They have mostly remained unsung and the hard work put in by the ground staff is not a priority for most cricket administrators. If they don’t work, the match does not happen. It is as simple as that. Even in this exacting period of lockdown, there are some dedicated ground staff members who are silently going about their job. “We don’t know what will happen to the 2020-21 season, but we have to keep the preparations going,” noted cricketer-coach-curator Daljit Singh told Sportstar .
The board may have put a stop to his services, but the veteran curator continues to look after the stadium in Mohali with the same passion that has marked his more than two-decade old tenure with the game as a “groundsman.”
Daljit brought dignity to the profession of pitch-making and ground upkeep. “They were addressed as maalis (gardeners). Now they are called curators and groundsmen. They are an integral part of the game. Without them you can’t have cricket,” he emphasised.
Daljit, with proper permission from the authorities, reports every evening at the stadium. “I go alone, make observations, and leave instructions to the staff (six men at a time) to be carried out the next morning. They maintain social distancing and wear masks. We have 17 pitches in all to look after with proper watering, brushing and grass mowing. It is a laborious exercise even though we have the equipment. Sports fields and nurseries need daily attention.”
Daljit confirmed that some associations like Mumbai, Kerala and Kolkata are striving to attend to the ground work at their respective stadiums. “At the most you need six people and they can come in batches. In any case, there is no match preparation, no match-pitch preparation, no pitches for the nets. We are concentrating on watering and periodic mowing of the grass.”
The worst-placed is Delhi where the association has not taken any steps on working on the pitch and the field.
As Daljit explained, “this period is known as the growing season. In June, we have to mow the field ahead of the season. The outfield has to be mowed twice a month and the pitch shaved four times a month. Summer cricket is mostly local cricket, but we have to be ready for domestic cricket. The IPL (Indian Premier League) has been postponed but there is domestic cricket to look ahead.”
As an alternative to natural turf, Daljit suggested the use of artificial surfaces. “If you ask me, artificial pitches can be a very good option. They give reasonable bounce and there is no deterioration factor. You get perfect deliveries and perfect shots. Yes, it can be a different experience, but it can be considered in these extraordinary times. There is no maintenance cost involved once you lay an artificial pitch. It costs anything between ₹2.5 lakh and ₹3 lakh. Even the ICC (International Cricket Council) uses artificial pitches to promote the game in smaller countries.”
Daljit would not mind cricket returning to matting surfaces. “Why not? We have had Test matches on matting pitches. A lot of first-class cricket in the 1950s was played on matting surfaces. Believe me, matting can be great for junior cricket, I would recommend matting pitches.”
At 80, Daljit displays the same admirable passion that has marked his more than two decades of work with the stadium in Mohali. “I remain a student of the game and cricket, for me, is a way of life,” he says.