Essex County Cricket Club | Extreme

Essex County Cricket Club groundsman bowled over by grass seed performance

Essex County Cricket Club | Extreme

Considered one of the best cricket groundsmen in the country, Stuart Kerrison has been with Essex County Cricket Club for 31 years. Appointed Head Groundsman at just 23, he was the youngest on the county scene. Today, Stuart still relishes the challenge of producing good pitches at Chelmsford, Southend and Billericay—and it shows; with a trophy shelf groaning with accolades. 


We caught up with Stuart to pick up some tips and learnt that when it comes to running a first-class county club, it’s not just about the products you use... 

“About nine years ago, we were using a good grass seed and perfectly happy with its performance. But one day, while chatting to a colleague, I discovered—to my horror— we were paying £20 more per bag, for exactly the same seed. Having a dubious pricing strategy isn’t an impressive way for a supplier to lay the groundwork for a good relationship. After all, you just don’t just buy from them, you turn to them for advice and support. There’s a certain degree of trust involved.” 


Good relationships with suppliers, key

Avoncrop Amenity Products representative suggested Stuart give EXTREME a try. 

He continues: “If it wasn’t for what happened, we wouldn’t have switched. But I was impressed with how Barenbrug’s products added up in the STRI trials, so gave it a go for a season. I haven’t looked back.” 


“Today we use EXTREME at our Chelmsford headquarters, and our Southend and Billericay grounds. We also play the odd first class game at Colchester, so I go and prepare the pitch for that too. 


“Our Southend ground is our satellite ground. We’ve got the same situation at Billericay with two squares and two outfields, maintained by (fantastic) staff who work under me. We try and do the same thing as we do here in Chelmsford, but with a slightly smaller budget.” 


From first net to last match

Billericay sees around 70 Essex games per year, and 20 to 25 days are played at Southend. Stuart continues: “Here at Chelmsford, we’ve got about 180 days of the season, from first net to last match, Essex first team have 50+ match days and on top of that, community matches, practice, kids games. A lot of abuse. 


“We like EXTREME because it’s hardwearing and has good recovery. It’s also pretty drought resistance. You don’t get a lot of chance to put water on the square. It’s either in play or covered. So Barenbrug’s seed ticks all the boxes. 


“With budget a consideration, I will add that yes, EXTREME is slightly more expensive than other brands, but you really do get what you pay for.” 


Getting back into play—fast 

Stuart explains: “For instance, the most useful feature for us, is fast establishment. Once you’ve used a pitch, you need to be recovering it as soon as possible. Playing first class cricket we need the square back in action ASAP, so speed is a huge plus for us. 


“When you look back at cricket squares 20 years ago, they often had lots of bare areas. These days, everyone expects the grass to look a million dollars, even in the depths of winter... even if you’ve got no budget. We’re not immune to this. Thankfully EXTREME means the grass never looks tired, it’s always green and healthy.” 


Pressure on groundsmen

When asked about his biggest challenges, Stuart tells us: “Dry weather and the high volume of fixtures we have. Also, pressure from coaches to manipulate the turf to give the home team an advantage. It’s a big responsibility. I like to think we’re producing the best cricket pitch possible, with a good balance of bat and ball.” 


Products that live up to their promises

On his advice to other groundsmen, Stuart says: “Everyone does pretty much the same things, to a slightly different degree. But while the bloke down the road can still produce a good facility on a shoestring budget, his won’t come under the same scrutiny as ours. We’ve got Sky TV watching, analysing every ball and how it behaves, so we’re under pressure. EXTREME ensures we perform every time. 


“During the seasons, we use a germination sheet. Essentially a black shade cloth laid over the grass to maintain the temperature, keep in the moisture and stop birds from eating the seed. This helps the seed to germinate even faster. 


“Other advice I’d give, is to talk to keep talking to your peers. Get on social media and chat with other turf experts. Build relationships. If you think about it, if it weren’t for that one conversation I had nine years ago, who knows how much we’d have overspent? Every season we go back to bare soil, and reseed from scratch. So that saving is a big deal for a club of our size.”