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.

Central Leader - - SPORT -

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 de­mand it.

The Hedley Howarth and Tom Hellaby two-day com­pe­ti­tions, 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. It’s just the re­al­ity.

‘‘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.’’

con­di­tions

Hockey star, left: Year 13 Dioce­san School stu­dent Maddy Dowe is one step closer to her dream of play­ing for the Black Sticks af­ter be­ing called into the re­cent New Zealand Black Sticks train­ing camp in Jan­uary. Sil­ver lin­ing, right: Holly White com­peted at the un­der-19 Elite Track Cy­cling Na­tion­als, where she placed sec­ond over­all in in­di­vid­ual pur­suit and team pur­suit events.

Photo: PHOTOTEK

Sales pitch: Eller­slie Cricket’s Si­mon Lam­bert says ar­ti­fi­cial pitches aren’t a great sell­ing point for the premier game.

Low stan­dards: The use of ar­ti­fi­cial pitches is killing Auck­land’s cred­i­bil­ity, says one player.

Change please: Eden Roskill’s Azhar Ab­bas wants the sea­son pushed back.

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