Mike Harding’s newest piece of work makes its big debut in the first weekend of November.
Mike is one of the veteran groundsmen in the Council’s City Parks team, and he’s responsible for the care and curation of the football pitches and grass cricket pitch blocks at Galloway Park – the traditional home of Hamilton’s Premier club cricket.
His latest project has been highly anticipated in the local club cricket scene – a brand new pitch block at Clyde Park, just two streets from Galloway Park.
For decades, cricket and football have shared Galloway Park, where there has traditionally been four cricket pitch blocks in spring and summer, and five football pitches in autumn and winter.
The installation of the new pitch block at Clyde Park has been a 12-month process: the Council’s Parks and Recreation staff held discussions with Hamilton Cricket Association and Claudelands Rovers Football Club – the tenant club at Galloway Park – and retired the southernmost cricket pitch block so Rovers could reconfigure one of its main football pitches.
Mike’s new Clyde Park pitch block which will see action for the very first time on Saturday 5 November – spring’s variable weather permitting, of course – with one of the block’s seven pitches set to be used for a Senior A match.
He’s not nervous, but is aware dozens of Senior A and Premier club cricketers will be interested to see how the pitch shapes up: “There’s a little bit of extra pressure, because we don’t know how it’s going to perform – it’ll be very interesting! I’m expecting good things from it come the middle of summer.
“We’re dealing with one pitch at a time,” Mike says of pitch preparation. “It’s a matter of management, and getting the best use out of every single one.”
Preparing a pitch for club cricket is no different to the work done at international grounds like Seddon Park. There are moisture levels to be checked, grass levels to be maintained – and the “steady as she goes” process of using a heavy roller on the weekend’s pitch, a task vital to preparation of cricket wickets around the world. Rolling ensures a smooth even surface and consistency of bounce and carry of the ball when it’s bowled.
“The rolling is very slow to start with – snails go quicker! – because you want to really compact that soil. You gradually build up the rolling speed as you go along.”
And although most people might consider chugging along on a roller at 100m an hour to be dull and boring, Mike says it’s fascinating: “You can actually see that pitch being produced in front of you, you can see what’s happening – even though it (rolling) is slow, you can see the pitch going through the different stages.”
Those stages include an initial good cover of grass early in the week, before the rolling bruises the plant, and the pitch browns off and takes on its more familiar shade and texture.
Timing, Mike says, “is essential”: get the timing wrong and the pitch quality can be compromised, with soil breaking up or the grass plant capitulating altogether.
Gerard Wech is at the opposite end of the groundsmen’s career spectrum to Mike: Gerard’s been on the job for three years, and is nearing the end of his Primary Industry Training Organisation qualification in sports turf management.
He was drawn to the science side of the qualification and the work, and for the last year has been responsible for preparation of both football pitches and cricket wickets at Jansen Park.
“I’m still learning, still putting in the work here in Hamilton,” he says. “We have to do theory on grass types and root structures, and the different soil profiles and how they absorb water and nutrients. There’s two years of book work, and then your final year is on-the-job assessments. Every day we’re learning, and we take it home, and apply it to the theory.”
Gerard says the busiest days of the week are Thursday and Friday, when he’s in the crucial final phases of pitch preparation – and has a watchful eye on the sky above and weather forecasts.
Mike says caring for a park over a long period of time develops a sense of ownership, as well as interaction with neighbours and regular park users, for instance people walking their dogs. He knows of one Galloway Park neighbour who berated someone vandalising a cricket pitch he’d prepared.
“It’s really good,” he says of the relationships developed. “There’s a dozen or so neighbours who I know well enough to say hello, and they know who I am, too.”