Cricket Ireland commits to new investment for hybrid pitches
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(Cricket news) The Board of Cricket Ireland has approved a new budget for 2022 that features a €317K Facilities Investment Package which includes the immediate investment in hybrid pitch technology and wet-weather protective and maintenance machinery. In addition, the budget provides a major increase in funding for Provincial Unions and grassroots cricket, as well as women’s cricket.
The new Facilities Investment Package will see a significant increase in spending by Cricket Ireland on facilities, which was one of the urgent recommendations contained within the Review Report on the Men’s T20 World Cup 2021 preparation and performance that was also presented to the Board at its recent meeting. The €317K package is a 72% increase on 2021 and is Year One of a multi-year programme being developed that will extend to a range of grounds around Ireland to improve the standard and durability of venues for international and domestic representative men’s and women’s cricket.
The new hybrid pitches, that have been installed in recent years at a growing number of English grounds, will be installed at the Cricket Ireland High Performance Centre and at three of the international grounds in 2022 – Malahide, Stormont and Bready (further information on hybrid pitches and the Facilities Investment Package is below).
As a further part of the approved 2022 budget, Cricket Ireland will also substantially increase its funding of Provincial Unions and grassroots cricket. This new funding will include an additional €93K invested in development and mass participation programmes, as well as Women’s Pathway and an ‘emerging talent’ series. This new investment by Cricket Ireland will be complemented by a further €44K for Strategic Programmes and community-based initiatives to be passed through to Provincial Unions attained through a successful Sport Ireland grant that will directly support grassroots and club cricket around Ireland.
The budget also contains a major new investment in the women’s high performance programme – further details about this will be announced in coming weeks.
Men’s T20 Review Report
As part of the Board meeting the Directors reviewed and discussed the Review Report on the Men’s T20 World Cup 2021 preparation and performance – developed by Portas Consulting, with former Ireland head coach Adi Birrell engaged as an expert consultant. The Report contained a number of key findings and recommendations for improvement across the team and organisation generally. The Board noted that several recommendations were already being implemented – or approved in this year’s budget – but has sought further analysis from management and the High Performance Committee on the feasibility and timeframes to implement other recommendations.
The report stated that, while short-term preparations and acclimatisation for the Men’s T20 World Cup were good, the 12-18 month build-up did not provide enough high-quality international fixtures, recommending that there should be an element of ‘quality’ over ‘quantity’ shaping the squad’s preparations ahead of the next cycle.
The report also recommended a restructure of the coaching set-up around the men’s senior squad, and greater alignment with coaching at provincial level. In consultation with Portas around some of the emerging findings, Cricket Ireland has already begun implementing the report’s recommendations around the coaching structure with the recruitment of a new head coach (set to start in March 2022), while the approved budget provides for investment in three full-time coaching positions that will be appointed shortly.
Further recommendations around staffing, organisational structure and resource support will now be assessed internally to determine what elements are feasible in the short-term, or require additional funding before they can be implemented.
Warren Deutrom, Chief Executive of Cricket Ireland, spoke about the budget approvals: “When we outlined our new three-year strategy last year, we said we needed to do more to support the grassroots of the game, women’s and girls’ cricket and facilities. The strategy outlined that all parts of our sport are connected with a sustainable and vibrant grassroots supplying the pipeline of talent to the elite teams – one cannot thrive without the other.
“We said that our task was about finding a balance between funding of the men’s senior team – for so long an investment priority for the business – and these other strategically-critical areas of our sport. The 2022 budget attempts to strike that balance and target these other priority areas.
“We are an ICC Full Member trying to compete with other ICC Full Members on a fraction of the funding distribution, and a huge infrastructure deficit that drives up our cost base enormously. That means we need to be innovative, whether hosting our games in England, investing in hybrid pitches, leveraging our relationships to get high-quality fixtures, or rearranging our fixture load – it’s a juggling act to extract the maximum from our limited money, people and resources. These limitations mean that we can’t currently match the expectations that other nations see as automatic, but we always back our talent on and off the pitch to continue to punch above our weight.”
On the Review Report. Deutrom said: “With regards to the post-World Cup report, it firstly should be noted that post-tournament assessments are a regular part of our business operations. Previous assessments, such as the review conducted after the 2018 Women’s T20 World Cup, have led to a range of improvements that we continue to build upon even today.
“Now, rightly, questions were asked about when we would publicly address the Review Report. The first draft of the Report was only completed in late December and the Steering Group the Board had appointed to liaise with Adi and Portas had quite a lot of feedback that it felt Portas should consider in the interests of accuracy and the context of our circumstances. This process took us up to the next Board Meeting in February by which time we were in preparations for a crucial qualifier campaign, and it was important the squad wasn’t distracted during that time.
“The Report has made recommendations on a range of areas of our operations and internal structure, as well as player preparation, performance, facilities and support resources. It also highlighted a number of previously recognised improvements from 2019 that were yet to be implemented. It should be explained that a number of these improvements formed part of our intended budget in 2020, however, when the pandemic arrived and a lot of our revenue disappeared overnight, some tough decisions had to be made to defer certain investments. COVID is not an excuse, but a reality. We could not spend money we did not have, and given the great levels of uncertainty at the time, it was prudent to consolidate what we could and navigate through what has been two difficult years.
“As a lead into his part of the Review Report presentation to the Board, [former head coach] Adi Birrell remarked the report would be “frank” and “uncomfortable reading at times”. It was, but Adi did the job we’d asked him to do. Being in a high performance environment can be an uncomfortable space, and the Board and management share that uncomfortable space, understanding that we’re all in this together and we all have a role to play in winning Irish teams.”
More specifically regarding recommendations made in the Review Report, Deutrom said: “It goes without saying that one of the most urgent needs for Irish cricket is improved facilities – it is the number one priority on my desk and one which I believe will have transformative effects from international to grassroots cricket. We were unsurprised that this featured prominently in the Review Report, and we are already putting into place the foundations of a long-term plan through our investment programme in this year’s budget. We have also advertised for a new National Facilities Manager to drive the facilities improvement programme forward over coming years.
“The Facilities Investment Package will be a multi-year commitment that will prioritise expenditure relating to men’s and women’s international venues, while we expect following years will look at investment needs at grounds that host first-class, inter-provincial and Super Series competitions. We look forward to working with Provincial Unions and clubs on rolling out this investment programme, and thank both Unions and clubs for working with us on identifying the facilities needs so far.
“We have also made great headway into addressing another area that the Review Report makes recommendations, and that is the coaching set-up around the men’s senior side. Our recent recruitment of a new Head Coach was conducted in consultation with the Report authors to ensure we were aligned with our future needs and direction. This recruitment will be followed shortly by appointments of three new full-time coaches, with the need to have the new structure settle in before the home season internationals and preparations for the T20 World Cup campaign later in the year.
“There were a range of other recommendations that related to Cricket Ireland’s organisational structure and resourcing – in an effort to guide our efforts to be fit-for-purpose as a Full Member. These recommendations will require further consideration and assessment on feasibility, as the Review Report notes, the potential implementation of the recommendations will have to be made within the context of Cricket Ireland’s financial constraints. As seen in this budget, we have already begun to invest new money in some critical areas of need, but other recommendations may take a little longer to work through in order to understand the financial implications – and to identify means of funding them.
“As an organisation, we accept that the Review Report has identified important deficiencies and confirmed already recognised issues that Cricket Ireland needs to address. We will provide a more detailed response to each recommendation in due course, but while the Review Report highlights areas of men’s high performance needs, we do have Strategic Plan commitments to balance our expenditure with the women’s programme, as well as grassroots cricket. There is no magic bullet here and we will methodically develop a plan that aims to achieve this balance over coming years.
While responding to the short-term needs, Deutrom also addressed the longer-term needs of the sport: “In the medium-to-long term, though, it is critical that we advance the plans for suitable permanent facilities. Every other Full Member has the benefit of such facilities, and for Ireland to continue to develop competitive international sides and grow the grassroots of the sport then we must find a solution that will help fulfil our long-term ambitions.
“This ambition is not a vanity project, but one which is crucial to the long-term sustainability of Irish cricket. Currently we spend up to €1M a year – a big chunk of our total budget – on temporary infrastructure around international matches. A permanent dedicated facility would free up this money to spend on the sport and invest in other grounds and facilities around Ireland. We are pleased with the direction of talks with the Irish Government on this issue, and appreciate their support and recognition that we have an important role to play in the world’s second-largest sport.”
Facilities Investment Package: 2022
The Board has approved the following this financial year:
Installation of hybrid pitches at the High Performance Centre and three international grounds in 2022 to provide more durable surfaces for training and preparation;
Purchase of a new Blotter, and servicing of existing Blotters;
New flat sheets and side sheets to improve wet weather protection;
Purchase of a new second wicket mower and new Spike Roller; and
Purchase of new boundary ropes and marking frames.
In addition, Cricket Ireland will appoint a new National Facilities Manager to oversee the upgrades, as well as drive the facility-related objectives in the strategic plan. Underpinning the above will be a new National Facilities Strategy for the organisation to be developed in 2022.
Year One of the new upgrade programme will focus on international grounds, while Year Two will seek to roll out improvements to venues that host inter-provincial and Super Series matches.
Facilities: Medium-to-long term improvements
The National Facilities Strategy will dictate the priorities and investments looking into the medium-to-long term, however, a key part of the vision looking ahead to the T20 World Cup in 2030 is the creation of a new national cricket centre which will include Ireland’s first dedicated national cricket ground. Cricket Ireland continues to engage the Irish Government on this project and will provide updates in due course with the caveat that any developments in relation to new cricket facilities are subject to the approval and announcement by the Irish Government of the new Masterplan at the National Sports Campus.
Hybrid pitch technology
Hybrid cricket pitches feature at many cricket grounds in the UK, including at Lord’s Cricket Ground. It is also similar technology to that found across many top-flight football grounds. The hybrid pitch technology features 90-95% natural grass, complemented by loops of plastic yarn inserted into the ground using a laser-guided stitching machine, helping to bind the grass roots together.
The primary benefits of hybrid pitches is that – while almost entirely made of grass – they don’t wear as much as traditional pitches, meaning increased use is possible for matches and training.
Although the ICC do not currently approve their use for international matches, the new hybrid pitches will be installed on the side wickets to vastly improve training and preparation of Irish and visiting teams, and to protect the primary international pitches from overuse.
Cricket Ireland has monitored and engaged with grounds in the UK on the performance of hybrid pitches over recent years, and believe that they will be of significant benefit to the Irish environment.