Will a winter spent on a state-of-the-art practice surface that can simulate spin and seam wickets give Glamorgan Cricket Club the edge this season?
Tomorrow, the crack of leather on willow heralds the start of another summer – and cricketers everwhere will be pressing whites and oiling bats after one last spell in the nets.

Practice indoors during the winter does, arguably, make perfect, but the sterile surfaces of most cricket schools are often a poor preparation for the real thing. Except, that is, in Glamorgan, where the county team must be feeling quietly confident about their chances of success in this year’s championship.

This is because players on the Welsh team have had the benefit of off-season practice on state-of-the-art indoor surfaces that have been configured to respond to both spin and seam bowling in the same way as grass. The players should, therefore, have their eye in before their rivals when the season gets under way.

Steve James, the Glamorgan opening batsman, who has also played for England, is certainly impressed. “The indoor school has changed our lives in the pre-season period,” he says.

The flooring, comprising a tried and-tested surface and an innovative underlay system, is part of a £4.1m seven-lane indoor school at the Sophia Gardens ground in Cardiff. Completed in time for last year’s Cricket World Cup, the school also includes a lecture theatre and café, a 150 m2 cricket shop, two scoreboards, and a fitness and training studio. The scheme is part of a much larger 15-year, three-phase development plan to turn the ground into the national cricket centre for Wales.

The 1000 m2 floor was designed and installed by Chester-based Sports Surfaces (UK), which has 30 years’ experience dealing with some of the country’s leading cricket clubs.

The surface is made up of 3.5 m strips of lightly embossed pvc vinyl called Uni-turf, which is imported from Canada. The strips, which run the length of the main hall, are chemically welded together to form a membrane that covers the floor “like a big green blanket”, says Sports Surfaces director Phil Earnshaw. But, unlike a blanket, the weight of the surface stops it from rucking or slipping.

The surface was first tested in the 1970s by Essex County Cricket Club and “it has proved as tough as old boots”, says Earnshaw, even with bowlers running repeatedly on the same track and batsmen driving the ball from the same spot again and again. However, the Essex installation was not very sophisticated, as it was simply rolled out over a concrete floor screed.

Since then, Sports Surfaces has developed an underlay, which combined with the Uni-turf makes the Glamorgan club surface very special. Putting the two together also means that an air gap is created, which slightly reduces the bounce of the cricket ball to mimic the response of the ball on an outdoor pitch.

However, “the real science takes place beneath the top surface”, says Earnshaw. Varying underlay solutions below each of the three zones at Sophia Gardens give different effects. The zones include a run-up area for bowlers, spin wickets (three lanes) and seam wickets (four lanes).

The run-up almost fills the back half of the all, from the rear wall to a space 2 m past the owler’s stumps. Beneath the 6 mm Uni-turf is a 12 mm rubber shock pad to prevent lower leg injuries. The run-up mats’ thickness and materials were based on studies carried out by Manchester Metropolitan University’s Sports Science Faculty and Sports Surfaces to determine the best flooring materials for absorbing impact. To design the floor area surrounding the batsmen’s stumps, Sports Surfaces turned to another research project, this time by Peter Dury, a consultant for the English Cricket Board. Dury has tested 50 underlay solutions and evaluated the speed and angle of bounce taken by a cricket ball bowled on each one of them.

The study led to the selection of two underlays that best simulated different types of wicket. For the spin wicket, Sports Surfaces installed a 6 mm granular rubber sheet to allow the ball to gain spin by “digging into the mat”, says Earnshaw. For the seam wickets, 6 mm resin-bonded textile sheet underlay was used. “This takes the pace out of the ball but does not alter the bounce,” says Earnshaw.

Batsman James says: “The floor plays well and is quick, in addition, using the specialist spin surface, we have been able to create outside conditions equivalent to a turning pitch.”

Installing the floor was relatively straight forward. Apart from a 2 m perimeter strip that has no underlay, the flooring was installed in a “giant mat well” 12 mm deep measuring roughly 30 × 20 m. The structural floor is a standard construction using a 150 mm power-float slab, but with the additional requirement for a high dimensional tolerance of ±1 mm over its 30 m length to ensure the bounce is true. “I think the poor guys with the power floater spent about eight hours levelling it”, says Neil Macomish of HLN Architects.

For the flooring contractors, the only real difference in construction was that all the underlay mats had to be bonded to the concrete floor screed before the Uni-turf playing surface could be fitted. Earnshaw reckons that the underlay matting added £20 000 to the original £50 000 cost of the flooring.

The acid test, of course, will be how well Glamorgan does in this year’s championship.

If Earnshaw’s confidence in his flooring is any kind of a indication, then the team could be worth a flutter.