January 30, 2001

St. George's Park Pitch Restoration Process Will Be Beneficial To Cricket In South Africa

Ronel Dawson

An endeavour to provide the home of Eastern Province Cricket, St. George's Park, with the best possible pitches in the long term and at the same time be ready for the 2003 World Cup semi-final has confronted the EP Cricket Board (EPCB) with a unique challenge.

This has sparked the EPCB to start a dynamic pitch restoration process. The process had to take into consideration that St. George's Park has only seven pitches - only two in line with TV vantage points.

According to Chief Executive Officer for EP Cricket, Dave Emslie, the EPCB inherited pitches that were in a satisfactory condition, but it was soon realised that they needed dedicated management.

"After an assessment of the seven pitches, it was decided to play on them to see how they would perform and then make an informed evaluation.

"It soon became clear that with more professional pitch management, St. George's Park could produce better pitches, but one of the greatest concerns was the fact that the amount of inorganic matter that settled over years under the pitch making it difficult to produce hard pitches that will guarantee carry and bounce. EP Cricket had to take a brave decision."

It was decided to stagger the process. Earlier pitches one and two were dug up and replaced. "The results were not exactly what we wanted and was redone. It also became clear that we needed a world class pitch three, as it provides the best vantage point for TV coverage."

Pitch 3 was replaced in August of last year. This was done under the supervision of the UCB pitch consultants, Prof. Neil Tainton and John Klugg. No time, effort or expense was spared.

According to Emslie, pitches one and two will "mature" by the time the World Cup starts in 2003. By then half the table will have been replaced while the other half will be receiving attention after the World Cup."

"We will go on with the restoration process, monitoring the pitches and replacing them until all seven strips have been replaced. From there, we will continue monitoring the performance of the pitches and replace them cyclically every six to seven years," he says.

However, before EP can enjoy the fruits of their work, they will still face many obstacles before the deadline of the Cricket World Cup in 2003.

One of these obstacles is Port Elizabeth's weather. In the preparation of any pitch, weather conditions play a major role and in PE, the prevailing southwesterly is not always conducive for efficient pitch preparation. This obviously makes preparation difficult, but ground staff is becoming adept at manipulating the complex process of pitch preparation.

"The ground staff had a massive task in ensuring the pitch receives acceptable ratings in the restoration process. The factor of the limited pitch space available also obstructed their work. They, however, never compromised the quality of the pitch unduly," Emslie compliments.

"Although the restoration process is a long and at times, frustrating process for everyone involved, the Eastern Province Cricket Board won't give up on their vision of pitches that bounce and carry.

"We are confident that in time the restoration process at St. George's Park will be pay off the dividends. We will in the immediate future feel the effects of limited pitch space but believe the long term result will be good for the game of cricket in South Africa."