Head Groundsman looks back on busy year

Simon Lee

Although the cricket season is now over, the work is only just beginning for one of Somerset County Cricket Club’s most important departments.

Head Groundsman Simon Lee and his team are already at work preparing the playing field for the winter months.  This time last year work was taking place to install a new drainage system.  Does Simon think that the system has been a success? “It’s been a very long season but everything has gone really well,” he said.  “It was a very busy winter for us all last year with the new drainage and irrigation system being installed.  Overall the project has definitely been a success and it’s nice that we have now done a full year cycle.

“At the start of the season the poor weather meant that, despite everything we did, the grass on the outfield just did not grow.  This meant we obviously had a slight delay in the First-Class season here at the Cooper Associates County Ground but once we got in to the summer, the grass grew well and the roots began to get into the drainage which is absolutely crucial.  We certainly saw the benefits of this during the season.  An example of this was the day before the final game.  We had nearly 24 hours of rain but the outfield dried very quickly and we managed to easily make the 10:30am start which was pleasing.

“A massive part of ground maintenance is presentation and if you look at the photos of the outfield this August compared to August 2013 for example, it’s amazing to see the difference in the colour of the grass.  People want to see the ground looking at its best both on match days and non-match days”

Outfield Comparison

Traditionally the wickets at Taunton have been somewhat batsman-friendly but this year that was not necessarily the case.  How did Simon go about his pitch preparation in 2016?  “We wanted them to take spin throughout the entire season,” he said.  “Obviously in April and May that is quite hard because the soil is often wet, but it was a good route for us to go down.  We had a competitive advantage over most sides in the division with our spinners this year.  As a groundsman, turning pitches are quite difficult to create because a lot of the preparation is abnormal and something you aren’t used to doing regularly.

“Throughout the past five or six years we have flirted with the idea of having pitches that turn, but the circumstances have never been right to fully adopt this strategy.  This year everything seemed to align and we could push it to the extreme which worked really well for us in getting positive results.”

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Simon also outlined what will be happening at the Cooper Associates County Ground this winter.  “This coming winter will be a bit quieter than last year.  We have just had 90 tonnes of soil put on the outfield to even out some of the level changes from the work last year.  The main focus for this winter is maintenance and preparing for next year’s England v South Africa match.  Due to the size of the ground, we already know exactly which pitch we will use on the day, which for me is very useful.  I can focus on that pitch all year and we won’t play many games around it to ensure that it’s in the best condition possible for the international.  I’m hopeful it’s going to be an absolute belter!

“The knocking down of the old scoreboard is the final thing we need to do to achieve Category B status and host international cricket.  The outfield in that corner needs to be 70 yards, so as part of the project we will move it back four to five metres.  This will then be flattened off and the fence will be moved back.  Then we can get the outfield up to scratch.”