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T20 World Cup makes the earth move and brings proper pitch to the US
Cricket Sport

T20 World Cup makes the earth move and brings proper pitch to the US

Time will tell whether this World Cup, plus the addition of Twenty20 cricket to the 2028 Olympics’ lineup in Los Angeles, will help the sport take root in the US, but already there is an extraordinary story to tell. One of a different kind of seeding and growth, and of a sport that has literally made the earth move, across two continents and 11,000 miles, to make this event happen.

When the opening batter takes guard in New York on Monday as Sri Lanka play South Africa in the first competitive game at the venue, he will be standing on a drop-in pitch that started its life more then eight months ago in the South Australia city of Adelaide.

From there it travelled via the port of Savannah, Georgia to Boynton Beach in Florida, where the grass was sown and nurtured. At the end of April it was lifted back on to a lorry for the 1,000-mile journey to the new, temporary Nassau County International Cricket Stadium, where it and three others slotted seamlessly into the holes created for them.

“Since then we’ve just allowed it to grow in, given it time to adjust to the natural conditions it’s facing,” says Damian Hough, who has overseen the project. “Given it time to acclimatise. It’s a living and breathing thing and it’s gone through quite a stressful process. It’s no different to humans, really: there’s a stress period and you need to give it time to adjust and recover.”

Hough is head curator – ie groundsman – at Adelaide Oval, where drop-in pitches have been used since 2013, giving him precisely the expertise the International Cricket Council was looking for when it embarked on this project. The alternative – using the ground in Long Island’s Eisenhower Park, where the stadium has been constructed – was never feasible.

“It’s just parkland. It wasn’t fit for world-class international cricket,” Hough says. “The space was flat but it was a natural field, with a loam instead of a sandy profile. To get it to an international cricket standard they needed to add drainage and a sand profile and irrigation and a new variety of turf on top. It’s amazing how quickly they were able to pull it off, among the challenges that the weather has thrown at them.”

Pedestrians walk past the Nassau County International Cricket StadiumView image in fullscreen

The “they” Hough is referring to is LandTek, a local company specialising in sports facilities, with which he was paired by the ICC. The steel trays that the pitch has grown and been transported in were made in Adelaide but by the time they were filled they were in Florida, and his usual materials were unavailable. So he was forced to turn to the unfamiliar: soil designed for use in baseball mounds, a variety of Bermuda grass known as Tahoma 31 for the pitches, and Kentucky Bluegrass for the outfield. Hough had never used these things before. Then he had to wait and hope.

“You have checkpoints at certain times where you measure, say, the root depth, and you know what you’re trying to get,” he says. “We’ve exceeded it every step of the way. Our root depth is a lot deeper than what we could do back home, we haven’t been able to drive root growth the way they do over here.

“It’s the climate in Florida – it’s an unbelievable part of the world to grow grass. So everything along the way has just been: ‘Jeez, that’s gone well.’ Hopefully that correlates into really good cricket and really good pitches. There’ve been challenges, curveballs thrown along the way that you have to adjust to. But that’s just life as a curator.”

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In all, Hough and his team created 10 pitches, of which they picked what looked like the best four to slot into the stadium while the other six have been used for warm-ups and training sessions. All four will have multiple outings as New York hosts a run of eight games in 10 days, but one is being saved for the biggest match of the opening group stage, India and Pakistan next Sunday.

“We’ve earmarked which one that’ll be. We know our rotations, what games are going to be played on what pitches,” Hough says. “But to me all of the pitches are equal.”

All that remains is to watch the first ball go down and see how the pitches play. “As we get close to the tournament I’ve constantly got a little bit of anxiety there, because it’s something we’ve never done,” Hough says. “You know you’ve thought through the processes, you know you’re happy with the way it’s come together. So theoretically, it should play well.

“But at the same time, until you have those games you’re not sure because the pitch is only five months old – it’s a short period of time to build a cricket pitch and play on it. As long as they’re consistent, as long as the outfield plays well and it’s not too slow, that’s what we’re after. But until you use it the first time there’s always a sense of: ‘OK, how’s this going to go?’”

Source: theguardian.com