Gary Barwell has paid tribute to his "brilliant" groundstaff team for delivering a record number of pitches at Edgbaston this year.
Into the last month of the season, Warwickshire Head of Sports Turf Barwell and his seven-strong team have already hosted 47 matches with the Commonwealth Games added to the customary plethora of international and domestic cricket at the ground.
The standard of pitches has remained high despite the massive workload. But factor in a heatwave too and it is no wonder that Barwell and his colleagues have, like the Edgbaston square, entered September “tired and weary.”
With two crucial four-day games still to come, he is confident that pitches and personnel alike will remain up to the challenge, but he admits that the record demands on both this summer have stretched capacity.
“This has been the longest and hardest season, a bit manic at times,” Barwell said. “The lads have been brilliant. Without these guys all those matches and the pleasure they bring doesn’t happen. I know it is appreciated by most but I just want to say a huge personal thank you to them. It is starting to take its toll…we are a tired bunch, but we’ve got two more four-day games left in us!
“I have been really proud of how the pitches have played – highest ever run-chase in a Test match, over 1,000 runs in T20 Finals Day and the Commonwealth Games was a massive success. That was one of the best tournaments I’ve been involved in because it was bigger than just Edgbaston. The crowds loved it and the women’s game progressed because of that. But of course it added to our schedule and that schedule is very hard now, past capacity in terms of devoting the time you want to every pitch. There are only so many times you can go to the well.
“The heatwave made it interesting. It needed hundreds of thousands of litres of water just to keep the outfield alive. The heatwave hit on the last night of the Lancashire championship game, after they chased 375 to win, and we pumped on 300,000 litres of water that night. The heat made the work harder going for the lads too, of course, as it did for everyone out working in it.
“When it got to nearly 40 degrees it just showed for the Kent championship game that, even in this country, if you get the heat, you get genuine pace and bounce. It added a new dimension to the job. To be honest, in a year with so much cricket it wouldn’t have harmed us to lose a few days to rain!”
Cruelly denied any washouts, the 17 first team pitches on the Edgbaston square have risen to the challenge. This season the square will host 49 games delivering 65 match days including two or three games some days. On match days, the first member of the groundstaff team arrives at 7am and the last leaves about 8pm on championship or 50-over days or midnight for Blast or Hundred. In addition, the groundsteam maintains the Colts Ground, where the nets will be used on 133 out of 155 day this summer, as well as the satellite ground at Portland Road.
Remarkably, as any spectators who wandered on to the ground during the interval of recent games will testify, the outfield is still in immaculate condition. You could play bowls on it.
Barwell admits, however, that he would not wish the demands to be this heavy every year – and as county cricket ponders the best way forward in terms of structure and schedule, he advocates switching red-ball cricket entirely to the front of the season.
“The current schedule is forcing everything to split out the sides,” he said. “I know this wouldn’t be popular but I would put all the competitions into separate sections. I’d start the championship in April and play it through May and June so those months are four-day cricket, nothing else. Then the championship is finished at the end of June. It would upset some people but that way everybody could focus on one format at one time. People like structure. They would know games start on a Monday and finish on a Thursday, or whenever. I think that works well because a lot of people played cricket at the weekends.
“As it is the players are shattered and, come this stage of the season, everyone is struggling and you can end up playing vital championship matches on tired pitches.”