Starting their day at 4 am, the ground staff worked tirelessly to ensure the matches started not long behind schedule. This wasn’t just an isolated incident; it has been the norm for 128 members of the ground staff hired by the Karnataka State Cricket Association across the state. This June, which was the wettest in the state for a decade, the KSCA managed to host the Ranji Trophy knockouts with just minor hiccups caused by rain.
Since the onset of the pandemic, the BCCI’s domestic calendar has seen a tweak in formats, tournaments being staged in a bio-secure environment and competition schedules severely altered.
With Karnataka being the only state with multiple first-class cricket venues and Bengaluru alone boosting five grounds, it has been the preferred venue for hosting matches. In the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons combined, the KSCA hosted 114 national-level matches across seven tournaments. This is apart from the day-night Test match against Sri Lanka, the rained-out T20 international between India and South Africa in June and scores of practice, National Cricket Academy and KSCA league matches. Most of these matches have been held with the threat of rain looming large, occasionally compounded by unseasonal showers.
The Ranji Trophy-winning Madhya Pradesh team with the curators and groundsmen at the M Chinnaswamy stadium. (Photo: TOI)
Amidst all this, the one constant has been the commitment of the ground staff, which includes seven women. They have turned out to be the unsung heroes for the association, working tirelessly to put the show on the road. Dripping sweat, sometimes wet to their bones, waking up much before the crack of dawn, the ground staff ensured KSCA hosted the maximum number of domestic matches compared to any other association in the country over the past two seasons.
“We could not have successfully hosted so many matches without the tireless effort from the ground staff. We are very proud of them,” stated Prashanth Rao, the chief curator of the KSCA, adding, “They all know their job and take pride in what they do. Even during the peak of Covid-19, barring those who tested positive, the rest were available whenever required.”
Rao pointed out that working conditions and wages were being enhanced, the staff too have stepped up their efforts and commitment level.
“Their working culture has changed drastically over the past decade. I would attribute it to the influx of youngsters, facilities provided by the KSCA and the structured pay scale which was introduced last year,” he explained.
On most match days, the staff are at the ground by 7.30 am and leave not earlier an hour after the last ball is bowled, although officially their work hours are from 9.30 am to 5.30 pm.
So, what keeps them going? “Satisfaction,” said Shivakumar GK, a senior groundsman with more than 17 years of experience.
“This is a more passion-oriented job. When there is no rain, we are like well-oiled machines going about our jobs. But the real challenge begins when we must get the grounds match-ready during rain. We put in longer hours and spend a lot of time in the rain. Many of us catch a cold, have a headache and even run a fever, but we just pop a pill and get back to the job. When we host BCCI matches, it is a matter of great pride when we are able to contribute to the start of the game despite the rain,” he explained.
The best reward, according to Shivakumar, is accolades from players and coaches.
“After the Ranji Trophy final at the M Chinnaswamy stadium, the winning Madhya Pradesh team walked up to us and thanked us,” he observed. “The coach, Chandrakant Pandit, told us we played a key role in their success. That was a gratifying moment for us.”
Acknowledging the contribution of the ground staff, Santosh Menon, the KSCA secretary, said, “They are the biggest contributing factor for us conducting back-to-back tournaments. If we have hosted a slew of tournaments over the past couple of seasons, the maximum credit goes to the ground staff.”
AN HR POLICY FOR THE GROUND STAFF
Until last year, the ground staff came under the casual labour category, people with more than 25 years of experience also taking home a salary of Rs 15,000. But one incident changed the association’s thinking about a structured policy.
Recounting the event which changed the association’s perspective, Santosh Menon explained, “One of the groundsmen wanted to buy a bike but could not avail a loan because he wasn’t on the payrolls. His plight moved us and got us thinking.”
On the policy, Menon elaborated, “In April last year, we worked on an HR policy with a graded system for them. Apart from that, we offered them a road map, which helps in career growth. The deserving candidates can rise to the ranks of supervisors and managers. We encourage them to pursue education, so they can take up BCCI examinations. We have also decided to support their children’s education.”
BCCI matches held in Karnataka
In 2020-21: 52
In 2021-22: 63
No of ground staff: 128