October 24, 2000

Turf manager says everything on target for World Cup

Storms of a type not seen in Canterbury for 30 years may have blown over the region in recent weeks but New Zealand Cricket's turf manager Karl Johnson says preparation for the CricInfo Women's World Cup is on track.

Johnson uses plenty of scientific back-up for his pitch preparation and the figures from a pitch he is preparing for the trial match which will decide the composition of the CLEAR White Ferns are good.

"It should be a belter," he said of the Lincoln Green pitch.

The weather, and the unseasonably high amount of rain in the spring, has been tough on the preparation but Johnson is confident.

Concerns, if they can be labelled that, are on the peripheral areas of the two grounds to be used.

Landscaping of grass banks and the growth of grass on the mounds has been part of the development of what is shaping into a true international quality ground. Willows, which he said will look like bushy sticks at the time of the tournament, will become a permanent feature of the ground while an entrance avenue of ash and cherry trees will provide a special effect for people arriving at games.

A picket fence is close to completion, as is a pavilion, which will be up to international standard.

"The Oval [BIL Oval] is a new ground and has had a lot of cross rolling. But it is basically ready to go," he said.

It was used for 31 days of last season, including the New Zealand 'A' v England 'A' five-day 'Test' match and for New Zealand Academy games against all comers.

"People have mentioned to me, 'why can't they play Test cricket on the Oval?'

"It is a big ground, it's 150m across and probably only the Basin Reserve is the same size," he said.

Four pitches on the Oval will be used for the tournament while three on the adjacent Lincoln Green will also be used. The Lincoln ground has been used for four years.

"The hardest thing about the ground preparation is that we will have 22 days of cricket in a period of 25 days," he said.

While most grounds in New Zealand are now sand-based, both Lincoln University grounds are soil based, but on free draining soils. With some problems experienced in handling run off from covers, he has been working on ensuring that problem will not affect grounds during the tournament.

The grass on the outfield is a browntop, the same as used on golf courses and is regarded as beautiful to field on.

"The grass grows sideways. That means it can quicken up as the day goes on. I treat the outfield like a golf green and have had lots of comments that it is lovely to field on," he said.

Because of the need to keep the tournament venues in the best possible condition, training for the teams has been arranged at the nearby Burnham Army Camp. Two pitch blocks there will be divided in half to allow four teams to do their practice work before, and during, the tournament.

"With 22 days of cricket we can't host all the practices at the University. Every day at Burnham is a mini-tournament. The Army have been absolutely superb in their assistance. Norm Avis, their turf manager, has worked very closely with me," he said.

Until two years ago Johnson was a greenkeeper, firstly at the Shirley Golf Course where he was involved in the course preparation for the Eisenhower Cup tournament, and then at other Christchurch courses.

Aged 29, he has been in the business for 13 years and has been included by NZC as part of the planning team for the event.

"It has been awesome. There is a lot of pressure on different people and I have been excited to be involved in the preparations. I have been blown away by what has to happen to organise a tournament like this," he said.

"I had never prepared a cricket wicket until two years ago but I have found the High Performance Centre an exciting place to work. Something is happening all the time.

"When you think about it none of this was here five years ago. Now we've got a six-lane complex, accommodation, two first-class grounds, and a new pavilion. It is great," he said.

There are greater pressures involved in cricket ground work.

As he says, cricket has a bigger profile than the golfing background he is used to.

"If I had a bad day at the cricket everybody would be reading about it with their Weetbix the next morning. If I had a bad day at the golf, no one would know."

But a groundsman could have more influence on the way a game of cricket is played than could ever be the case in golf.

Which begs the question, how will the wickets play for the tournament.

"They'll be good. Normally, the pitches here have been described as roads. Lincoln Green used to be called State Highway One by the players.

"They will have good pace and good carry. They are made of Waikari clay that I believe is one of the best in the country.

"The pitches will be world-class and top quality.

"That is important for the tournament, New Zealand Cricket and for myself," he said.