As we all draw breath after the unbelievable scenes at the Home of Cricket yesterday, we surely must celebrate team-work. From the squads from 10 nations whose efforts over 7 weeks came down a single ball, to the support infrastructure, the ‘Cricketeers’, the media, the crowds (especially) - and the grounds teams who contributed massively to the overall quality of play, the safety of players and the presentation of playing surfaces across the host venues. They were an integral part of a successful 2019 Cricket World Cup, whatever the outcome.
Which brings me to the boorish and insensitive remarks of former Test opener Mark Butcher who described pitches at some World Cup games as “Garbage and uneven two-paced shit heaps”. I’m not sure, whether his words were deliberately provocative, headline grabbers, but they demonstrate a lack of appreciation of the 24-7 commitment of grounds teams during the season, often working round the clock to ‘get the game on’ in sometimes trying conditions.
Butcher singled out Edgbaston during the India v New Zealand semi-final. Head groundsman Gary Barwell quite rightly took umbrage, but ask the crowd, ask the viewers and even those players not seeking to make the pitch a factor, they will have participated in and witnessed one of the most exciting games of the tournament. And isn’t that what it’s all about?
But nobody could have predicted that the tension of the Edgbaston game could have been surpassed by the Final. I’ve been an MCC member since 1963, and the ground and pitches have always complemented Lord’s status as the undisputed and iconic Home of Cricket. Building on a lifetime of single-minded commitment by Mick Hunt, this was Karl McDermott’s baptism, and how he rose to the challenge. Perhaps the Irish connection between Captain Morgan and Karl runs deeper than we thought. Lord’s has never looked more magnificent. But there will be no respite, a Test Match against Ireland looms next week, and the Ashes Test three weeks later (not to mention a couple of 20-20 Blasts in between). Grounds teams are as adept with coping with pressure as the players themselves.
Glory be that we still play cricket on grass pitches. I played club cricket on matting in Holland during the 1970’s - and it was boring. Grass pitches are living, breathing, organic entities, susceptible to climatic conditions, which are then micro-managed by skilled turf professionals. The World Cup was played in English conditions. Pitches in the Caribbean and on the sub-Continent have their different characteristics, but for a balanced view look to Australia where Cricket NSW has slammed plans to install a drop-pitch at the iconic Sydney Cricket Ground – at the request of the ground-sharing AFL Sydney Swans.
Cricket NSW chief Executive Lee Germon says it will make cricket ‘boring and unattractive and remove the renowned characteristic of the SCG as being spin friendly”.
He adds, “Having a diverse range of pitches across Australia has been an integral part of our game for 100 years, and is the major cause of producing world-class players who need to experience a range of pitches at major matches testing the cricketers complete skill-sets.”
Isn’t that the truth? What we witnessed at the World Cup was the versatility of top-class players adapting to conditions – no more so than during the Final. They really are super-stars, many of them switching seamlessly from frenetic 20-over games to 5-day Test Matches where the pitch quality does come into play over the longer period.
Purile criticism of pitches ignores stupendous individual feats during this World Cup which has thrilled spectators – and been a real tribute to the groundsmanship community who are often unable to express their real feelings in the face of unfair comment.
FOOTNOTE: Because of recent knee operation I was unable to use my Pavilion ticket yesterday, but colleague Steve Gibbs was there (and is in recovery today), whilst the pictures were taken by my son-in-law Darren D’Costa.