India and its neighbouring countries have a peculiar problem with cricket turf management. These Asian countries are the only Test-playing nations where cricket is not essentially a summer game. Their season, like that of their southern hemisphere counter parts, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, runs from October to March.
However, the big difference is that while it is summer in the south during these months, Asian countries would be grappling with winter, when weather conditions would not be ideal for turf management.
The challenge for Indian curators, particularly during February and March, is the herculean task of maintaining a lush green outfield. In fact such an outfield is a rarity as fertilisers and water alone cannot bring dormant grass to life during the off season.
This is clearly evident in telecast of cricket matches where despite manipulative colour-rendition techniques of the broadcaster’s production, many cricket grounds actually look patchy or like islands of green amidst a sea of brown.
“We experimented with various types of grass, artificial light, fertilisers, watering, etc. But parts of the ground that do not get sufficient sunlight during winter months were a problem,” said Prashanth Rao, BCCI and Karnataka State Cricket Association’s (KSCA) additional curator.
The M Chinnaswamy Stadium, like many other cricket stadia in India, has a semi-circular roof at the southern end of the ground. Unfortunately during winter months, the roof ensures that southern end of the outfield is always in shade and hence the area is patchy at best.
“Cold countries use ryegrass,” said Nandan Heblikar, an expert in turf management who has laid out numerous cricket and football grounds across the country, besides excelling in golf course design, development and management.
“The problem with ryegrass is that it cannot withstand temperatures above 25 degrees centigrade. Additionally it is an annual grass. Grounds in England and even some in New Zealand and Australia use ryegrass. But it is not conducive to our climatic conditions.”
Thus, KSCA, who embrace technology at every opportunity, needed to find another solution to tide over this crisis if TV viewing had to be a pleasing one.
In the past, the association was held as the shining beacon by BCCI for setting the pace. They were the first to implement stadium roof-top solar panels and thus generate power to be fed into the power grid. They also used the gargantuan roof top of the stadium to aid rain-water harvesting and recharge of groundwater.
A couple of IPL summers ago, when many parts of India was reeling under drought and law courts had to intervene to shift some matches out of states like Maharashtra, KSCA stunned other cricket associations with its forethought. It had set up a huge sewage treatment plant and tapped into one of the city’s sewage lines to generate treated water for upkeep of its vast grounds. BCCI immediately recommended that all state associations follow KSCA’s lead.
But the piece de resistance was the Sub-Air system laid underground which sucked rainwater at 37 times the speed of gravity. This ensured that barring the pitch, the outfield did not need to be covered for heavy rains. The match could start as soon as the rains stopped and the pitch covers were whisked away. KSCA became the only cricket ground in the world to have this Sub-Air system which could even pump oxygen to grassroots.
Thus, when KSCA looked for solutions to the outfield turf problem for cricket during February-March, others sat up to take note.
“Usually the summer months followed by the monsoon would have been ideal to prepare the outfield in time for the normal Indian cricket season starting in October,” said Prashanth.
“But with the introduction of IPL in summer months it is tough for grounds to recover naturally. Additionally, we also need to get the outfields to look green and smart for IPL matches. Grounds have to look pleasing on television.”
The match that needed immediate attention was the India versus Australia T20 International on Wednesday, 27 February.
Prashanth hit upon a product developed by leading German MNC, BASF to ensure that patchy areas in KSCA were turned green. The time-tested product has been in use in various sports fields in the United States and many European countries for years now.
“We did a lot of research on Green Lawnger and tried it out over a small patch. It is a neutral chemical and there is no ionic exchange. The pigment (as different from a dye) can be made darker or lighter as required. It stays for three months.
“The big concern was that no chemical should interfere with the roots of the grass. The product met that criterion. It is a surface coating that does not enter the ground,” he said.
Nandan pointed out that the product can be mixed with sand and sprayed to touch up turf areas damaged by chemicals, fungal attacks, oil, pests and natural beaten paths (like bowlers’ run-up or practice pitches within the arena).
“Many golf courses and even football grounds use the product to enhance aesthetic beauty for television and in-venue audience. It does not stick to shoes, clothing, etc once it is dried. It is also a very good touch-up for last minute fungal attacks.”
Apparently Green Lawnger is sprayed mid-day when the winter-dormant or non-dormant grass would be dry. It needs to stay that way for 45 minutes, without dew fall or watering. Once dry it does not come off even if it rains. It stays green for about three months and mowing after that takes away all traces of it. Additionally, Green Lawnger is also used to toy with turf patterns.
Prashanth sent a video of KSCA’s application of the product to a few associations and it immediately perked up their interest.
The India-Australia T20I at Bengaluru on Wednesday would be the big cricket test for the product. Indian grounds in late winter or summer may never be the same again.