them all over the square?
Tim Packwood: “I don’t think you would have a complete square of them because the thinking is behind this is that you can hold the wicket together and make it last longer.
“So you would solely be looking to use it in One-Day cricket or a block of T20 cricket whereas, in Four-Day cricket, you want the pitch to break up and get the spinners involved as the game goes on.
“The trial we are doing is to see ‘is this a viable product we can use?’ and the feedback I’ve got from here and the feedback that Chris Wood is giving back is positive.
“I’m going to do a report on how it has played here that will go to SISGrass and to Chris Wood. The more information we can all collate and put together, the better.”