Newly-appointed Sports Minister YB Khairy Jamaludin has now the opportunity to finally put an end to the never-ending woes of the pitch at the landmark National Stadium. Read Green, green grass of home, which loose cannon wrote for the Malay Mail in 2005 as part of a series of articles on the choice of turfgrass at the stadium.
Loose cannon was told Khairy himself will handpick the type of grass so that it will be pitch perfect by early 2014. Read the Malay Mail. But in order to provide remedial measures once and for all, Khairy might want to study the drainage and maintenance system applied at the National Stadium.
Also please revisit a series of articles loose cannon wrote from May 2005 to May 2006.
THE National Stadium in Bukit Jalil is getting a new turf and the million ringgit question is whether the never-ending woes of the poor surface since it was unveiled in 1998 will come to an end.
The Merdeka Stadium Corporation (PSM) Board - who manage the National Sports Complex, including the National Stadium - picked seashore paspalum (see accompanying story) to replace the original bermudagrass on the basis that it is durable, requires low maintenance and has a soft, cushiony feel and dense canopy.
However, the two only two known football pitches in the country with paspalum surface are not exactly pitch perfect. One field at a residential area in Taman Batu Muda, which was opened less than a year ago, was found to be uneven with several bare patches. Whether it is due to poor maintenance or poor choice of turf is subject to debate. The public pitch is one of the three training venues for Premiership outfit Kuala Lumpur apart from the Kuala Lumpur Stadium in Bandar Tun Razak and the City Hall Sports Club Ground at Jalan Tun Sambanthan.
Works to lay the same turf on another public pitch at the Metropolitan Park near Kepong started seven months ago but until today, has yet to be handed over to Kuala Lumpur City Hall. Based on the conditions of these two pitches, the returfing project at the National Stadium will certainly come under intense scrutiny.
Besides determining whether the paspalum surface is suitable for Malaysian conditions, proper maintenance and good turfgrass management are crucial to make the pitch the crowning glory of Malaysian football.
Turfgrass consultant Sashi Ram, who was formerly a golf turf superintendent, said parspalum was a fairly new grass and that knowledge of its management and maintenance were fairly limited.
"It remains to be seen whether the type of grass is suitable in the local climate, taking into account the enclosed nature of the stadium which will prevent certain areas of the pitch from getting direct sunlight," said Ram.
Another turfgrass consultant, who has been in the business for the past 15 years, said the Board had taken a risk in opting for paspalum, which is pre-dominant in salty areas.
"Since bermudagrass has proven to be a failure at the stadium, we have to study whether other types of grass, namely cowgrass, zoysia and paspalum are suitable for the pitch, taking into consideration the stadium structure.
"Generally the stadium is designed for sporting events. We have to consider whether the architecture will affect the field, will there be shade problems, and whether the airflow is conducive for the grass to grow," said the consultant, who declined to be named.
PSM general manager, R. Effendi Razali, however, said the Board made the decision to pick paspalum upon consultation from the end-users, the FA of Malaysia (FAM).
"During the technical committee meeting following the Board's decision to pick paspalum, the merits and demerits of the various types of grass, namely paspalum, zoysia, bermuda and cowgrass were discussed.
"Based on the comparative study that we had, taking into consideration several key aspects such as heat, shade and mowing tolerance, density and the recovery rate from heavy usage, we felt paspalum was the right choice.
"While there were suggestions to go back to using cowgrass similar to the one at Merdeka Stadium, some felt it taking a step backwards. Why not use a new species, one which has been grown in our climate," said Effendi.
Effendi said on Dec 28, 2004, the Board were unanimous in choosing paspalum as the turf, before calling for an open tender a month later.
According to the document tender, turfing materials shall be of good quality, free from pests and diseases, namely paspalum vaginatum marimo for the main playing field and zoysia japonica at the perimetre of the football field and penalty box.
Among the requirements were that the contractor shall provide instant supply of the turf through a nursery of their own or associated nursery of seashore paspalum marimo of not less than 10,000m2 as well as a minimum of two years experience in turfing or returfing of large areas such as football fields and town parks.
Effendi added a nursery in Johor has proven that paspalum thrives under the Malaysian weather. Widely described as environmental turfgrass, paspalum vaginatum is primarily known as seashore paspalum, or simply paspalum and indigenous to Africa, Asia and Europe. Other less common names include siltgrass or sand knotgrass.
According to Dr Ron R. Duncan in the book he co-wrote with Dr Robert N. Carrow titled Seashore Paspalum, the environmental grass, paspalum grows on sandy beaches, on the banks of estuaries frequently inundated by salt water, and along the banks of coastal rivers.
It can be found inland near the edge of saline water on sandy soils. According to the book, patented paspalum cultivars, or ecotypes include Saltene, Salpas, Futurf, Adalayd, Fidalayel, Tropic shore, Mauna Kea, Salam, Sea Isle 2000 and Sea Isle 1.
Price per square foot The average size of an international football pitch is 80m x 105m, or roughly 8,000 square feet Seashore paspalum: RM3 Zoysia: RM2.50 Cowgrass: RM1 Bermudagrass: RM2
"THE consultant for the new turf at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil is optimistic of meeting the deadline in time for the Malaysia Cup final to be held at the 100,000-capacity venue. Although he was reluctant to guarantee the grass marimo paspalum would be in playable condition for the Oct 1 final, Hiroi Koichi - director of Johor Baru-based Zoysian (M) Sdn Bhd - has fixed the third week of next month as the handing-over date to the managers of the complex, Merdeka Stadium Corporation Board.
"All we ask for is for the relevant parties to be patient. I am optimistic that by Sept 24, we will hand over the pitch to the Board. "Originally, we have agreed for the handing-over to be conducted on Sept 30 but we hope to bring it forward by a week. That is how optimistic I am. "We were initially given two months to plant the turf. For a job usually done gradually, we have done quite well considering the time limits," Koichi told Mailsport.
"ALMOST a year ago, Sunday Mail questioned the choice of a turfgrass alien to the Malaysian weather for the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil.
Today, we are not proud to say we are vindicated but it appears the never-ending woes of the pitch have not come to an end, judging from the atrocious condition of the turf that was unveiled in October 2005.
On May 8, 2005, Sunday Mail carried a two-page report on the issue behind the Merdeka Stadium Corporation (PSM) Board's choice of marimo paspalum to replace the original bermudagrass. Paspalum was chosen on the basis that it was durable, required low maintenance and had a soft, cushy feel and dense canopy.
The paper argued that the only two known football pitches in the country with the paspalum surface were not exactly pitch perfect. One field at a residential area in Taman Batu Muda, which was opened in 2004, was found to be uneven with several bare patches. Works to lay the same turf on another public pitch at the Metropolitan Park near Kepong started in late 2004 but until May 2005, had yet to be handed over to Kuala Lumpur City Hall.
The then PSM general manager, R. Effendi Razali, told Mailsport that the Board made the decision on consultation from the end-users, the FA of Malaysia (FAM) and that the merits and demerits of the various types of grass were discussed in several technical committee meetings also attended by a grass expert from the Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM).
Sometimes referred to as saltwater couch, paspalum is a perennial warm season grass and has the highest level of salinity tolerance among all the turfgrass cultivars and requires about half the fertiliser of bermudagrass.
When managed properly, it has low water used requirements and needs minimal pesticides. It has a luminous lime green colour similar to Kentucky Bluegrass. Among the cultivars are SeaIsle, Durban CC, Salam, Seaway and Adalayd. Widely used at: Pantai Legenda Golf and Country Club, Pekan; Palm Resort Golf and Country Club, Johor; Ibai Golf and Country Club, Kuala Terengganu; Sarawak Golf Club, Kuching; Miri Golf Club; two public football pitches in Kuala Lumpur.
Known as broadleaf carpetgrass in the United States, its scientific name is axonopus compressus. A pasture grass in wet areas. Withstands poor conditions and is dormant in the dry season. Survives seasonal flooding, but is susceptible to insects. May be heavily grazed, although it is outyielded by some other grasses. The most common type of grass in Malaysia. Mainly used at: Merdeka Stadium (Kuala Lumpur); Petaling Jaya Stadium (PJ); Darulmakmur Stadium (Kuantan); Sultan Muhammad IV Stadium (Kota Baru); Sultan Ismail Nasiruddin Shah Stadium (Kuala Terengganu)
ZOYSIA (more than 20 types) Named after 18th century Austrian botanist, Karl von Zois, it was first called Manila grass. It is a warm season grass with a leaf texture ranging from fine to coarse, dependent upon the variety. The colour ranges from light to medium green and this type of grass forms a dense, low maintenance lawn by spreading through stolons and rhizomes. The shoot growth rate is slow but lawns of this type of grass are easy to maintain. Used in hot, humid and tropical climates and can withstand heavy usage. Recommended for residential and commercial lawn sites, golf course tees and fairways and athletic turf settings. Zoysia Japonica has fair cold hardiness and widely described as the best of the Zoysia turf grasses. Its shade adaptation is fairly good but is slow growing in partial shade. It is said to be the best wear resistance of any turf grass. Zoysia tolerates heavy traffic but it is slow to recover from severe thinning. Can be found at: Utama Stadium, Kangar; very minimal number of fairways.
BERMUDAGRASS (more than 30 types)
Bermudagrass is a rhizomatous/stoloniferous, warm season turfgrass with a fine to medium leaf texture. It has good heat and drought tolerance and exhibits good wear tolerance. In contrast to zoysia, it can be established quickly, usually in six weeks. On the other hand, bermudagrass has poor cold and shade tolerance. It is a dark green, dense type of turf, with some varieties tolerating very low maintenance while other varieties produce lawns of exceptional beauty when given extra care. This type of turf grass has an extensive and deep root system. Best adapted to hot, dry or tropical climates and is recommended for residential and commercial landscapes, golf courses, sport fields, parks and recreation areas. This is an ideal turf for families with children and pets. Poor shade adaptation because this turf type requires full sun for most of the day to grow properly and should not be used in shady sites. Yet is has excellent wear resistance, as it withstands wear better than most grasses and can tolerate heavy traffic and when injured, recovers more rapidly than other grasses. Widely used at: KLFA Stadium (Kuala Lumpur); Batu Kawan Stadium (Penang); Sarawak Stadium (Kuching); Tan Sri Hassan Yunus Stadium, Larkin (Johor Baru); Shah Alam Stadium (Shah Alam); 95 percent golf courses in the peninsular use the various bermudagrass hybrids.
CHRONOLOGY (lead-up to returfing of National Stadium in Bukit Jalil)
May 2002: Before the prestigious Brazil friendly match prior to their fifth World Cup title, the Stadium Board had to resort to quick action to returf parts of the pitch.
July 2003: The Stadium Board returfed sections of the pitch with cowgrass ahead of the FAPL Asia Cup involving Chelsea, Newcastle United, Birmingham City and the national team.
December 2004: The pitch came under criticism again during the Tiger Cup.
GERMAN coach Karl Weigang, not one to mince his words, has no qualms in sticking to the tried and tested cowgrass as the best football surface in the country.
Adding his comments to the issue surrounding the choice of grass for the National Stadium pitch, Weigang said cowgrass had served the football fraternity well. Weigang has been working in Malaysia on and off since 1970s.
"Personally, I feel cowgrass is the grass suited to the Malaysian weather and conditions. Cowgrass is not only the most common but also the best type of grass. But it is also not a mere question of grass.
"Just like any human being, it needs air, water and food to live a healthy life and maintenance work on a turf field revolved around the three. The trouble in Malaysia is the grass at most stadia is not allowed to breathe properly. Every time it rains heavily, you will then see the dead grass 'swimming' on the turf. Whether it's a question of grooming and mowing, I don't really know. But the heavy usage will take its toll on any turf," said Weigang, who coached Malaysia from 1977 to 1981.
The Johor team manager, who is a mechanical engineer by training, pointed out that heavy usage also threatens to wreak havoc on the pitches.
"Unlike countries in Europe, Malaysian teams train and play at the same pitch. Come half time during match day, a group of people will enter the field and start patching up the holes to prevent bigger damage," said Weigang.
A turf consultant echoed Weigang's sentiments, saying instead of the broadleaf carpetgrass that is planted at Merdeka Stadium, Petaling Jaya Stadium and Darulmakmur Stadium, an option is the narrowleaf cowgrass or its scientific name, axonopus affinis.
"Affinis is a perennial, coarse-leaved, creeping grass which grows better on low, wet soils than other grasses. It will grow well in either sun or shade," said the consultant.
A former international player, however, said cowgrass belonged to history.
"Future generation of Malaysian players ought to play on a more sophisticated turf. Cowgrass has been our surface since Ghani Minhat's days," said the player.
Another turf consultant who has helped design a few golf courses in the country said narrowleaf cowgrass was a good option.
"However paspalum has been the talk of the town as the next turf and the grass of the 21st century. However, the Stadium Board are taking a big risk," said the consultant.