0 Life’s a Pitch

While the sports stars attract most of the publicity when it comes to the sport media, spare a thought for the hard working curators and ground staff. You'd be surprised how tirelessly they work to make sure the outfield turf and cricket pitches are in top condition for the professional athletes to show off their skills.

Cameron Hodgkins is a man who is always under enormous pressure to deliver. He is the chief curator at the MCG and is constantly confronted with difficult situations. A classic example of his testing job is when he and his team had to convert the ground from an AFL football setting into a world-class cricket venue.
New MCG curator Cameron Hodgkins hard at work ahead of the Boxing Day Test. Picture: George Salpigtidis
"The grand final finishes and the very next day we've excavated the centre (of the ground) and cleaned off the slab," Hodgkins explained. "We're then arranging for road permits and all those fun things to bring the 'drop-in' wickets in one by one. And we have got ten of those."

The whole process of re-arranging the centre of the ground takes around a week. The process of 'dropping in' the pitches is a large-scale production. It requires the closure of Brunton Avenue - the main thoroughfare next to the ground - and the use of cranes to lower the pitches into place.

Staff place the 'drop-in' wickets onto a concrete slab in the middle of the ground, while at the same time renovating the outfield. "It is our only real opportunity to get rid of a lot of organics that have accumulated during the cooler months and really set ourselves up for the following winter, rather than the current summer."

Currently, the MCG uses sand as its surface base with cool climate rye and couch grass placed on top, giving a similar affect to a golf green.

Hodgkins admits that trying to produce a quality surface for AFL matches is more difficult than it seems. "Quite often most people accept that a football ground is what it is. But now, with sports medicine and so forth, the turf has to comply with all the standards which the AFL has set. It has been a challenge for me."
Spare a thought for curators of local grounds who, because of the horrible drought, battle hard to try and keep an even covering of grass across a whole field, let alone trying to keep the turf green.

Unfortunately, Australia is heading towards what could possibly be the hottest, driest and deadliest summer in our history. With summer approaching, Hodgkins and his staff are preparing to cope with the intense Melbourne heat by using wetting agents.

The MCG, due to its hosting of professional sports, is allowed special considerations and receives some leeway from the State Government in terms of water restrictions. But Hodgkins is adamant that they will use their special water restrictions sensibly and with care.

"In the past we have often irrigated to evaporation. So we monitored what evaporation we got during the week and we'd irrigate to 110% evaporation, so it was a more than copious consumption. Now we irrigate to 75% evaporation, so that's a 35% saving right there and we are obviously conscious that if it doesn't need irrigating we don't do it."

A former curator of the Bellerive Oval in Hobart, Hodgkins says that while he's enjoyed his previous jobs, nothing compares to the aura and challenges of the MCG. "I guess it is probably the pinnacle of what I do in terms of being a curator," Hodgkins explained.

"Just being able to test myself and whether I could manage all the turf aspects and requirements of the MCG was certainly something that attracted me (to the job)." "I love what I did down at Bellerive, but it would be rare for someone to pass up the opportunity to be in charge at the MCG."

So this summer, whether you are taking the field or watching from the couch, think about all the hard work that curators, like Hodgkins, put into their own respective grounds. Because, unlike their bat and ball wielding colleagues, the curators' work often goes unnoticed.

Ben Waterworth is a Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University. He writes regularly for upstart about AFL and cricket.

Source & More: www.upstart.net.au

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