St George's Park History
Port Elizabeth, South Africa

The Grounds St George's Park - Creating a New Wicket
Creating a New Wicket

There had been trouble with the playing surface of the wicket ever since the St George's Park cricket field was created in 1864. When you stand at the famous cricket nowadays, its hard to imagine that this was once a dusty piece of veld on the ouskirts of Port Elizabeth. Much sweat and toil has gone into creating the lovely lush turf and outfield that we enjoy today. But back in 1876, shortly after the first Challenge Bat competition was held (the name was changed to the Champion Bat when the actual trophy bat arrived from overseas), news started trickling in about a new sort of batting surface.

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A suggestion from the Press in 1876, the same year as the Champion Bat was first played for, for the local cricketers to use matting on the field of play.

"Hints for Cricketers. In South Australia, as in this colony, it is found exceedingly difficult to produce and keep the soft springy turf so dear to home cricketers.
"An ingeneous device has been hit upon, and is said to answer most admirably.
"A strip of ordinary cocoa matting, of sufficient width, is laid between the wickets, from popping crease to popping crease, at each of which it is carefully fastened down.
"On this material the ball imitates perfectly the movements made on the usual ground.
"It takes spin, shoots, and breaks most readily, and the matting ground is found to be far superior to the hard sunbaked soil which it covers."

All the early matches, including the Champion Bat and the Currie Cup tournaments, were played on matting until 1930, when a turf wicket was finally laid.

The turf was not the first one in the Eastern Province, that honour goes to the Grey High School.

Their turf was laid in the 1920s.

In March, 1980 the turf was dug up because the amount of bulli poured onto the surface was so great after 60 years that the pitch needed to be dropped, re-alligned and brought level with the rest of the field.

So much bulli was found when the pitch was dug up and relaid that there was enough left over for another wicket.

Since about 1954 and, following instructions from the SA Cricket Association, the Ground Governing Committee endeavoured to make a new wicket for the Test in March, 1957, within the space of a few weeks.

The experiment was unsuccessful to say the least. A Test wicket cannot be fashioned in such a short space of time.

The result was a match of low scores, and South Africa was able to square the rubber by defeating an MCC team for the first time ever in Port Elizabeth.

Russel Endean made the only half century of the match, scoring 70. There was some fine bowling in this game by Tyson and Tayfield who clearly exploited conditions. This was Denis Compton's The Last Test Match, but it offered him no chance of glamour or glory.

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"This looks all right to me," Clive van Ryneveld (right) captain of the 1957 Springbok cricket team, seems to be saying as he prods at the wicket on the Port Elizabeth Cricket Club ground in St George's Park before the match. Others in the picture with him are, left to right, opening batsman Tony Pithey, wicket-keeper-batsman John Waite and batsman Chris Duckworth.

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The cricket pitch at St George's Park was dug up and replaced in August, 1990.

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Planting grass at St George's Park in preparation for the two one-day internationals against the touring Australians in 1994 are (from left): Mildred Masumpa, Sheila Mahua, Alicia Foster, Angeline Klaas, Monica Snuka and Donna Vena.

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Greensleeves Sprinkler Services owner Richard Hills (left) and groundsman Andrew McLean with the reticulated water system which was laid at the St George's Park cricket ground in September 1995. The computerised system was expected to be a big help to the groundstaff as they strived to keep the Test venue in tip-top shape for provincial and international encounters.

However, the strenuous efforts made on the wicket after this season began to bear fruit and by the time the Australians under lan Craig arrived, things were back to normal again. South Africa lost an interesting game on the last day.

This was a good Australian side which had just began the long climb back to the top after a series of disastrous defeats at the hands of England.

The game was featured by fine all-round cricket by Richie Benaud for Australia and Hugh Tayfield for South Africa, and another monumental innings by that man "Slasher" Mackay who made 77 (not out, of course!)

In January 2005, a new turf was laid. Great care was taken to create a perfect pitch, but, as usual, circumstances beyond man's control will probably ensure that critism of the wicket will continue.

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The old Bulli clay pitch is removed by a mechanical grader. It is rock hard after years of rolling and removing it by hand is time consuming.

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St George's Park groundsman, Adrian Carter, inspects the demise of the old pitch as the old Bulli clay is removed.

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Groundsman Adrian Carter keeps an eye on the pitch. The old Bulli clay has been removed and now the surface needs to be levelled.

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The bottom layer of soil is levelled by hand.

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The edges of the new pitch are neatened up in readiness to receive the next layer of soil.

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The red bush soil arrives. It will be evenly spread over the crusher run.

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The red bush soil is spread about 50mm over the crusher run.

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The new layer of imported Bulli is spread over the red bush soil to a depth of 200 to 250mm.

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Adrian Carter, St George's Park's groundsman, shows what a handful of Bulli looks like when it arrives.

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Hilbert Smit scatters phosphates based fertilizer onto the first layer of Bulli. This will provide the grass with nutrition when the roots grow down into the clay.

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The gulf green grass is placed over the final layer of Bulli.

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St George's Park groundsman, Adrian Carter, shows how the freshy layed grass has been compacted after the first roller run.
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