Tell us about yourself: Your personality; your love of cricket; how you got into this profession?
I played a lot of cricket when I was younger – at school, club and then club cricket in the UK. I used to volunteer at Kingsmead in Durban whilst still at school, and luckily Phil Russell and Wilson Ngobese took me under their wings and gave me a good understanding of what it took to prepare a pitch. In the UK I had to work on the ground in the mornings, coach kids in the afternoon and play on the weekends, so it was all cricket and I loved it. But when I realised I wasn’t going to be the next Jonty Rhodes, becoming a groundsman seemed like a good way to somehow stay involved in the game.
What’s the best part about your job? What’s the worst part about your job?
I wouldn’t do very well sitting at a desk or talking to people all day! So I guess the best part of my job is being outside most of the time, working with my hands and sometimes being barefoot. I also love working with something that I can tend to, and watch it grow. I really enjoy trying to manipulate the conditions of the pitch to suit each particular type of format that is played.
Pitch preparation is not an exact science, so the unpredictability of the outcome can sometimes be exciting. It’s also great to be able to watch so much live cricket. The worst part of it is probably the pressure and the media attention during the cricket season, especially around the time of international fixtures. Once the match starts you can’t change the condition of the pitch, so if you get it wrong it can be difficult to watch.
What is the best pitch that you have ever prepared?
I consider myself a traditionalist, so I much prefer Test and 4- day cricket but it’s difficult to single out a particular game, any game where the pitch is hardly mentioned by the commentators generally means it’s a good pitch so that does it for me. Our job is to provide the players with the perfect stage in order for them to execute their skills, so that is always the aim. The last game at the Wanderers when the stadium was full was Pink Day, SA vs England in 2019, my fist Pink Day – that was an amazing atmosphere so I probably won’t forget that one for a while.
What are your responsibilities?
I look after the pitch, the outfield and the practice facilities, and all that comes with making sure that these are always kept up to the standard of an international test facility – so that also includes leading my team of ground-staff, maintaining the fleet of equipment, ensuring the drainage and irrigation systems are up to scratch, and so on. I know there are plans to turn the stadium into a multi-purpose sports facility, so I look forward to being a part of that process.
Talk to us about the work you do outside of Imperial Wanderers – for instance at other clubs and development structures. What are the main challenges / issues other clubs experience in the maintenance of decent pitches? How can we improve this so as not to lose clubs and thus talent?
This is a big question and a bit of a passion that I have – I believe that without a commitment to grass roots development of people that are able to do this job, the clubs and smaller grounds, and even the bigger ones, are always going to struggle to keep up the required standard.
The standard of the facilities is generally not great, except for a handful, and I believe you need good facilities in order to produce good cricketers. Aside from finding dedicated and talented young people and training them well, adequate funding for equipment would also go a long way. This is something that we’re working on improving at Lions Cricket.
What are the basic rules to preparing a good pitch (one of international standard) – specifically from what you’ve learnt at the Imperial Wanderers?
A lot of the work is done in post and pre-season, so if this is not done correctly it can impact the season. You need to give yourself enough time to prepare, 7 – 10 days for a 1st class match, weather conditions can be unpredictable so I’m constantly watching the weather forecast. The Wanderers is a unique pitch, in that it cracks quickly and substantially, so moisture content is key.
The pitch is also considered to be one of the quickest and bounciest in world cricket, so there is generally always a result and great value for batsmen and bowlers. I’ve learnt that things can change quickly at the Wanderers, a team can go from 120 for 2 to 150 for 6 in the blink of an eye, so you can never sit back and relax and think it’s a good pitch!
Talk to us about your staff. Who are they, how is it a team effort?
I have a hardworking and dedicated team of ground-staff who work most weekends from September to April, we are often the first ones at the ground and the last ones to leave. The same amount of effort and time is put into every fixture and training session, whether it’s amateur or professional, and that is the standard we set for ourselves. Each staff member has their responsibilities in and outside of the stadium and all have gained enough experience to carry out their duties without fuss.