Casting New Light on Damp Pitches
Lighting rigs for the artificial drying of sports pitches have, until recently in the UK, been firmly the domain of Premier League football clubs – until two case studies of rigs being utilised at International and First Class County cricket venues
The two main objectives of experimenting with the rigs at the cricket venues were to assimilate:
- The purpose of artificial enhancement of the drying of pitches under preparation when prevailing climatic conditions were unfavourable, and
- the possibility of future development to facilitate playing conditions on natural turf outside of the recognised calendar season.
The first case study took place in June 2008 when, two days before the start of an International Test match, and between pitch inspections, there had been a spell of cool, damp, overcast and no-wind conditions that had prevented the pitch from drying during the preparation time. Nine days before the start of the match, and between the first and second inspections, there was almost no change in the moisture content of the surface and the top 100 mm of the profile, with the pitch having been under hover cover for much of the interim period.
A hover cover with internal circulation fans had been in operation for almost 24 hours when, on inspection at midday, it had been raining since early morning. The pitch had a green tinge and was damp and soft to the point that even thumb pressure left an indent.
At this point, ECB Pitches Consultant Chris Wood was summoned to a meeting with the venue’s Chief Executive and the Head Groundsman to investigate any known technology available that would facilitate the drying of the pitch.
Darren Baldwin, Head Groundsman of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, was contacted for advice as to the effectiveness of using goalmouth light rigs from White Hart Lane for artificial drying. Four hours later Darren and his assistant had arrived and had assembled two rigs. By 8.30 pm the rain stopped and an hour later the lights were fired up and were on all night until 6.30 am the following day.
The nine hours of overnight artificial sunshine raised the ground temperature by approximately 2.5 degC and transpiration via the grass plants aided moisture removal from the rootzone. With the advantage of much improved climatic drying conditions the day preceding the match, the surface had hardened and was dry enough for the pitch to receive, at the end of the game, a ‘good’ performance rating from the ICC umpires with consistent (medium) bounce throughout.
The conclusion was that although the core analysis results still showed unusually high moisture content throughout the profile, the surface did not indent on the first day, indicating that the lights may well have played a significant role towards expediting the pitch drying process.
In September 2009, a second opportunity arose to test the effectiveness of light rigs, this time for a Division 1 County Championship match.
After a week of almost continual heavy cloud and wet weather, the pitch - almost continually under the covers during preparation - had not dried sufficiently for the desired standard required for an important penultimate Championship match. Based on the previous experience, it was decided to trial the system again.
With rain falling all day and throughout the night, Nigel Felton’s Macleod system was used in conjunction with light rigs borrowed from Sunderland Football Club. The cover system allowed for overnight protection but there was a considerable amount of condensation due to the high humidity. This quickly dispersed once the lights were fired up.
The following morning the pitch had dried significantly to display light cracking (light grass cover) but unfortunately no play was possible due to the saturated state of the remaining areas of the outfield and the high localised water table.
However, when play took place the following day, the pitch performance rating was slow and easy paced but perfectly playable. It was marked above average, just lacking pace for ‘good’.
In summary, the following questions required of the technology for further research are:
- What is the optimum bulb wattage required for (gentle) drying of a typical heavy clay pitch surface?
- Can the light distribution be centred on the pitch area?
- What would be the optimum height from the surface for maximum effect?
- Could this be made variable according to how many days out from the start of the match?
- Could light rigs be developed specifically for cricket and at what cost (in unison with a suitable covering system)?
So, what of the future? Chris Wood has been requested by an England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) working group to formulate a feasibility study for the outdoor net practice facility at the National Cricket Performance Centre, Loughborough University, to potentially extend its usage outside of the summer season by possibly 10 weeks. This would include a unique purpose-built covering unit incorporating grow-light technology.
Based on a presentation made by ECB Pitches Consultant Chris Wood at the IOG National Sports Turf Conference 2009 .