Pitch perfect at Fitzherbert Park
Published on 16 December 2022
Palmerston North people are being treated to top-level regional and provincial cricket this summer at Fitzherbert Park thanks to the efforts of our Infrastructure Sports Grounds team.
On December 27, the park will host a Super Smash T20 Cricket double-header. The Central Hinds take on the Wellington Blaze from 11.10am, and the Central Stags strike out against the Wellington Firebirds from 2.40pm. Fans can expect to see both Black Caps and White Ferns players showing their form.
Fitzherbert Park is an ideal ground for a family day at the cricket, as spectators can get up close to the boundary. Surrounded by trees, there are options for a shady spot. There’ll be a family zone and food trucks to fill those rumbling bellies.
Council's Sports Grounds Team Leader Andy May says having top-class cricket coming to Palmerston North was part of the brief when he started with Council a decade ago. It was his job to ensure the pitch was as good as any other in the country.
“The Plunket Shield match last season was a big moment. Watching those teams come out onto Fitzherbert Park gave a big sense of achievement, of a milestone being met.”
Andy’s commitment to a quality pitch is shown in the umpire’s venue assessment after last month’s Central Stags vs Wellington Firebirds match.
Umpires Billy Bowden and Derek Walker gave both the playing and practice pitches a rating of “Very Good”, the highest rating the surfaces can gain.
Over the four-dayer, the pitch allowed for consistent medium-fast bowling, as well as turn and swing deliveries. The good outfield surface meant the ball travelled fast and true.
“The quality of the pitch was a major contribution to this entertaining event,” the report read.
About our grounds staff, it said: “Andy is one of the most accommodating groundsmen around and he and his well-led team did a sterling job throughout the match.”
Preparing for match day
Andy and his team are well into preparations for the big day. As TV towers are going up, Andy is keeping a close eye on the playing strip’s moisture and compaction levels.
There are seven wickets to maintain that are on rotation for games. “We start preparing seven weeks out. That can mean cutting the strip right down and giving it fertiliser to bring it back to its best.”
A new wicket is prepared for each Central Districts and provincial game. “For a big match, we keep a large focus on the wicket from 12 days out. We make sure excess water is kept out and that it has regular rolling,” Andy says.
“We have to make sure the moisture levels are right. We test for moisture and compaction in the ‘laboratory’ [a shed on the grounds].”
Two weeks out from the match, the big covers will be employed to protect the wicket from the rain.
Sports Grounds 2IC Dylan Lynch gives the same care to the practice pitch that is given to the playing strip.
“We will be working Christmas and Boxing Day too, making sure the covers are put on and removed as needed and checking the pitch is keeping its match-fit condition.
“Last year was the first time we did this. We had Christmas dinner here with the boys. My wife made it and brought it in for us.”
Practice block helps make perfect
The new practice block, as part of the McVicar Practice Facilities, is now in its third season. It’s looked after by Sports Grounds 2IC Dylan Lynch.
The block is a big deal, being a major reason Palmy is getting the big games, Andy says.
“It compares with anything in the country, it’s a first-class practice block. It takes as much to keep that up to scratch as the main pitch.”
It’s taken a lot of work and support to have the practice pitch available. Andy highlights the efforts of Mayor Grant Smith and the Elected Members, of the Manawatū Cricket Association, and the work of our Group Manager Parks and Logistics Kathy Dever-Tod and Park Operations manager David Evans. “Everyone has been really supportive.”