With 142 days to Headingley staging the Investec Test Match later between England and Sri Lanka commencing on Friday June 20, this week we are looking at what it takes to stage a major match at our famous old venue.
In the fourth of our series of interviews, we caught up with Head Groundsman Andy Fogarty.
Having spent 14 years with Old Trafford before migrating to over to the White Rose, Andy’s 18 years at the helm of the Headingley square and outfield are illustrious.
His experience is second to none and his memories of a Test Match are full of stories of weather chasing, unexpected centuries and late night rolling of the pitch.
But what does preparing a Test Match strip, or any pitch for that matter, involve? Here, Andy talks us through the processes of a general season and off season for Headingley’s Groundstaff.
Winter is actually every bit as important as summer and I think people don’t realise that. Yes there’s less work to be done generally but anything that we do in summer we also do in winter. It’s important to keep aerating and spiking the pitches, making sure we’re relieving any pressure that’s built up to allow the roots to prosper and avoid diseases. You’ve got to remember we’re rolling a 2.5 tonne roller over the grass and the pitch often throughout the season and in the off season, so winter is the perfect time to let it recover slightly. We’re always checking the field for any signs of potential disease or problems, we have to make sure that when we come to the summer period again it’s fresh and ready to go.
We’re also always checking the outgrounds, Weetwood for example, we have one of our own Groundstaff up there permanently to keep an eye on things. We treat both pitches equally and both require an equal amount of TLC in the winter.
The gap between the off season and season is getting shorter and shorter as the seasons continue to grow, often teams are wanting outdoor nets as early as mid-march so they have to be ready and considering the season doesn’t end until the end of September that only gives the field a five month recovery period and preparation period. So actually, winter isn’t as quiet as it used to be, now it’s every bit as important as summer.
How does the weather affect your plans?
It actually doesn’t affect it as much as you might expect. The square and the outfield do need a break and the wet weather and snow just helps keep the roots and grass healthy. Letting the frost and the water in allow the roots to grow stronger and helps avoid disease and encourage healthy growth. So it actually helps, aids rather than hinders so we don’t mind a bit of bad weather, not all the time, but it won’t cause a huge problem.
What happens when the time comes to deciding how to prepare a pitch?
Closer to the season we’ll start to touch base regularly with the coaches and the Captain and ask them what they’re expecting from their pitch and what they’d like to play off. We both want the same common goal, that’s a good pitch for both batting and bowling on, which isn’t easy!
You don’t want to give it too much either way, you need a pitch that will get some good runs off but also some wickets, you want a well-balanced pitch that’s going to generally entertain the crowd and keep the game moving all four days. I think Headingley is actually perfect for this, you can get some good runs off a Headingley pitch but the bowlers will also know where to pitch the ball to get wickets and we do play around with it, it’s not as if it’s done and dusted at the start of the season.
After every match the Captain and coaches and even the players will feedback to us what they felt it lacked, for example they didn’t get enough spin or it felt a little hard. It’s a work in progress that never really ends.
When do you start thinking about an international pitch?
Everyone always looks forward to the internationals; it makes your season whether it’s an ODI or a Test Match. Generally, as soon as we get the fixtures, we’ll look at what fixtures we have either side of the Test Match and then work backwards from when we can really start preparing.
The majority of the focused work on the Test Match pitch will be from about two-and-a-half weeks out but we’ll start keeping an eye on it right from the fixture release date and it will obviously be a work in progress throughout the winter too. Constantly checking there’s no disease, no scarring from other matches played around it and batsman or fielders running across it and so on.
We’d want it to be perfect about two or three days out of a Test Match, when the inspections will start. Before that we’d be preparing the nets for the internationals to practice in the days leading up to the Test Match too, so it’s all go around two weeks before.
What are you looking for in the perfect Test Match pitch?
The perfect Test Match pitch… really it’s as simple as that we’d be looking for an even cover of grass that’s firm and dry. I hope we’ve all got enough experience to know what we’re looking for and how to make sure it’s exactly as the teams will expect it. The main concern is the weather really. There’s not a lot you can do without good weather.
That’s the one thing that causes problems preparing a Test Match wicket. It all depends on the weather. If we know it’s going to rain at 9am, we’ll come in at 4am to do all the work before it rains. And then we might stay until 10 or 11pm at night to get it rolled or cut once it’s stopped raining. It’s a 24-hour job in summer, especially the weeks leading up to the Test Match.
We’re not the only ones with those kind of days though, it really does end up being a 15-hour day for everyone leading up to the Test Match and it’s good to see different departments helping each other out for the internationals, it brings everyone together.
Do you have any advice for the league clubs?
Well my golden rule really is don’t ever forget your end of season renovations. I think there’s a tendency for the lower leagues to say, that’s it, the season’s over, leave it now until March and go off and do their own things now that the season’s done with and all the renovations to the pitch and outfield is left to one person. But that’s really the worst thing you can do, the end of season renovations have to be carried out properly and not be rushed, it’ll be much easier and you’ll prepare much better pitches for the start of the season if you look after your pitch and give it some TLC at the end of the season.
What’s your fondest Test Match memory?
My fondest Test Match memory would probably have to be my first as Head Groundsman at Headingley in 1996. The first pitch I prepared as Head Groundsman and to see the players out on it was special and a real highlight. It was England against Pakistan and there were some great players. Michael Atherton was Captain and Pakistan had Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis… Ijaz Ahmed got 141 before Cork bowled him, caught by Russell. I remember it well!
Who’s you your biggest claim to fame? Have you met any famous people?
Well, when I worked at Old Trafford we met the Duke of York who came to a Test Match. But with Yorkshire, when they won the championship we were invited to Buckingham Palace to meet the Duke of Edinburgh, that was really, really special. He presented the team the trophy and shook everyone’s hand.
Finally, your favourite thing about a Test Match at Headingley?
Seeing Headingley full on a really clear sunny day, with international cricket on the outfield and people in the stands, it’s just magnificent. There’s cricketers on the outfield, there’s a hushed crowd in the stands, especially when England come to town and we’ve got Yorkshire players in the mix and the crowd get right behind them and everyone is all together singing Jerusalem… it’s just surreal and it’s one of those moments that you just think, wow. This is Headingley.
It’s hard work for everyone and the days get longer and longer each time. Throughout the summer we barely get any time to spend with families and you lose track of days and don’t get a summer holiday like the rest of the world and it feels like a Test Match at Headingley is your reward for all that. It’s just great, it makes everything worthwhile, it really does. Headingley has so much international history and we all get to be a part of it. There aren’t really any words to describe that.
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