"Never again"… they were my words following our last ICC Tournament - the first time such an event had been held on the Isle of Man. Why "never again"? I don't recall much of that week, but I do remember tiredness, an awful lot of hard work, not enough sleep, horrible weather, and what seemed like 'Groundhog Day' when it came to running on and off with the covers repeatedly.
For me personally, I was also only a couple of months into the position of Acting Head Groundsman - I knew that our performance in the tournament may well lead to a permanent promotion, or failure to make the grade; I won't lie - I was very nervous during the build up to the tournament. Fortunately, for me, the umpires and organisers must have seen my apprehension from the off, as to whether we would get it right, despite a deep determination and eagerness to go the extra mile to make sure it ran smoothly - they rallied around my team and I, making sure that we knew where we had to be, and when - we were all strangers to one another, yet I recall an overwhelming feeling of teamwork and togetherness. I look back on that time fondly, as it was far from what I was expecting.
So, after all of the effort that went into the tournament prep, and upon reflection (when I eventually woke up from a well deserved sleep!), I asked myself two questions; 'Did we pull it off', and 'Was it worth it?' Well, the answers soon followed. I look back with great pride at what I considered to be a job well done. Secondly, 'Did we pull it off?' Well, that answer came in December, when we were approached to see if we would be interested in hosting another tournament in 2011… there's all of the confirmation that I needed to suggest that we did get it right.
Further confirmation that we had done alright was made in September, when I was called into a meeting with our Bursar, where he offered me the permanent position of Head Groundsman - as it transpires, much of the decision to offer me the position was based on the performance of our team during the tournament, and the feedback we received… I have a lot to be thankful for.
So, many meetings later, and here we find ourselves ten days out from the start of our second ICC Tournament - the u19 Division 2 European Championships. Granted, not full international cricket, but this game is all about levels - two years ago, we hosted school matches and local league cricket - we have come a long way. I now ask myself, where will we be in another two years, or five years time, and I look forward with great anticipation to what the future holds.
Anyway, enough stories and reminiscing, as I already talk too much as it is…
So, the first day of prep starts. I look out of my window… I can't see the hills to the west of our grounds and, as I look out to sea to the south of us, I can't see the horizon. This means only one thing… we're in for it (rain, that is, and lots of it!). At this stage, I am guessing that this isn't going to be any easier for us than the last time round.
Anyway, the show must go on - pitches have already been indentified, the rain is coming hard, fast and horizontal and the squares are too wet to work on. The covers come out, and the two pitches for the first day's play are covered. We have allocated six wickets across two squares - I like to keep a spare pitch prepared on each square, just in case something goes wrong! Following the covers, and a bit of running around, it's time to call it a day, so I go home, and read through the tournament playing conditions, then read them again, (then walk the dogs) then read them again, email the tournament organiser with last minute panic questions - all in an effort to ensure that the tournament runs as smoothly as possible. I would never forgive myself if I left any stone unturned.
Day 2: Hmmmn, more wind, more rain, and the all too frequent sight of dark clouds peering over the hills with a look of menace about them. A quick check of the forecast suggests that the clouds will clear, to bring sunshine and isolated showers. That's more like it, something that we can work with.
Plans are made for the day, and all staff are instructed accordingly. My assistants are tasked with repairing a set of cricket nets which have come down with the strong winds overnight, and making sure the site is looking tidy for our 150 or so guests. I make a beeline for the two squares which will be in play for the tournament, armed with a mower, verticutter, string lines, tape measures… you know the drill. Off come the covers and the wickets are cut to 10mm. The sward is thinned out with the verticutter, followed by six passes with the heavy roller - this is repeated on both wickets, which are then re-covered.
Day 3: What's this… no rain? The hoses come out, and flood another two wickets to be prepared, and works continue to thin the sward, and consolidate the two wickets already under prep. The rest of the staff are working hard to ensure that the rest of the site is a well presented as possible. Things are coming together nicely, or they were until late afternoon, when we find our trusty Auto-roller has rolled its last wicket. Disaster! Fifty odd years old isn't a bad innings (pardon the pun) for a roller though. Several phone calls later, that disaster is averted, and a substitute roller is brought in.
Day 4: Rain! Everything under cover in the morning. New practice nets arrive to accommodate the 150 or so players, who, going by last year's experience, seem to have boundless energy and want to spend every spare minute they have in the nets. Work goes ahead to erect the nets, the rain stops, so the covers come off and the team is split up, to allow work to recommence on the squares, and the remaining staff continue to erect the nets. Today, I get the feeling that things are coming together.
Day 5: Forecast is good, covers come off, and out we go, armed with verticutters, mowers and a roller. 10.00am… run for cover… rain again! Extra sight screens arrive, and these are erected whilst the squares are too wet to work on. Lots more running around, sourcing and fitting extra scoreboards for the Duckworth Lewis system that is in operation this year. It seems like the role of our groundstaff isn't solely restricted to the grounds! Following lunch, the rain has cleared, the sun is shining, and work recommences on the pitches that are dry enough, with further thinning of the sward, and rolling taking place across the four wickets that are now under preparation. Covers are set out again, but two wickets are left uncovered, in the hope that the weather is kind, and allow them to dry a little overnight.
Day 6: Sunshine and a drying wind to go with it… just what I was hoping for! Prep starts on the final two pitches, and work continues on the remaining four, consisting of further thinning of the sward, rolling, and careful management of the covers to control the drying. At this stage I'm thinking that, whilst we are making good progress, we are only four days from our first two games, yet there still seems to be so much work to do.
Day 7: A warm and windy day - no sign of any rain. I get an early start as there is still an awful lot of work to do. As we now have six wickets at different stages of preparation, and also nine practice bays spread across two sets of nets, we seem to be here, there and everywhere, moving covers from one pitch to another, verticutting, brushing, cutting, rolling, and that's just the pitches. Intensive work is also taking place on the squares and the outfields. Then there is the small matter of the league match that we have to set up for today, too! Looking at the pitches for the tournament, I am happy with how the ones for the first day's play are shaping up.
Day 8: A good start to today - the sight of the newest addition to our fleet - an Imants Rotoknife, a machine I have had my eye on for a number of years - coming down our drive takes the weariness from my eyes and brings a beaming smile to my face. No time to play with it however, as there is still an awful lot of work to do. Efforts must be doubled.
Again, the boys are working very hard across the site, and I'm busy on the squares, putting the final preparation into the first pitches to be used, and progressing with the other pitches. As it always seems to happen, disaster strikes at the most inopportune time, an incident which renders one of my assistants unable to continue working, and a trip to the hospital is the order of the day for him.
To make matters worse, the one moment that I have not been looking forward to is upon us. Stump stickers! For anyone who has ever had to put these on stumps, you will know what I mean. I recall sitting up at 2.00am last year, on the eve of our first match, trying to put them on straight. Here we go again!
Representatives from ICC Europe also arrive for the ground inspection, which they seem happy with (that's a relief!!), and our first guests start to arrive, in the shape of some coaches. Players start to arrive tomorrow, so we have a very busy day scheduled. It is a huge effort across many departments (transport, catering, accommodation, cleaning etc.). I head home as the sun sets - armed with stump stickers and new stumps - wondering what tomorrow will bring.
Day 9: The eve of the tournament is upon us, and we have, what must be, the hottest day of the year so far. Players, coaches and umpires start to arrive 'en masse' and there is a definite feeling of excitement in the air. There is an awful lot of 'meeting and greeting'; many faces I recognise from last year, along with many new faces, and interesting people to meet. This is one part of the event that I really enjoy.
Once everyone is settled in, the players are straight out on to the fields for practice drills, the nets are full, and our newly installed astroturf wicket is also in use. It really is a spectacle to see so many players spread across the fields. Coaches and players are also looking at the pitch, and the inevitable question is asked repeatedly "what's it going to play like?" I always try to avoid answering this question, so I swerve it by talking about the weather!
I am busy finalising the pitch prep, and I'm delighted to say, the site is looking better than I could have hoped for. Everything is put under cover for the evening, so it's home time for me, albeit on the wrong side of sunset, yet the young players are still out in the nets, practice drills on the outfields, having a kick around with a rugby ball etc.
One last job for the day - enhancing international relations by dropping a couple of coaches off at the local Chinese takeaway on my way home. I can honestly say that, as I leave the site, I am delighted that we have 'stage 1' complete, and I'm looking forward to the start of play tomorrow. The only thing left for this evening is food and Radox!
Match day 1: Game on… or should I say both games on! Another beautiful day, and final pre match preparation takes place, tidying up of any loose ends, before the start of the matches.
Today, we host Gibraltar v Spain on KWC1, and Denmark v Belgium on KWC2. Everything seems to go well with the games, but I am concerned about the low scoring on KWC1. I question whether the pitch is playing poorly, or if it is just a case of good bowling, poor batting, or a combination of both.
We have a fantastic game on KWC2, with Denmark racking up 302 runs on their way to victory. Following the matches, everything is cleaned up and put under cover again for tomorrow.
Match day 2: Tough day today. Only one game today, to be played on KWC2. Heavy rain through the night and, as I arrive to work at 6.00am, the rain is heavy, and things aren't looking good. Fortunately, everything is under cover, but work to the wicket is required to get it ready for play.
Each time I see a break in the clouds, the covers come off, only for the heavens to open again. Eventually, we had to concede, and the match was delayed for one hour. Fortunately, the weather improved, and we got the game on, albeit an hour late. Spain v Italy today. The Italians made the final last year, just losing out to the Isle of Man team.
The Spanish bowling is superb in the first innings, and likewise for the Italians in the second innings. The Spanish narrowly miss out in a tight, low scoring game. Reports come in that the pitch was a little slow and inconsistent - those problems have been identified, and a rolling programme of works is underway to resolve a thatch issue and root breaks. With that said, however, this was the same wicket that Denmark scored 302 on yesterday… funny old game.
I recall three high points of today; the young Gibraltar team taking a dip in the freezing cold Irish sea, on the instructions of their coaches following a heavy loss, a young French player kindly offering to help me cover a pitch as he returned to his room from supper, and the sight of a rogue sight screen from KWC1 taking a trip across the outfield of KWC2 during the match, courtesy of the Manx wind. Perhaps even more humorous was the sight of the ageing and out of shape KWC groundstaff running up the boundary to address the situation, only for the hardy Spanish fielders to beat us to it, and push the sight screen out of the way. Running around the boundary made me realise that, perhaps, I am getting too old for this game!
Match day 3; Rain! First job of the day is identifying any wet patches in the outfields, forking them, covering with hessian matting and rolling to soak up as much moisture as possible.
More problems follow, with umpires requesting a change of pitch on KWC1 (good job I did get a spare ready!), albeit with a challenge from the Italian coach - much discussion, deliberation and delays followed, and works to try to save the game on the original wicket, until we were finally given the go ahead to get the game on the original wicket.
Things ran more smoothly on KWC2, with only a thirty minute delay, where we hosted Denmark v France. It has to be said, that the Danish do look a class above at this stage, and it showed in their performance, by making short work of the French batsmen, followed by some superb batting by the Danish, which led to an early finish to the match.
KWC1 hosted Italy v Gibraltar. This game followed the blueprint of the game on KWC2, with the Italians taking the early victory. Some more great memories from today, with the young French team helping me remove a rain soaked cover, and also having a mass 'skipping rope jump', whilst we were 'roping' the outfield to remove moisture from the surface.
The Spanish team had a day off today, so much of our day was spent in the company of the young Spaniards, who are a credit to the country that they represent. I believe that many things like this are often missed when we talk about cricket, but I believe that the forming of relationships with the players, umpires. scorers and officials is vitally important, and these are the moments that make events such as this for me.
Match day 4: Bad weather forecast for today; however, when I arrive to work, the weather is fine, so I make the most of the opportunity before the poor weather comes in to get some extra preparation done on KWC1. We only have one game scheduled today - Belgium v Israel, on KWC1. The game is delayed for thirty minutes, but the skies are clear, the pitch is dry, so we are all waiting to get play underway. This happens at 11.30am, with the Israel team opting to bat first. The batting goes well, with Israel soon racking up the runs, until 1.50pm, when the heavens open. A decision to take an early lunch is made, so everything is shut down until the rain clears. Israel rack up 195-9 to take the victory.
Match day 5: More rain… bit of a recurring theme. Everything is under cover again, so most of our work is directed at the outfield, addressing any areas of standing water. The start is delayed for one hour as the light but incessant rain looks like it is in for the day. Fortunately, the rain does clear, and enables us to finally get things under way.
With the damp atmosphere, and soil, combined with a thatch issue at KWC2, we are left with a 'soggy' pitch, which is very inconsistent in the morning, but becomes easier to bat on in the afternoon as the temperatures start to rise. In this instance it really is a lottery, and whoever wins the toss is at a distinct advantage. The Isle of Man win the toss, and put Spain in to bat. This is a very difficult position for the Spanish, and they are all out for 79. As the Manx come in to bat, the sun starts to shine, and the pitch dries out. The Manx team went on to win comfortably, and now face Denmark in the final tomorrow.
We set everything up for tomorrow's two games, but leave the covers off in the hope that the wickets will dry further, before returning to work late in the evening to cover the wickets before the forecast rain comes in.
As I arrive back to work, I take a moment to watch some of the Manx team playing football with the French players… this immediately brings a smile to my face. Shortly after, two great moments for me - firstly, the Gibraltar coaches approach me, seemingly over the moon (and slightly inebriated!!) at their first win of the tournament earlier in the day against Germany, and give me two bottles of cider, and compliments on the work that we have done during the tournament. On paper, you could say that Gibraltar have had a poor tournament, but I would say, and more importantly than any results, that they have had a good time - the look on their faces was priceless. Secondly, a young Spanish player came out to help me with the covers, We had a good chat, and talked a lot about my job - the young man expressed an interest in a career in groundsmanship… you can't buy moments like that.
Match day 6: Finals day - rain! Today we host the 1st v 2nd place playoff on KWC1, and 5th v 6th on KWC2. As I arrive into work at 6.00am, I am faced with a problem. The torrential downpour overnight has soaked KWC1, and we are left with a nasty wet patch right on a length. This is not what we wanted for the final.
KWC2 is playable, so we get that game underway, and divert all available manpower to KWC1. When the umpires arrived at 9.30am, we were looking at losing the match; things were not looking good. Through a combination of hard work, a bit of fortune with the warming weather, and more hard work, we managed to get the game on for 12.45pm, and having the match shortened to 42 overs. In the 5th v 6th place playoff, we have Spain v Israel. Israel are put in to bat, and rack up a fine total of 232-7 to take the victory.
In the final, the Danish won the toss and elected to bat first, despite the damp conditions. The Manx bowled very well, and the Danish batsmen were all out for 140. A feeling of enthusiasm seemed to resonate throughout the strong Manx support; however, this was short lived as the Manx soon found themselves 2 for 3. All credit must go to the Danish who kept the pressure on, and the Manx batsmen on the back foot, and ended up winning by eighty runs.
Cue the celebrations, clean up job, and rest! We have taken some fantastic memories from hosting this tournament, many friendships have been fostered, some great cricket has been played, and many people have learned many new things, which is what the ICC development programme is all about. This development is not just for the players, but also the scorers, umpires and groundstaff alike. I can only compliment ICC Europe on their approach to this programme.
I must also thank Dennis Mowers who, following a cheeky request from myself back in February, were kind enough to send two brand new Dennis FT510 mowers, with an assortment of cassettes to the Isle of Man - one was used at KWC, alongside our own - and another at Cronkbourne Cricket club.
My final feelings as I look back on what was a great event isn't "never again", like last year, but more like "bring it on", such is the feeling of satisfaction that we take from hosting such an event.