Well known industry personality and renowned cricket groundsman Len Smith has made a flying start to his new career as ECB Pitch Advisor and IOG Regional Administrator for Wales.Now working in a full-time capacity in these combined roles, Len is relishing the new challenge despite knowing it will be an uphill struggle in some areas.
“It’s a dual role which started off with the emphasis being on the ECB side of things.I’m working very closely with Martin Ford, ECB Fine Turf Manager, on the new Performance Quality Standard (PQS) pitch scoring forms for umpires,” explains Len.
“The objective is that eventually we will have one simple form for umpires which will be consistent across all leagues.We have done quite a bit of work on this so far and we’re piloting what we have in place now across six leagues.We are taking all of the feedback and developing the form from there.We are also working with the League Umpires Association on this.”
The project is expected to go live across all leagues within three years and is intended to dispel the confusion surrounding the current system which is deemed by many to betoo subjective.“As an example,” Len explains, “on the original form the wording was very confusing in places, ie it asked if the pitch had ‘little or no unevenness’ but what it actually meant was did it have ‘little or no inconsistencies’.Also we have reduced the final scores from six categories (unfit to very good) to five as there was very little difference between the scores for ‘good’ and ‘very good’.”
As most umpires are volunteers, Len says it is essential not to bog them down with confusing criteria and red tape, so a simple online system has been devised.The tick box approach of the new system makes it easier for users; the computer will automatically weigh the scores based on the information provided.
Len is also working on a simplified PQS assessment scheme covering all the sports. This will be an invaluable aid for groundsmen enabling them to self-assess their playing surfaces and so improve the playing qualities and performance of their surface. “The IOG, with the support of the ECB, is constantly upgrading the original PQS devised by Peter Drury so cricket is reaping the benefits to be gained from the use of this essential assessment tool,” explains Len.
“The days of umpires being required to write reams of reports will soon be behind us,” he says. “It’s a hell of a project with such a large geographical area to cover during the testing phase, but it’s a very exciting initiative as it will mean that all pitches will be marked correctly and consistently.”
In his role as IOG Regional Administrator, Len is tasked with developing the Regional infrastructure as well as supporting existing members, attracting new members and supporting training and education in the area.“Training has definitely picked up this year, particularly for the cricket courses.We have run a number of well-attended courses in Gloucester, Staffordshire, Hampshire and Cornwall, and the majority of attendees have been volunteer groundsmen, which is very encouraging,” comments Len.
“I have also been trying to actively engage with local authorities.I only have a couple of contacts so it has been a rather laborious process.Many of the local authorities are pretty strapped at the moment so membership and training aren’t at the forefront of their plans.However, I intend to stay in regular contact and hopefully the support that we demonstrate will win them over when things pick up.It’s really important that we develop strong partnerships with this area of the industry as its employs such a large proportion of grounds staff and is responsible for a lot of sports facilities.”
Another focus for Len is to regenerate the cricket Groundsman’s Associations which were set up by the ECB:“Many of the associations have been lying dormant in recent years, which is a shame as they have been given access to a lot of useful kit and equipment that would benefit many grass roots clubs.Over the last few months I have attended their meetings and given presentations on cricket maintenance and related topics, which have gone down really well. I think that the support that this role affords to these groups and clubs has helped breath some life into the associations.”
Other projects high on the agenda include the establishment of new IOG Branches to serve members in the Mongomery, Newtown and Aberystwyth areas:“We are looking forward to Wales becoming a Region in its own right again, as agreed at the AGM,” explains Len.“It will give us more of a focus and the autonomy we need to flourish.We have attracted some interest from youngsters in the area so we are anticipating having a young committee steering the region when it is inaugurated, with the help and support of some of the older hands.It’s an exciting time ahead for Wales.”
Len, with the support of the Industry, is holding a series of open days across Wales and the South West of England this summer.See the Diary dates on page 16 for more details.