There's nothing better than a game of cricket played on a sunny day, especially if it is against the Australians in front of a full house. I'd not planned to visit New Road, Worcestershire's county ground, so soon after my last article but, when I got a call from Head Groundsman, Tim Packwood, asking if I'd like to see the ground in all its summer glory, and the chance to watch the Aussies in action, I couldn't turn the offer down.
It was also a good opportunity for my new editorial apprentice, Amelia Davies, to see, at first hand, what our industry is all about - just three days into her job!
The weather was perfect; it was already hot and sunny when we arrived at the ground at 9.30am, where we found the groundstaff putting the final touches to the square, outfield and net areas.
They had started at 7.00am, firstly removing the covers and sheets that had done a good job of keeping 10mm of overnight rain off the square. The blotter was used to remove the surface water from the flat sheets.
Groundsman, Martin Watts cut the whole outfield, whilst the rest of the staff spent time preparing the wicket, practice nets and putting up their new Radford Ezy Net system on the outfield for warm up practice.
The ground was filling up nicely, with another full house expected to cheer the home side on. Australia had posted 350-4 on the first day and were expected to bat on for a while during the morning session.
On match days, Tim arranges for additional staff to come in to help out. These are usually cricketers from local clubs who are keen to enjoy a day's cricket whilst helping the five professional groundsmen; Tim, Martin, Damon Willetts, Steve Gravenell and Luke Weston.
As predicted, the Aussies batted for ten overs, before declaring on 396 for 4. This was the signal for Tim and his staff to clean up the wicket for Worcestershire's first innings - they had just seven minutes to sweep the ends, remove surface debris, overmark crease lines and roll the pitch using their Auto-Roller.
Touring games like this are important for the county sides, especially the four day ones, which provide valuable income whilst also putting on a good show for the members.
There was a great atmosphere around the ground with every seat taken and all the hospitality areas kept busy.
When play resumed, we made our way to our seats, a dugout on the boundary underneath the new hotel complex currently under construction.
Sitting with us were a couple of Tim's guests, Lee Evans, Head Groundsman from the Millennium Stadium, and Steve Noel from SeeGrow, both of whom have been instrumental in helping Tim set up his grow lighting trials (as featured in issue 49, page 56).
During play, I took the opportunity to question Tim about the fixture and whether his preparations were any different for this game...
Is this the first time you've had Australia here?
No, it's traditionally their first warm-up fixture when they come on an Ashes tour. However, this year, they were over early for the ICC Champions Trophy. From what I can gather, they seem to like coming to Worcester and enjoy the facilities that we give them.
Have preparations been good?
It was tough early doors because, when you came here in April, we had very limited grass growth on the square, mainly due to the floods and the prolonged winter. But the weather has been good the last three or four weeks and we've managed to get a lot of grass back on some of the wickets. For the game against Australia, we did use the SeeGrow unit on the track for a whole week which obviously helped and, as you can see, it's probably the best cover we've had so far this season - and I've had to wait until July to get that!
What will happen to this wicket once you have finished with it?
I will give it a light sprinkle of water, as now we are into the Twenty20 matches and our pros like to do some work out in the middle - we have them booked in for two days next week, so this is probably the wicket they will be given. We'll give it a light brush and put the roller over it again. Once they've finished, we'll seed, topdress and put it to bed.
How many games have Worcester played on your square so far this season?
So far, we've had four four day games, and this one is the fifth, and we've also had five LV40 one day games.
Have they all gone alright?
Yeah, the first four day wicket was not the best, but that was just before you came last time and the square was short on grass anyway. The one day wickets have been a little bit on the slow side; nowhere near where I would like them but, in the last three weeks, we've had some warm weather and now have a good covering of grass on the square. The last three wickets have been where I want them - and where the club would expect them to be - so we are hoping for some good results.
Has the outfield recovered from the flood?
Yes, like I said, once we got a bit of warmth, the grass has grown and we've now got the six month fertiliser on so, hopefully, it should just keep improving. We have got three or four areas which could probably do with topdressing but, at the moment with the amount of cricket we've got, we will have to get on and get those areas done when we can. It is, though, 100% better than when you here earlier in the season.
What time is play due to finish today?
It should be around 6.00pm. It will then be a case of cleaning up the wicket, re-marking the crease, giving it a roll and then covering to protect it overnight.
With Australia here it must be great for you; it's what you work hard for?
Yeah, New Road is never going to be a big enough venue to host one day internationals or Test matches, so these games are as big as we can go. I know everyone said it's a big game from the club's point of view but, for me and my staff, we just treat this exactly the same as any other game. We do have a few extra staff in just to keep every area covered but, as for getting the outfield and square presented and the nets out, we are doing exactly the same as in any other game. Whether its first team or second team we try and treat everybody the same.
With the match back underway, it was time for Amelia and I to head back to Pitchcare Towers. I asked her if she had enjoyed her first assignment, to which she replied; "I had such a brilliant day. My cricket mad dad is going to be so jealous! It was a great insight into just what goes in to preparing a cricket pitch and also the high standards everyone aims for. The attention to detail was fascinating. It was great to watch some of the cricket being played, and also have the opportunity to take some great photos and video clips, which I can show my dad. I'll be looking forward to future visits."
All in all, it was a rewarding day for both of us, having the opportunity to get so close to the action and meet the people who deliver a surface for a fine sporting occasion.
As for the result, Worcester managed to grind out a draw on the fourth day, closing on 274 for 5.