Is There A Place For Artificial Wickets In Professional Cricket?

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Cricket has changed so much over the years. Bats are different, white balls are prevalent, outfields are smaller, and then there’s the coloured clothing – some of which is so garish it hurts. England even win now and again these days – something that never used to happen when I was knee-high to a James Taylor.

One thing that hasn’t changed significantly, however, is the pitches. They might have got a tad slower in recent times, but they’re still green, made of grass, and 22 yards long. Which has got me thinking …

Is anyone else surprised that the ECB hasn’t championed the use of artificial wickets in white ball cricket? After all, it ticks most of the money men’s boxes: it’s easy to use when the weather’s inclement, it doesn’t get roughed up, and it’s usually very good for batting on – which means runs aplenty. You can almost hear Tom Harrison purring from here.

The lack of artificial pitches in professional cricket is even more surprising given that they’re ubiquitous in club and school cricket. Plus, of course, most nets use astroturf or something similar.

The advantages of artificial grass for local clubs are obvious: the wickets don’t need preparation ahead of each fixture so it saves man-hours and money. As many professional clubs are also a bit cash-strapped at the moment, I’m amazed they haven’t cottoned on too.

Although first class cricket is obviously a different kettle of fish and shouldn’t be messed with – I wouldn’t want anyone to spit out their cornflakes when reading this – I’m amazed that artificial strips aren’t used for T20 at the very least. After all, if the emphasis is on pure entertainment (and we’re constantly told that it is) then surely it’s a no-brainer.

Perhaps counties could prepare proper wickets for championship games but then have a strip somewhere on the square that’s reserved for hit and giggle? I’m not suggesting that I’d like to see this happen myself – I’m a bluff old traditionalist as many of you will know – but I’m amazed that it hasn’t been tried.

As they already use drop-in pitches in various places around the world, why not try a pitch that you only have to drop in once? Although some might argue that cricket on astro-turf isn’t ‘proper’ cricket, I’d counter that by arguing that T20 isn’t proper cricket anyway.

Part of me wonders whether they’re saving the use of astro-turf for the shiny new city-based T20 in 2019? I can it see it now: the Leeds Looters against the London Laugh-a-Minutes on an artificial wicket in the Olympic Stadium.

Joe Root (bizarrely representing the Southerners after being drafted by a cockney tycoon) wins the toss, looks at the pitch, and decides to bat both first and second: “The pitch looks good to me, Athers, and we don’t expect it to change too much as the night goes on … or indeed for the rest of the decade”.

Although I personally haven’t played competitive cricket at a good level for a few years, I do have some experience of artificial surfaces. And most of it has been good experience. Indeed, I’ve scored a lot of runs on astroturf strips.

I played a season in Guernsey – where there’s a thriving cricket community with six divisions and plenty of coverage in the local rag – and enjoyed it immensely. Because there’s plenty of competitive league cricket played, but only a handful of grounds, all the wickets are astro-turf. It’s a really practical solution.

I also recently played a game at St Margarets near Twickenham on an artificial wicket. I enjoyed the true bounce, the ball coming on to the bat, and the fact one could drive on the up without worrying about deliveries getting stuck in the surface (often an occupational hazard in village cricket).

Don’t get me wrong. I realise that astro-turf isn’t for everyone. But if you’re a good back foot player it’s an awful lot of fun. Although orthodox finger spinners can struggle sometimes, the wrist spinners appreciate the generous bounce, and the seamers enjoy seeing the ball carry through to the keeper. It’s a lot more fun than playing on slow, low and invariably wet club wickets. And there are certainly plenty of those in England!

One day I can imagine whole fields being made of 3G grass. I’m not sure how this would affect the natural deterioration of the ball – there’s conventional shine and reverse swing to think about – but the technology is certainly coming on.

A few Premiership rugby clubs, including my team Worcester Warriors, use a woven artificial surface and the feedback from players has been promising. If you can play rugby (including the scrum of course) on artificial surfaces then I’m sure cricket wouldn’t be a problem. Things have come a long way since Luton FC’s notorious plastic pitch.

Although cricket fields are obviously bigger than rugby and football grounds (so it would cost more to install one) costs could be recouped by making the stadiums multipurpose. For example, a county could host other sports and hold concerts etc without damaging the surface.

If these surfaces can help struggling counties to break even then perhaps there’s a serious discussion to be had. Or perhaps I’m just off my rocker? They say the grass is always greener …

James Morgan

Written in collaboration with Lawrence Lawns

About the author

James Morgan

James is a freelance copywriter, writer and author. He's a founder and co-editor of The Full Toss.

22 comments

  • Hell no. Cricket looks village enough playing on artificial pitches at any grade. You can’t wear spikes, wearing trainers with whites or coloured clothing looks terrible, pace bowlers cannot hit the crease as hard, batsman cannot take guard in the traditional manner, ground staff will be obsolete apart from mowing the outfield. Grounds will lose their own unique character. Batsman will have a field day. The ball turns and bounces abnormally with the spin bowlers, and is incredibly easy to play off pace bowlers due to the lack of movement off the pitch. This creates a proposition where technique becomes less imperative than it should; Twenty20 cricket does not help this currently. It (Twenty20) is the cancer of cricket. It undermines the centuries of progress made by the players, and cricket lovers of yesteryear. Artificial pitches would only be a catalyst to enhance the dystopian influence that is Twenty20 cricket.

    • I’m not suggesting that counties should mess with first class cricket. This is purely about white ball and specifically T20. If it’s all about run scoring and ‘entertainment’ then I’m surprised artificial wickets haven’t been tried, especially they might save money.

      Personally, as a traditionalist, I wouldn’t be in favour. But I think that it may happen (or at least be debated) at some point in the future.

      There was a time when the idea of playing rugby on artificial grass would’ve seemed extremely far fetched. But now it actually does happen quite regularly in top professional leagues. There’s no mud … but generally it has helped attacking rugby and the number of tries scored.

  • I think some professional club groundsmen would have something to say.

    Astro is only there to avoid overuse of existing club wickets.

  • Please don’t make life even more easier for batsmen! One day cricket us dull enough without weighing it even more in favour of the bat.

    Agree re 20/20. No doubt page 3 models will soon be feeding balls into bowling machines at either end while the likes chris gayle smash them ( the balls ) into the stratosphere.

  • But you could have different astro turf wickets. Seaming ones, spinning ones, quick ones and so on. I think there is room for a lot of development in these wickets.
    T20 and ODI’s, I can see the advantages for grounds in that conditions would be the same for both sides. But any longer formats, you should have the wearing wickets. (An astro turf for each day of the test match?)
    You would not need covers either?
    One big problem for me would be for fast bowlers surely they would suffer injuries on such hard surfaces.
    I’m not really in favour of them but can see they have their place.

    • Hi Bob. Good to see some support. You make an interesting point re: fast bowlers. I think they’d be ok though. After all, if they can play rugby on these things then just about anything must be possible. There are huge pressures in the scrums etc; therefore the pitches must provide very solid footing and be able to absorb a lot of shock.

      • James, there’s still a bit of disquiet in rugby circles on the impact on players’ knees of the new surfaces. As recently as last year clubs visiting Saracens were opting to rest players newly back from knee injuries rather than risk a recurrence

  • Where do I sign up for the version where the page 3 models load the balls….?

    On a serious point I can see the benefits.

    Would we have had such an exciting T20 final this year though, when Notts came back from being about 30-3 to post a winning score? (I had to get that in living 3 miles from Trent Bridge).

    Would we see any wickets other than catches on the boundary when the batsman doesn’t quite get hold of it?

    They could be posting scores of 300+ off 20 overs – would certainly be entertaining for the crowd, although pubic liability insurance costs may go up with the extra 6s into the crowd and beyond !!!!

  • In the long term I see it as inevitable as the homogenising of sport in general continues a pace. On the face of it, there seems little wrong in creating a stable, safe and uniform environment for players, with a balance of bat and ball.
    It’s akin to Formula 1 deciding on a standard car issued to each team so the champion is the best driver, not the driver sitting in the best car.
    However the challenge of cricket at the top level is how players can adapt to varying conditions. These are half the talking points before, during and after the game. What is the point in going to play in other countries if the pitches are the same. The reason cricket tours have always been long affairs is to allow teams to get used to overseas conditions. Home advantage is surely a key to bringing in punters. If this is nullified how will sides like Bangladesh ever win a test? The top sides with best resources will stay at the top, not good for the world game. There will be no need for players to ply their trade abroad, so we won’t have the same opportunities to see the world’s best playing in domestic competitions.

    • The challenge to players at all levels hsould be the same. Too many roads around then as soon as you put batting teams onto non roads they are skittled !!

  • Why not keep the grass but use the £squillions from T20 to install retractable roofs instead? Result – pitches exposed to the weather whenever possible, but no more “rain stopped play”. Guaranteed full days of cricket must be good for the game. We could even see an end to the cricket season as such – bring on year-round matches.

  • This is the solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.

    Artificial is great when it’s enabling a game to take place that otherwise wouldn’t. But first class and international teams are not short of quality grass pitches nor the equipment to protect them/dry them out.

    Rugby has turned to artificial out of necessity that simply is not replicated in cricket.

    Unless and until artificial practice facilities are as good as a quality grass pitch (and currently they are light years away) this is something that players just won’t support.

    In that context (unnecessary, unpopular and potentially makes product on field worse) no one in their right mind would put money into this.

    If a big step forward in artificial practice facilities happens, I guess there’s a conversation to have. Until then, this simply ain’t broke.

    • Well, there we go. ECB attracted by artificial wickets because they help run-scoring, are easy to prepare and don’t need good weather, plus they can be used again and again and again … so they’re convenient and save money.

      As I said in my article I’m really not in favour of this. But I’m not at all surprised.

      I’m also really not sure about the argument that the new competition is not supposed to appeal to existing fans … so the ECB aren’t bothered if real cricket fans don’t like artificial wickets. How on earth is the new city thing supposed to take off if existing fans aren’t going to support it? Do the ECB really think they’re fill big stadiums all over the country with ‘new’ fans who don’t really understand what’s going on? Remarkable.

  • It’s very amateurish. Even as a mediocre club side, we’re dismayed to be asked to play on an artificial pitch. Fortunately, 99% of club teams are able to provide a proper pitch.
    I’ve never, ever heard of a team actually choosing to use a plastic strip out of preference, it’s usually because the groundsman is on holiday or something.

    Do we not already have a problem in the country with the game being too batsman friendly?

  • I believe artificial pitches are of use for clubs / local authorities where it would be otherwise difficult to get matches played i.e. where there aren’t the funds to employ a specialist groundsman, and I’m all for it when the option is no cricket and a side potentially folding.

    Part of the essential intrigue of cricket, even in ODI cricket is that some days 350 is easily chaseable and on other days 250 is a great score. This has to remain, even in T20, where bowlers are always coming up with new variations to try and befuddle a batsman. Still has to be a contest. Don’t see how 3g/4g will help as most cricket pitches tend to have most of the grass taken off them and not sure how this will work.

By James Morgan

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