Club Cricket Conference

Saturday, 19th September 2020

ECB encouraged by turf-stitching pitch experiment


By Charles Randall

11 October 2017

The ECB have been testing a reinforced turf system this summer adapted from football to increase durability and performance on cricket strips at all levels, including  club and school if costs prove sustainable.

The ECB installed two SISGrass Universal hybrid pitches at the National Cricket Performance Centre in Loughborough in June, one in the middle and one in the outdoor nets. This involved a giant laser-guided stitching machine crawling up and down the turf with special yarn designed  to strengthen the root system.

Chris Wood, the ECB’s pitches consultant,  said: "I am genuinely excited by this project, though it is still too early to make a judgement.  The system produced good pitches, but there are still maintenance aspects such as scarifying that need looking into."

Wood specified straw-coloured yarn, rather than football's green, to make the strips look as authentic as possible.  Seeding and mowing was still required, but durability was enhanced with good turf performance for play, certainly far superior to plastic pitches.

Wood said the idea sprang from a  conversation with Darren Baldwin, the head groundsman of Tottenham Hotspur. "The majority of Premier League venues now use hybrid pitches," he said, "and even to the casual observer of football, I think it’s obvious that those pitches have been of a far more consistently high quality, around all clubs and throughout the season. That is because introducing a relatively small amount of artificial twisted yarn greatly improves the stability of the surface underfoot."

He added: " SISGrass have developed a new, more compact stitching unit than has been used for football. We have had to wait to apply this technique to cricket. There have been semi-hybrid pitches, but using artificial turf with cricket loam infill rather than natural grass."
These SIS strips can be laid quickly with laser precision. The ECB are looking at ways of improving pitches in professional cricket, and the relatively easy upkeep might interest the recreational game.

The challenge for Wood and the ECB is to get the system right, because the cost of each strip will run into thousands of pounds. Exactly how much remains to be seen.