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The Grounds Management Association (GMA) host a National Grounds Week, which is taking place this week (20-26 March). To mark this, we are celebrating some of the great work that is happening at the club grounds around the county. If you are interested in finding out more information about grounds work, and any potential courses that are running, please contact Raj Nath.

We spoke to Lord's Head Groundsman Karl McDermott to wrap up Grounds Week. Watch his interview here.

Middlesex Cricket Pitch Support Network’s supporting of the Grounds Management Associations (GMA) Groundsweek has given us the opportunity to appreciate all the hard and challenging work ground staff do to ensure we get to play cricket, “No Pitch – No Game.”

It is vital, as clubs, players, and supporters of the game, that we understand the effort and work that goes on to produce a pitch, square and outfield for us to enjoy the game that we love. It has been wonderful to hear from ground staff around the county, and reading the varied stories of those that are new to the industry, and those that have gained years of experience. I too started from a young age helping the groundsman at my club. I hope the insights given this week by Chris, Andy, Tom, Tushal, and Karl will inspire more youngsters to take up a role in Grounds Management.

The Middlesex Cricket Pitch Support Network offers support and guidance to our clubs and ground staff in the county via our GMA trained County Pitch Advisors. Should your club require any support, or if you are interested in attending any of our grounds workshops in the future, please contact Raj Nath [email protected].

Tom Hudson is another young groundsman, who, at 23, is the current Head Groundsman at Teddington CC. He has also recently become a County Pitch Advisor.

How did you get involved in being a groundsman?

I have been in the industry since I was 17 when I started at my local cricket club, Eastcote CC. I am now 23, and see myself having a long career in the industry. After working at Eastcote, I went on to take a role at Surrey County Cricket Club as a member of the grounds team. When I was at the Oval I learnt how to prepare a ground to achieve the high standards required for County cricket, which I have carried with me since.

I am currently in my third groundsman role, as Head Groundsman at Teddington Cricket Club & Teddington Athletic Football Club in Richmond. I began playing cricket at Eastcote when I was about 4 years old, so I have always been involved in the sport, but I took the leap to turn my hobby into a career which has been really successful for me. I love the idea of being able to be outdoors all day, learning new techniques and processing information, and the face that you are always learning something new. Most importantly, however, the best part of my job is seeing the end product each match day after all the hard work that I have put in leading up to the game.

What support do you get from your club?

At Teddington CC we have recently set up a grounds committee, which allows the management team and I to communicate about new ideas, any improvements that are required to improve the facilities, and to allow me the opportunity to articulate any new concerns I may have regarding the ground. Because of this, I feel very supported by my employers.

What is it like to be a County Pitch Advisor?

Recently I have added an extra opportunity to my role, where I can accumulate even more knowledge about producing the best pitches possible, by becoming County Pitch Advisor for Middlesex. This has allowed me the chance to develop my knowledge, whilst also providing a space to connect with others within the grounds community who can share their knowledge and experiences with me.

Tushal Nath, is the Head Groundsman at Chiswick CC. At just 19 years of age, Tush is one of the youngest Groundsmen in Middlesex.

How did you get involved in being a groundsman?

From a young age, I started to work on the ground at Kenton as a volunteer helping my dad who looked after the grounds there. I would go during school holidays and, when I was a bit older, sometimes went after school. During the Covid lockdown I started to explore the options of going on a Groundsman’s apprenticeship for when I finished school the year after.

Because there were not many people my age who wanted to be a Groundsman, the apprenticeship sadly was not able to run. Luckily, I was able to enroll on to a Level 1 Groundsman’s Course early in 2022, and when I left school I started to work part-time on the ground at Kenton. In January I started a full-time Groundsman role at Chiswick Cricket Club, which has given me an exciting career progression and the chance to learn new skills at a multisports club.

Being new to the role, what/who inspired you to take up the role?

I would be lying if I did not mention my dad as my inspiration, along with his mentor Alan Digby. I remember when I was about 3 years old my dad taking me to the ground with Alan, where I admired them for the time that they took to look after the ground. After seeing the hard work that goes in to it, whenever I went to the ground I would always pick up the rubbish I would find lying around as it made me feel like I had done something to help them. I also had the good fortune to meet Karl McDermott, the Head Groundsman at Lord’s, at a groundman’s event in 2021. I was inspired by his story, of how he also started at an early age, which helped me gain confidence in my journey. I would love to learn more from senior groundsmen, like Karl and the County Pitch Advisors, to help me continue to progress.

What support do you get from your club?

Since moving to Chiswick CC, the club has fully supported me in my role by ensuring I have the right equipment to conduct the tasks. Being a club that has winter usage, with football and rugby being played on the outfield, the club is always supportive of the decisions that I have made. With the weather that we have had, I have needed to cancel a couple of scheduled football matches, but the club is extremely supportive of this as they understand the long-term requirements of the pitch needing to maintain a high standard.

And we asked the Chiswick chair, Bernard Hughes, about the level of support that the club gives to Tushal and the needs of a Groundsman...

We are delighted to have welcomed Tushal as Groundsman at Chiswick CC, and look forward to a long and successful partnership. The club committee is right behind Tushal and is investing heavily in new grounds equipment to help him do the best possible job, as that only benefits the club. The facilities committee is in touch with him on a day-to-day basis, to help Tushal build relationships with our partner organisations at the ground. Tushal has already impressed us all with his quiet determination and we know he is going to become a top-level groundsman.

Hamzah Khan, Director of Cricket at Wycombe House CC. They received the highest outfield grade, and third highest pitch rating, in the Middlesex County Cricket League last year.

What prompted the club to get a Short Pitch Report done?

The decision to commission a Pitch Report was driven by a combination of factors. Firstly, we were experiencing low square and outfield scores, which underscored the need for improvements to our ground. Secondly, the COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on our team of volunteer groundsmen and contractors, leading to the abandonment of a match due to an unsafe pitch. It became clear that our ground needed significant enhancements to align with our club's vision for excellence in all areas. To identify areas for improvement, we commissioned a Short Pitch Report by Chris Wilkins, County Pitch Advisor, and an in-depth PQS Report carried out by Daniel Bradley, a Regional Pitch Advisor.

Once you received the report what did you do with the recommendations?

After reviewing the report's recommendations, we appointed Ian Pope, an experienced groundsman who previously worked at Sunbury CC, to lead the improvement process as our groundsman on a part-time basis. Through working closely with Ian, and with advice from Chris, we developed a comprehensive plan to implement the necessary improvements. We invested in our end-of-season renovation work on both the cricket table and outfield, which included deep scarification of the whole square, over-seeding, verti-draining, and fertilising the outfield.

To aid in the improvement process, we made strategic investments in machinery within our budget constraints. While some of the recommendations were not immediately feasible due to budget limitations, we have prioritised them in our future plans.

How has the work carried out improved your ground and what are you doing differently now?

Thanks to the hard work and expertise of Ian Pope, advice from Chris Wilkins, and the recommendations from the reports, we have transformed our ground over the last 3 years. In the 2022 season, we received the top ranking for outfield grades and third for pitch rankings in the Middlesex County Cricket League (MCCL) Pitch report, which has rankings across all Middlesex clubs. This significant achievement is a testament to the improvements made and the dedication of our whole club. As a result, our efforts have contributed to significant growth in both our junior and senior sections, improved the overall atmosphere of our club, and promoted exceptional games of cricket.

We remain committed to implementing the recommendations to maintain our high standards and provide a safe and enjoyable playing experience for everyone on and off the field.

Andy Carswell, is the Head Groundsman at Hornsey CC. He has experience of working on grounds in New Zealand and Scotland, with both countries providing different challenges to those he faces in north London.

How did you get involved in being a groundsman?
I got involved in groundwork when Kari and I moved over to Hamilton (New Zealand) in 2017. I was previously a leisure club manager, and when we moved to Hamilton I wanted to do something completely different and out my comfort zone. In January 2017 South Africa were touring, and Seddon Park was given extra games due to an issue at another ground. Hamilton City Council run the facilities at Seddon Park and FMG stadium, and it was great to get to prepare two very different venues – one cricket and one rugby. I was asked to help out from January with all the games we had (domestic and international).

I was only meant to stay on until the end of the season in April, but got kept on to help with the preparation ahead of the British and Irish Lions tour. I went from being a casual worker in 2017, and only allowed to use the strimmer and push mower, to going full time a year later. It was great to produce training wickets for both domestic and international cricketers, what a buzz!

What work are you doing now ahead of the season?
At this moment at Hornsey CC, I’m doing a lot of machine maintenance. This is from making sure that all units are sharp and ready for use, making sure all equipment is working properly, and doing as much servicing as possible on the machines. I’m writing a pitch plan for the season ahead so that I know what strips to prepare ahead of the games and the location they’ll be on the square. I will also include a fertiliser programme, with any spraying and aeration work that needs done. Over the winter I spent most of my time painting the clubhouse and working on the new website.

What support do you get from your club?

I am very fortunate at the club that they listen to what advice that I give them around requirements for the ground. We are lucky that I have help from members who give up their time to help with the groundwork as well, and people are always on hand to answer any questions as I adapt to a new ground.

What are the different challenges you have faced overseas as a groundsman?
During the New Zealand summer it was very hot and humid. That produced challenges of its own, things like watching the weather radar for heat showers which could just happen out of nowhere. Leaving covers down for too long could cause high disease pressure, so we had to spray a lot of fungicides to help prevent disease. At Seddon it was a unique ground, as the nine wicket main square had two different clay types. One side had Patumahoe clay and the other was a Kakanui Clay, which both respond differently to conditions in Hamilton. With our practice area being behind the main ground, it creates its own micro climate which comes into play alongside the two different clay types.

In Scotland, the biggest challenge was the weather and equipment. When you work at an international ground you take for granted that you’re given the best of gear to do your job with. The tough part in coming to a club ground is the financial pressures on a club, maintaining the machines you’ve got, buying all the materials required – it’s a challenge. At the end of the day the books have to balance! It’s a good challenge to make the ground look good and pitches to play well, that why we all do the job right…..

Firstly, we spoke to Chris Wilkins, who is a County Pitch Advisor in Middlesex.

How did you get involved in being a groundsman?

In 2006, I was working in the motor industry and looking for a change. Having sought advice and guidance from my late father, he threw out a few ideas one of which was to be a groundsman. He had previously played as a Pro cricketer which aided him in being included, helping at the grounds.

There was an opportunity within the Local Authority for ground staff. I was fortunate enough to work with a team who had lots of experience and were keen to show and share their knowledge. We worked on bowls greens, rugby, football, and cricket, which covered all aspects of ground work from the pathways, hedges, surrounds, ditches, marking out, pitch preparation, end of season work plus winter works.

How long have you been a groundsman?

The groundsman job came up at my local cricket club from which I took the position and started to further my knowledge in the maintenance and preparation of a cricket facility. Through making mistakes, learning the hard way and the help from my father, I was able to learn day by day what was required of me. I also took time to attend local workshops, research using the internet, speak with contractors and more importantly engage with my GMA Regional pitch advisor for information.

How did you get into Pitch Advising?

As time went on the Regional Pitch Advisor saw how keen I was to learn and develop so he threw out the idea of becoming a Pitch Advisor, to help further my education, development and to help others. The concept of helping grass root clubs, training, developing sites for the game did appeal to me and so my role began assisting him on visits which later I then started to carry out myself and write up the reports.

With the desire to further enhance my knowledge I wrote to various cricket boards overseas and was able to secure experience. This has helped me to broaden my knowledge of soils, loams, warm season grass and cold season grass plus the added benefits of management of facilities, health and safety of venues for holding ODIs, Test Matches, and a World Cup.

What does a Pitch Advisor do?

The role of a Pitch Advisor is to give an honest account of the ground, what they can see from entering the venue, looking at the outfield and the cricket table. Asking relevant questions to the problems at hand to gain some history and understanding to then possibly inspect the surface or sub surface.

You are bit of a detective gathering clues which will hopefully assist the Club, participants, to assist the ground staff with a report of your findings to then give a brief of options to improve the relevant situation. This could require a practical process manually or the use of machinery, development of staff training, funding through governing bodies, a program of works over several years to looking at striking a balance so not to excessively over use the facility which incurs additional costs.

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