COVID-19: Ground reality in times of lockdown

With the COVID-19 pandemic bringing cricket to a standstill, most state associations in the country have minimal staff working to keep the grounds in good condition.

File photo: A view of the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai   -  PRASHANT NAKWE

Usually, around this time of the year, the state cricket associations get busy in planning for the forthcoming domestic season. The top officials make sure they chalk out a budget, come up with a proper strategy and also start preparing the grounds for the long season ahead.

That’s how it has always been for all the affiliated state units of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). While the eight venues -- Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Kolkata and Mohali -- remain busy with the Indian Premier League, the other grounds across the country get ready for the long domestic season.

But this time, things are different. With the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic bringing the world to a standstill, all the cricketing activities, too, have come to a grinding halt. However, most of the associations are trying their best to ensure that the grounds are looked after on a regular basis, albeit with minimal staff.

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As one of the seasoned groundsmen mentioned, it is ‘absolutely necessary’ to water the ground regularly, so that things are ‘at least’ under control. And the associations are taking efforts to keep things rolling.

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A view of the Eden Gardens under lights during the Pink-ball Test between India and Bangladesh   -  K.R. DEEPAK

Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) secretary, Snehasish Ganguly, however, admitted that the extended lockdown has made it extremely difficult for the state association to take care of all its local grounds in Maidan. He, however, insisted that the CAB has taken every initiative to take care of its three major grounds -- the Eden Gardens, Jadavpur University ground in Salt Lake and the CAB Academy in Kalyani.

“As far as Eden Gardens, Jadavpur University ground and Kalyani are concerned, things are very much under control. The maalis stay on the (premises), so that’s not an issue. The major issue is with the grounds where we play our domestic league cricket. As these are open grounds in Maidan, none of the maalis are allowed to go there due to restrictions,” Ganguly -- a former Bengal cricketer and the elder brother of BCCI chief Sourav Ganguly -- told Sportstar.

Clouds of uncertainty

The CAB usually conducts its local tournaments around this time. But with the grounds out of bounds, there are clouds of uncertainty over these tournaments. “We normally have the play-offs for the local tournaments. The relegation round matches are also played around this time. But now, everything has come to a halt and even we don’t know how things will pan out,” Ganguly said.

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Saurashtra captain Jaydev Unadkat pays tribute to the SCA Stadium pitch after the Ranji Trophy final   -  VIJAY SONEJI

Things are quite similar in Rajkot as well. With the groundsmen stuck at home, the Saurashtra Cricket Association (SCA) has roped in security guards to help at the SCA Stadium in Khandheri. “There is total lockdown. We are not even getting our groundsmen at the stadium, so we are managing things with the help of our security personnel,” SCA secretary, Himanshu Shah, said. “We have two or three security personnel, who just water the ground. The groundsmen live in nearby villages and towns, and we are also not encouraging them to travel so far. It is important to stay safe,” Shah said.

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The SCA was supposed to host the second edition of the Saurashtra Premier League in May-June. But there is no clarity on that front as well. “We will wait for the government and the BCCI’s guidelines,” Shah said, not elaborating further.

Watering the grounds

The Mumbai Cricket Association has three facilities -- the Wankhede Stadium, the MCA-Bandra-Kurla Complex and the Sachin Tendulkar Gymkhana in Kandivli. “We have a few maalis, who stay close to these grounds, so twice or thrice a week, they go and water the grounds. That’s how we have been managing so far,” MCA secretary, Sanjay Naik, said. The other iconic grounds -- Azad Maidan or Shivaji Park -- are being looked after by the local clubs.

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File photo: Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru is watered and being taken care of thanks to the groundstaff staying at the ground itself   -  K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

“We have got our groundsmen at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, so we are watering the ground and taking care of basic things for now,” Karnataka State Cricket Association treasurer, Vinay Mruthyunjaya, said, making it clear that it is necessary to water the ground regularly, “except when it rains”.

After early jitters due to the lockdown, the KSCA has been able to take care of things in both the grounds -- at the Chinnaswamy Stadium and also at the facility in Alur.

Even the Punjab Cricket Association had initial troubles, but now, it has managed to ‘at least’ keep a few personnel to turn on the sprinklers. “We have a new stadium coming up, so most of the groundsmen are there only and things are being taken care of,” PCA secretary, Puneet Bali, said.

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The association has pledged to offer the IS Bindra International Stadium facility to the state government in case of any emergency. “The officials are advised to visit the stadium if it is absolutely necessary. It is a challenging time, but we need to be prepared,” Bali said.

Chennai’s M. Chidambaram Stadium, the Motera Stadium in Ahmedabad and the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Hyderabad have groundsmen, who stay there, so that has allowed the respective associations to take care of things. Even centres like Jaipur or Indore have managed basic upkeep and maintenance. However, some of the seasoned administrators fear the consequences if the lockdown is further extended.

BCCI monitoring the situation

While the state bodies are hoping for brighter days, the BCCI, too, is monitoring the situation. “Once we have a clarity on the window available for the domestic season, post lockdown, we will be able to take a call,” BCCI treasurer Arun Dhumal told this publication.

As per the original plan, the BCCI was supposed to begin its domestic season in August, but even that looks uncertain now. “For now, the state bodies are not too sure when they will be able to resume fully. We are in constant touch (with the state associations), and once we have a clearer picture, our team (BCCI’s cricket operations team) will work in tandem with all the stakeholders,” Dhumal said.

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With a long and packed domestic calendar, how much of a challenge will it be for the BCCI to get things in place?

“It’s quite a big challenge. We organise close to 2,500 games. With this current lockdown, we have to ensure that the (grounds) are properly maintained to host (matches) post lockdown. That will incur huge manpower. In case the grounds are not in shape, it’s a big task to bring back to shape. If its regularly maintained then that’s not a problem, but otherwise, it’s a major challenge for the ground staff as well,” Dhumal said, adding that the BCCI team is in touch with the state bodies and is taking steps depending on their feedback.

Last season, the BCCI conducted a record 2,035 games across age groups in men’s and women’s category. This time around, with the COVID-19 pandemic, it will be a challenge for the BCCI to accommodate so many fixtures in a rather limited window. 

The stakeholders would hope the grass turns greener soon!

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