Cardiff pitches set to quicken up in coming years

The days of Cardiff wickets being renowned as slow and low could be history after a move to quicken up pitches at the Swalec Stadium.

The new playing surfaces should be ready in time for England’s one-day international against South Africa on August 24, a game followed the next day by the domestic Friends Life t20 finals day.
 
Glamorgan groundsman Keith Exton, who received a commendation in the ECB’s 2011 Groundsman of the Year Awards, is looking to produce a faster square with extra bounce leading up to the 2015 Ashes Test.

“The eyes of the cricketing world will be on us for more reasons than just the sport,” said Exton. “There’ll be a great deal of interest in the new square, and the main aim is high-quality Test pitches that offer a fair contest between bat and ball.”

Over the last 20 or 30 years Cardiff has had a reputation of producing docile wickets that have made it a frustrating time for the faster bowlers.

“Every umpire’s report would say ‘a good cricket pitch, just lacking in pace’,” complained Exton, the former Oakham School groundsman who joined Glamorgan ahead of the 2009 Ashes Test match.

“It was nobody’s fault. As recent decades have progressed, the trends for soils changed, but some layers simply didn’t knit together.

“They expanded and contracted differently as the weather changed so that air pockets were created, and there was slippage and weak roots. Strong roots alone are a major contributor to good drainage.”

Since succeeding Len Smith in 2009, Exton has carried out remedial work to naturally pin together some of these layers, resulting in better drainage and grass growth. But the start of the long-term solution had to wait until the current close-season.

Exton has begun by overhauling two pitches which will extend to eight over the next four years. “This is a long-term plan so I don’t want to raise hopes too high this year,” he warned.

“I’m confident we’ll see the benefit through 2012 but the big benefits will come further down the line as the new pitches mature.

“Once the pitches settle down, maybe after the first season, there’ll be a noticeable difference in pace and bounce – they’ll be quite quick.

“There are always likely to be problems when you play on a pitch the summer after it’s been laid, but I hope things go well with this square. I certainly know it’ll be fine in the years to come.”

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