A healthy Tuesday crowd at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore enjoyed the relief from the heat that evening showers brought, but many would have been flabbergasted at the actions of the ground staff. Each time the rain stopped, the ground staff removed the three giant covers that protected the square and the practice pitches, dumping the water on the outfield. No super-soppers were called for, no mucking about with sponges and the like.
What the spectators saw next was nothing short of magical. Large puddles of water lasted only seconds, and even before the cameras could be whipped out, the water had drained. In truth, however, there was nothing magical about what happened. Rather, the Karnataka State Cricket Association has invested significant resources in a state-of-the-art drainage system the likes of which has never been seen in India. To watch it in action was quite incredible, the outfield having no trace of moisture just minutes after the rain stopped.
The technology powering this is a subsurface aeration and vacuum powered system that guarantees that no match at the Chinnaswamy Stadium will ever be abandoned because of a wet outfield. Sounds like a tall claim? The system, developed by SubAir, a company based in California, and implemented in India by Great Sports Infra at a cost of Rs 4.25 crore, worked a charm.
The system works on the basis of vacuum and pressure modes while aeration allows the grass to grow unhindered. The decision to do something about the drainage came after the India-South Africa Test in November 2017 was abandoned because of rain. “With insurers unwilling to insure against the elements because of the strong forecast for heavy rain during the Test, we ended up with a loss in excess of Rs 2 crore. We then decided that while we can’t do anything about the rain, what happens thereafter is in our control,” explained Vinay Mrithyunjaya, the KSCA spokesperson. “That’s how, after a series of discussions and demonstrations, we arrived at this decision aimed to not merely guard against loss for the KSCA but also for the spectators to get their money’s worth.”
Kevin Crowe, a senior vice-president of Subair, added a bit more detail about how the process works. A mixture of blowing air and sucking water ensures that no puddles form on the grass, with the water being easily absorbed into the ground. “There are sensors underneath the surface that gauge not just water levels but also salinity, the temperature and related parameters,” said Crowe. “We have a separator at the ground through which the water and air are diverted to different outlets.”
An added bonus is that the water that is sucked underground is transported to a tank with a capacity of 1.5 lakh litres and can be reused for routine maintenance and similar needs. The system has the ability to drain 100 litres each minute, at nearly five times the speed the water would soak through solely because of gravity. “We have laid drainage pipes totalling 4.5km under the surface,” said Anil Kumar, managing director of Great Sports Infra.
While the subsurface aeration system has been successfully deployed in other spotting arenas, the Chinnaswamy Stadium in the only cricket facility in the world that uses it. “This was a different challenge because it’s the first time we were tackling a cricket ground,” said Crowe. “The square yardage is much more than the average soccer or football field in the United States, and unlike a football field, which is rectangular, this is a round playing arena [and] required a different approach.”
The good news for fans is that Crowe and his team found just the right approach. The bad news was that even with the best system in the world in place, the evening was a damp squib, as the light drizzle gathered strength and did not abate till the cut-off time. Despite waiting patiently for hours, with only the DJ and his tunes to entertain them, the crowd were forced to return home without watching a single ball of play.