Pitching for more grass
Cricket is our summer game but more often than not it’s at the mercy of the elements. Artificial pitches have helped ensure that premier club cricketers spend more time in the field. But do they do more harm than good? Julian Raethel reports.
The batsmen are at the crease, the fielders are in position and the umpire signals play to commence. There have been some showers in the last 24 hours, but the game must go on.
The opening seam bowler is ready to fire in the first delivery. But the run-up is more of a five-step jog than a fullpaced attack – the risk of injury is too great if he slips on the artificial pitch at full steam.
This is a common scenario at the start of the premier season, where Auckland’s top cricketers are asked to play on artificial pitches. And some players and coaches say it is hurting the game.
Artificial pitches are seen as the best way to get a game in wetter weather. Eden Roskill player-coach Azhar Abbas says although they’re good for junior cricket, they should have no place at premier level as they force a drop in the standard of play.
He wants the season pushed back by a month to bypass the unpredictable October weather.
‘‘We should have all the focus on playing on grass.’’
‘‘I understand it takes time and effort to prepare – grass pitches are soft and very difficult in the month of October,’’ he says.
Abbas says niggling back and foot injuries are common on artificial pitches and he’s seen many players slip over.
‘‘I don’t even bowl at 50 per cent on those pitches,’’ Abbas says. ‘‘Fast bowlers will now roll their arms with only a five-step run up. I remember a left-hand quick bowler from overseas playing us from Takapuna, he was slipping every third ball.’’
Auckland’s cricket grounds are council-owned – with the exception of Cornwall Park.
The annual cost to maintain a sand carpet outfield is $22,000 per hectare. A grass wicket block ranges from $30,000 to $50,000. With 14 premier grounds, that adds up quickly. Artificial pitches cost just $15,000 to construct and a further $5000 to renew the artificial surface after five years of use. Thirty-five premier artificial pitches are used every spring and summer.
The official summer sport season starts in October and wraps up in March, before winter codes begin. That agreement was reached between council and Auckland Cricket Association.
Lewis McClintock, club rugby manager at Auckland Rugby, says the calendar is fair and the two sports don’t clash. Rugby clubs organise their own pre-season games, subject to field availability.
Auckland men’s premier cricket has three formats – twenty20, one-dayers and two-dayers.
The first three games of the Jeff Crowe Cup one-dayers (starting early October) and twenty20 competition (early December) are played on artificial pitches.
After that they can move to grass and will use artificial pitches when conditions demand it.
The Hedley Howarth and Tom Hellaby two-day compe- titions, however, are always played on grass wickets and hardly entertain the thought of using artificial.
Auckland Cricket club and game development manager Adrian Dale says to have the number of grass wickets operating to the demand would be unworkable. ‘‘You often find junior cricket is not able to play on grass until senior years. And I suppose it’s a perception thing – the players don’t have that feeling that they’re playing proper cricket on artificial pitches.’’
But overall it’s not a problem, he says.
‘‘Artificial pitches have done a lot of good. They provide a really good playing surface, consistent bounce, and are cost-effective. Without them we couldn’t allow for the numbers of juniors to play.’’
Sales pitch: Ellerslie Cricket’s Simon Lambert says artificial pitches aren’t a great selling point for the premier game.
Group effort: Mount Albert Grammar School’s under-15 girls took part in the octuple event at the Cambridge Town Cup Regatta at Lake Karapiro from January 23 to 25.
Change please: Eden Roskill’s Azhar Abbas wants the season pushed back.
Low standards: The use of artificial pitches is killing Auckland’s credibility, says one player.