Manuka Stages Ultimate Test

In one of the biggest summers of cricket in Canberra, Manuka Oval geared up to host its first ever international Test match. Curator Brad van Dam takes us through his preparations for this auspicious event.

 

This summer, Canberra’s Manuka Oval hosted the biggest season of cricket in its proud history. This includes the final International Test match of the 2018/19 season from 1-5 February 2019 when Australia takes on Sri Lanka. This was the first ever Test match hosted in Canberra at the historic oval and one of the biggest sporting events the Territory has showcased. 

ach year Manuka Oval hosts many local and national AFL matches, as well as local and international cricket. So far this cricket season the oval has already hosted Southern Stars matches, the PM’s XI, a Sheffield Shield match, as well as Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) and Big Bash League (BBL) fixtures. Capping this off, was the international Test and another BBL match. 

In the past, Manuka Oval has been chosen for major international games and five-day matches including three pool matches as part of the International Cricket Council (ICC) Cricket World Cup in 2015, various One Day International matches and the Sheffield Shield final in the summer of 2013/14. 

The negotiations and preparations for Manuka Oval to host an international test match started many years ago between the ACT Government, Cricket Australia, the ICC and Cricket ACT.  The ACT Government made some significant upgrades to the oval to meet international standards and prepare for hosting international matches. New sports lighting was installed in 2012/13 to enable One Day International games and AFL night matches to be played at the oval. 

In 2013/14, the turf surface was redeveloped and the following infrastructure upgrades were made:

  • USGA spec sand upon a gravel perched water table profile;
  • Grand Prix couch surface;
  • New seven-wicket block;
  • Underground infrastructure;
  • Player dugouts and increased spectator seating

The most recent upgrade, which will be completed in time for the Test match, is a new broadcast and media facility which meets the ICC’s requirements to enable all forms of media to broadcast international matches to the world. The facility will also provide corporate hospitality on match days and be available as an event space on non-match days. 

Although the negotiations for Canberra to host a Test began many years ago, the plans came to fruition a couple of summers ago. This is when the preparations really kicked off for me and I started by drawing up a yearly works programme to ensure the surface and wicket square was at the highest standard. 

To ensure that the Manuka Oval wicket block is of the highest standard, for the past three years after each AFL season the wicket square has been laser levelled 

 

The day one pitch for Manuka Oval’s opening 2018/19 Sheffield Shield match with the new media centre in the background

 

Over the past eight years the ACT Government has funded significant upgrades to Manuka Oval to fulfil the requirements to host International cricket matches

 

The plan wasn’t extravagant but I knew there were a few things we needed to address. We started by focussing on maintaining the levels of the wicket square and after each AFL season for the past three years we laser levelled the pitches. We also continued to maintain our soil and plant nutrient testing and amendment programme to provide optimum turf growth both in winter (ryegrass) and summer (couch). 

The outfield was resurfaced in 2017 to remove the thatch layer that had built up and optimise the surface’s drainage capabilities. We also changed the couch type to Santa Ana, for consistency across other venues around Canberra. We usually resurface every five to seven years, however, we brought the schedule forward so it would not coincide with the 2019 Test match or the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup in 2020. I am proud to say we now have arguably the best turf playing surfaces in Australia.

Renovations

Throughout this past AFL season we continually cross rolled the wicket table to repair any damage and maintain levels as best as possible. As the AFL season drew to a close, we slowly started to reduce the height of cut on the outfield from 25mm down to 13mm in increments of 3mm over a four week period. Immediately following the last home and away AFL match on 9 September, we started our outfield renovations which included:

  • Coring using 19mm hollow tines 19mm, 50mm deep with 100mm spacings. 
  • The cores were broken up when we scarified during our first direction, then rubbed in and surface swept clean.
  • Surface scarified a second time in a different direction and swept clean.
  • Surface double cut at 10mm.
  • Light dusting with a USGA spec sand (approx. 32 tonnes); and
  • Fertiliser and soil amendments added as per soil test results.

We renovated the wicket square at the same time as the outfield, which included;

  • Spraying the ryegrass out one week prior to the local AFL grand final;
  • Lowering the height of cut to 6mm to remove ryegrass and open it up;
  • Scarifying the square in two directions, removing all debris and cleaning it with a blower;
  • Laser levelling the wicket square using approx. four cubic meters of Oberon wicket soil;
  • Fertiliser applied as per soil test results; and
  • Growth cloth placed over the wicket square to encourage couch growth as we were still getting frosts in Canberra at the time.

We followed the same spring renovation process this year as every other year. The only difference was the timing of when we chemically removed the ryegrass from the outfield. This timing is always determined by the match schedule and the level of cricket to be played as these can change each year. 

In early October 2018, the Australian women’s team plays a televised T20 match at Manuka Oval along with the Prime Minister’s (PM’s) XI match in late-October. If the ryegrass was removed in late-September we would have run the risk of producing an unsatisfactory surface, both playability wise and visually. We chemically removed the ryegrass about five days before the PM’s XI match, which meant there was no issue with the outfield during this match.

 

Test focus

Leading up to the Test match we will alternate between a solid and hollow tine each month, varying the depth on the outfield and also apply some organic liquid fertilisers. To aid in the transition back to couchgrass, we will hollow core and scarify the outfield again and add a light dusting of sand and fertilise mid-December as per recommendations. During this period, we will topdress the wicket to maintain levels and encourage lateral growth. These works will be completed in the lead up to the WBBL and Men’s BBL matches on 21 December 2018 and the last BBL match on 9 February 2019.
We will start the final preparation of the ground in mid-January, when we will look at thatch levels and maintain accordingly. The absolute minimum we will be doing would be a hollow core to ensure optimum drainage rates are maintained. We will apply a growth regulator to the couch on the outfield, mainly for presentation and to reduce seed head production and a nitro-iron at the same time for enhanced colour. The wicket square will be spot topdressed where needed and we will add light rates of an organic fertiliser as well to keep things ticking along.

All areas of the ground are regularly monitored for any weeds, pests and diseases and we will preventative spray for couch mite, couch fly/maggot as well as scarab beetle which we do annually. The wicket table sometimes gets the odd outbreak of helminthosporium that will be monitored closely. 

During the week prior to the start of the Test, various on field infrastructure will be positioned including sight screens, LED advertising screens, boundary rope advertising, Spidercam, stump cameras and microphones. 

The actual preparation of the Test match pitch will start between 7-9 days prior to day one. We allocate a window period to allow for changing weather conditions. We will also be preparing a second pitch which will be used for our second BBL match four days after the final day of the Test.

The 2018/19 cricket season has been an exciting time for my team and I here at Manuka Oval. This, along with hosting an international Test, which is the pinnacle of cricket, is a huge milestone for me as head curator.