Sunnybrook- first-class cricket at a second class venue?

4 August 2004

It now appears certain that the Canada - Bermuda match, scheduled for the 13th to 15th of August, will be played at Sunnybrook Park. A poster to our forum states "contrary to the information posted on this website the wicket will be ready for the match. The Parks Board has assisted the T&D and the CCA by providing some funds and resources to restore the wicket. A lot of work has been done and is ongoing" (it should be noted that this poster does not as far as we know represent the CCA, and we've been told subsequently that support is in kind only). In the sprit of accurate reporting, we revisited Sunnybrook Park last night to investigate progress.

For those readers who do not know Sunnybrook, the cricket grounds are set in the middle of a large public park, east of downtown Toronto. It's an attractive setting, with many mature trees, and the park is popular with the residents of Toronto, with joggers, dog-walkers, and others. There are three grounds there, and for the ICC Trophy in 2001, Mike Corley and his team of expert groundsmen installed a turf wicket on the uppermost ground. Corley's team of professionals were based in England, but had worked all over the world. Preparation of turf pitches in Toronto was considered a unique challenge because of the long harsh winters. Corley's efforts were successful; although the wicket at Sunnybrook was probably well below the standard for first-class cricket, it held together for the matches played on it during the ICC Trophy. Scoring was low, with the highest total of 166 being made by a powerful Ugandan side against lowly France. Although the quality of the sides and relative strengths were variable, several teams made their lowest scores of the tournament at Sunnybrook, and it was not used for second round matches.

Following the ICC Trophy, the turf wicket at Sunnybrook was essentially abandoned. To keep turf wickets in good condition requires time, equipment and much hard work; understandably this was not available, so the prepared area was left to become part of the outfield, with cricket being played on the adjacent artificial wicket. Earlier this year a new astroturf wicket was installed; the work included the the excavation of the 'grit' making up the substrate, and the installation of new material. The skids of 'packaged' grit were parked where the 'new' wicket is being created. All three grounds were renovated, although the installation of new astroturf wickets has caused problems, with in some cases the bowlers' run-ups and areas adjacent to the strip so uneven as to be hazardous.

In the few days since we last visited Sunnybrook, there has clearly been further efforts to work on the wicket. The specific area of the 'international' wicket is marked with a string, about twice the width of the adjacent astroturf 'wicket', which can be seen in the photos below. There has been a fairly heavy mechanically driven roller over this designated area. This roller would appear to be about half the width of a 'standard' cricket pitch roller. There are now 'ridges' along the length of the stringed enclosure, which likely are the consequence of rolling soon after the heavy rains over the holiday weekend. At both ends the indentations, (pock marks), are still evident.

Will the wicket be ready on the 13th? How will it play? We do not claim to be expert in the art and science of wicket preparation but what we saw certainly suggests that there is a strong element of doubt as to whether this wicket wil be suitable for the rigours of first-class cricket. It's worth recalling that John Davison recorded the best first-class bowling figures since Jim Laker's 19-90 on the turf wicket in Florida, and without belittling John's outstanding bowling, it is fair to say that the wicket was sub-standard. The game barely went into the third day, and this on a specially prepared wicket that had been worked on for months under the ideal growing conditions of Florida and the direction of a professional groundsman. There are pitfalls for even the most expereinced of curators- many will recall the appalling Sabina Park wicket that results in the abandonment of an England - West Indies Test on the first morning of the match. Even in the best of circumstances, preparing a wicket for three day cricket in Canada would be a challenge. Austin Ward appears to be in charge of wicket preparation, and we are sure he will do the best he can, but the task he is faced with appears insurmountable. We leave the reader to examine our photographs and decide for themselves whether even with the best efforts an adequate wicket will result from his efforts.

If this were a tale of a poor associate nation trying to prepare a turf wicket to fulfill the requirements of the ICC, some sympathy might be justified. However, Toronto was left with a legacy of excellent, professionally preapred turf wickets in 2001, thanks in no small part to ICC funding. There are three venues where these wickets have been maintained - Ajax CC, King City and the Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club. The TCSCC has hosted 22 full one-day internationals between 1996 and 1999, as well as the final round of the ICC Trophy. All three alternative venues would require a user fee, and it seems the CCA simply does not have the financial ability to pay it. We've been mailed mentioning the superb facility at Inverhaugh - the lovely private ground outside of Toronto, with a full turf square - this too would be a viable alternative. The InterContinental Cup is likely an expensive venture for the CCA, with presumably travel costs and expenses for players outside of the Toronto area. One suspects that the ICC provides some funds for travel to away fixtures, and surely there must be some funding to assist in hosting. One advantage of the TCSCC or King City is that the venue would allow charging for admission to offset costs. It is good to hear that the Toronto Parks Board is funding the work at Sunnybrook; if the Parks Board can be asked to support cricket, why can't a sponsor be found to help offset user fees at prime venues?

The Canadian and Bermudan players are for the most part amateurs who at the conclusion of this match have to return to their day jobs. A broken arm or finger might well make an employer think twice before granting leave to travel to the InterContinental Cup finals. Canada's captain, John Davison, relies on cricket for his income; he will soon be looking to return to South Australia and hopefully retain his hard won place in the State side. A serious injury could mean the end of his first-class career, and inspiring as his captaincy of canada has been, he is unlikely to be able to turn to the CCA as a source of employment. He surely will be thinking more than twice before batting on an untested wicket of this nature.

One can only hope that our speculations are incorrect, and August 13-15 will bring us some top-quality cricket, with an even balance between ball and bat. If that is the case then Austin Ward and the CCA deserve full credit for their work - and they will see full acknowledgement of that in these pages. It does seem however that the CCA are taking a huge gamble here, with the safety of the players taking part in the match, with the credibility of cricket in Canada, and indirectly with the ICC's efforts to promote the InterContinental Cup as a first-class competition. The proof of the pudding is in the eating as the old proverb goes, and we somewhat nervously await August 13...

(Dave Liverman and Jon Harris).

The Sunnybrook wicket in photos...

View of the strip from the far end. Note the indentations surrounded by good old Canadian crab grass

The string is roughly in the middle of the photo, going from left to right. Note the 'popping crease' on the astroturf and the indentations on the grass strip which would be four to six feet in front of the batsman.

The string is laid out as a rectangle. Note the proximity of the 'missing' grass to the strip. The pale green is the astroturf and note also the irregularity 'hazard' where the grass and astroturf meet.

pock marks in the wicket at Sunnybrook

The grass surface at at Sunnybrook - ready for first-class cricket?