Green revolution: Meet the next generation of Indian pitches

Dharamsala is at the forefront of a first-of-its-kind hybrid pitch in the country. Former England cricketer Paul Taylor, to find out the intricacies and more...
UK-based synthetic turf manufacturer SISGrass have installed four hybrid pitches on the square at the HPCA stadium in Dharamshala.
UK-based synthetic turf manufacturer SISGrass have installed four hybrid pitches on the square at the HPCA stadium in Dharamshala.Credit- special arrangement

CHENNAI: Toss. Weather. Conditions. Pitch. Dew. Outfield.

These are just some of the factors that have a significant say in the way a team approaches a match, irrespective of the format.

Among the above, pitch takes prominence for how it behaves could dictate the pace at which play progresses. While cricket is still scratching the surface when it comes to data, significant technological advancements have been made in many other aspects, including the pitch.

Whether it is drop-in or conventional, there are different types of pitches based on the soil used, and so on. Over the past decade or so, hybrid pitches, too, have come into practice, especially for the white-ball format.

SISGrass, a UK-based synthetic turf manufacturer, has been a pioneer in the field — not just in cricket but also in football, rugby and hockey. With over 650 hybrid pitches installed across the globe, including Dubai, where conditions are vastly different from England.

And now, joining hands with Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA), they have installed four hybrid pitches on the square of the scenic venue at the foothills of the Dhauladhar Range and two pitches in the nets outside. While they are used just for practice at the moment, it is the first time a venue in the country has installed hybrid pitches.

Now, what is a hybrid pitch and how is it different from a conventional surface? Paul Taylor, former England cricketer and International Sales Director, Cricket at SIS Grass, explains.

"There are different kinds of hybrid pitches. There is an artificial hybrid, a concrete base with a carpet on top and then a soil profile on top of that. There's a carpeted hybrid, which is a synthetic carpet. It's then filled with soil, and then grass grows within that soil. Then there's the stitched hybrid, which is what we do. It takes your existing natural turf pitch and we inject synthetic fibres into that surface. And the stitching is at 20*20m centres. It covers the whole pitch, and it extends beyond the stump lines by about a metre to make sure that the back foot contact for the bowlers is part of the system. The fundamental thing that is different about our pitch, is that it's still 95 percent a natural turf surface. There's only 5 percent of fibre injected into it," Taylor tells this daily.

"The stitching goes to a depth of 90mm but we can stitch deeper. In cricket, we only stitch to 90mm because that's all that's really needed. The fibre that we use is a polyethylene monofilament fibre. It's the latest technology in terms of how that's made. It's resilient and durable. It enhances performance. It doesn't fade in UV light and things like that. And it comes in different colours as well. We have a green fibre, a beige fibre, then a mixture of green and beige, so whatever the surface that we're stitching into, we can pick the suit," he adds.

The 5 percent fibre is expected to keep the wear and tear in check; it also enables the grass to recover after a match. "The fibres help the grass plant to become stronger. There's a natural air space around the fibre when it's injected, obviously, water will go down. And all the nutrients that are put onto cricket squares will also get down to the root. So the grass is a lot stronger, a lot more durable. You get up to three times the amount of cricket on one pitch that you would ordinarily get with a fully natural surface," says Taylor.

However, when it comes to pitches, it is never one size fits all. The conditions in England, where SIS Grass began working in 2017, is very different from India, a country where different states will have different climatic conditions throughout the year. This is where the other factors like soil content and clay content come into play. "It is different in different places. However, we have installed it in Australia, New Zealand, Dubai and so on. One of the things we noticed when we installed the pitches in the UK is that the moisture content within the soil profile needed to be about 40% to allow the injecting needles to inject the fibres. In India, because the clay content is a lot higher, I think in Dharamsala it was around 66%, the moisture content we had to get into the profile was anywhere between 60-80%. Again, it's all part of learning. We now know how to install in the north of the country, but installing it in Mumbai and installing in Kolkata could be very different. We can adapt how we install to suit the conditions," Taylor explains.

Credit- special arrangement

The type of grass used too plays a crucial role based on the climatic conditions, even more so in a country like India where cricket is played all throughout the year. "What we need to understand is the different types of grass. The squares over here tend to be Bermuda grass rather than Rye grass, which is what they are predominantly in the UK. So the outfield at Dharamsala is a Rye grass outfield and by the way, it looks beautiful. It's absolutely stunning when I was there last time. The issues they have had previously have  been rectified. Credit to the ground staff for getting that back. The other thing that is worth mentioning is we actually have a system in that outfield called SISAir, which is a drainage system and an aeration system specifically designed to improve the outfield performance. That is now working well, it has made a big difference to the outfield. That's a first for India as well. So, Dharamsala is leading the way in terms of cricket technology," said Taylor.

"I think what we're looking to work out at the moment is in what parts of the country, and times of year that we can install these pitches. They only take one pitch, and will take about four hours to install. So it's quite a quick process as long as we've got the appropriate moisture content in that pitch. So the preparation of those pitches is the important thing from our side. If we can get the moisture content in, we can actually stitch the pitch in four hours. We're actually developing a new machine that's going to be able to stitch in three hours. That is the plan, which will be developed over the next few months. But the universal machine will stitch one pitch in four hours. So the installation at Dharamsala took about two weeks, and that's mainly through finding out about the conditions about the soil content, the moisture content, the clay content. So there's a little bit of research initially over the first three or four days before we actually start to work."

The challenge, however, remains when it comes to red-ball cricket. At the moment, they have the ICC's approval for using hybrid surfaces in white-ball cricket but not in tests. However, they have gotten approval to use hybrid pitches in the 2024 England County season on a trial basis.

The practice surfaces at the HPCA Stadium are put to use on Saturday as the Chennai Super Kings and Punjab Kings prepare for their return leg contest to be played on Sunday. But for SIS Grass, this is just the beginning. Mumbai and Ahmedabad are next in line but Taylor wants to take the technology to the masses.

"It's a product that we want to cascade throughout the cricketing network in India. So that's working with schools, local clubs, local communities and so on. Yes, it enhances the professional game. More importantly, from my perspective, it enhances the grassroots game as well. Because if we can get young players playing on the same sort of surfaces as the international players, that's got to be a bonus for development of the game in India," says Taylor.

For HPCA, it is about embracing the new technology and having the best of the facilities at the venue, ensuring that the youngsters can give themselves the best chance to improve on their game.

“The pitches offer a consistent, smooth, even playing surface to the players, especially the youngsters, which will enhance their skills. This should be implemented in other grounds across the country so that players are well versed with playing on these grassy wickets, which are the future of the game,” Avnish Parmar, HPCA Secretary, told this daily.

Related Stories

No stories found.

The New Indian Express