PRODUCING GOOD CRICKET PITCHES IS LIKE PRODUCING A GOOD MEAL
THE INGREDIENTS MUST BE RIGHT
What has the production of a good cricket pitch got to do with producing a good meal? Very little, except that the grounds man is very much like the chef. In order to produce a good meal, the chef has to make sure he has the right ingredients that are treated correctly and are blended together whether it is a cake, a loaf of bread or a steak. In order to obtain the best possible results they must be cooked at the correct temperature. Some people like their steak well done whilst others like it rare; the chef is aiming for customer satisfaction.
And so to the grounds man. He must have his ingredients correct, he must have the right blend, the pitch should be baked by the sun and although the grounds man cannot control his oven in the same way as the chef, he can work with nature using covers and others means to minimise the effects of moisture once he has got over the initial stages of preparation. Yes, the grounds man’s job is a lot more difficult than the chefs because he hasn't got the same control over the baking (cooking) process.
In the non-turf scene the grounds man does have more control because more advanced non-turf systems today are very much like instant foods. So long as you follow the instructions correctly they provide a good pitch. There are fewer things to go wrong with the non-turf pitch. The recipe has been determined by experts and it doesn't require the same degree of skill in order to obtain the best results.
With the natural turf pitch you can have all the recipes in the world and many have been determined, but like cooking a meal, it depends on the skill of the person carrying out the preparation as to whether the best results are obtained. Bake the cake too much and it burns, bake it too little and it’s indigestible. The same applies to the steak; beat it too much and it is ruined, beat it too little and its tough; the same with the cricket pitch; if it is not nursed, watered, rolled sufficiently, the pitch won't play true; overdo the cutting, rolling, watering, and the pitch won't come up to expectations; the grass may have difficulty growing, the pitch may form into layers giving low bounce.
GETTING IT RIGHT
It is getting the ingredients right that is important. In this respect the non-turf pitch eliminates a need for such a high level of skill and knowledge. Skill is still required but not to the same extent. In many respects the non-turf pitch is very much like instant food, whereas the natural turf pitch requires a good skilled chef (grounds man).
The beauty of the natural turf pitch is the difference between the performances of pitches; the governing factor is clay and the skill of the grounds man. The same applies to dynamic based (unbound mineral) non-turf pitches. The major difference is that they don't require the same amount of attention as a natural turf pitch and once the recipe has been put together correctly, they will provide unlimited use for a low maintenance input.
For pitches that are affected by the weather, we therefore have the choice between natural turf grown in a clay soil and synthetic turf on an unbound material base. Both will provide a similar result provided that they are properly managed and cricketers appreciate the dynamic based (unbound mineral) non-turf pitch today is capable of absorbing moisture, will provide the same type of changeable conditions experienced on natural turf. It is not truly all-weather but you can play in conditions you cannot play on turf, but it does require good management be it that the time required is a lot less than on natural turf.
I believe that if you have the resources with which to maintain good turf pitches, continue to do so, but make sure that they are good because as the late Jim Dunbar, former secretary of the National Cricket Association used to say - "a good pitch is a necessity for the game of cricket."