Asia Cup: How the 100-man strong groundstaff battled the Colombo weather to make India-Pakistan game possible

In a small room next to the sight screen, Godfrey Dabare is resting with his legs on top of another chair with a lit cigarette in one hand. It’s only 10 minutes after the Super 4 fixture between India and Pakistan at the R Premadasa Stadium began at 4:40 pm, one hour and forty minutes late into the reserve day. Blowing smoke rings Dabare says, “Hold on…been a very busy couple of hours. I haven’t even had time for a smoke break,” he says even as his groundstaff are checking with him if they can step out for a tea break.

It has been that sort of a week or so for Dabare and his groundstaff. Being the national curator of Sri Lanka Cricket, it has been challenging not only for him, but even for his 100-odd groundstaff, who have been doing an incredible job despite the heavy rains that Colombo has witnessed over the past fortnight. Ever since it became clear that the tournament will run into bad weather, Dabare, who has around 60 ground staff under his umbrella, hired around 50 more labourers for the Asia Cup, fully aware of the challenge ahead.

And for a week, he has been training his boys about how to bring the covers on, keeping a stopwatch in hand. Dabare has been doing this for 20 years, but he is in no mood to take chances. “We took about 100 labourers for a match, otherwise there are 60 skilled workers and if needed I borrow them from Pallekele, Galle, Hambantota. But because of the rains this time, I had to bring more” he said.

For the groundstaff, the routine runs thus. When they arrived at 8 am on Monday, with the sun peeping out and no dark clouds in sight, they removed the water-logged covers and put them to dry. And by noon with the dark clouds hovering over R Premadasa Stadium, the entire outfield was covered.

“We have to cover it up as quickly as possible. First priority is to cover the square and from there on we take about 20-25 minutes to get the whole ground covered. And whenever the rain gets light, we take time to take the water out and put it back or else it will get heavy,” says Thyagu, one of the labourers hired for the Asia Cup. He gets LKR 2,000 (510 Indian rupees) for the work they put in from 8 am to 6 pm and LKR 200 for every additional hour.

No Super Sopper, all manually done

The drill is so ingrained in them by now that when they bring the covers on, it feels more of a synchronised act. At times, the crowd mis-read their actions too. Over the past two evenings there have been instances, the crowd has roared in delight when the covers were removed, only to see them promptly coming back on.

“We have to do that to remove the water because unlike others, we don’t use the super sopper. In case of heavy rains, it takes lot of time to soak the water and it absorbs very little water. But by doing it manually, we can save up the time, because we just move it from one cover to the other and since our drainage facility is good, we just need about 45 minutes to restart,” Dabare explains.

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What happened Sunday evening?

On Sunday, after one hour of heavy rain ended at 6 pm, Dabare and his staff got the ground in shape by 8.30 pm, even addressing the two areas of concern, where two huge puddles had formed. Usually, they would have ensured that such an eventuality doesn’t even rise but such were the strong swirling winds, especially as the umpires dithered a touch before halting play, that they struggled to tame it and get the covers on. By then, rain had pounded that region. Still, in two hours after the rains stopped, they had the ground ready.

However, on Monday, despite heavy rains coming around 1.40 pm and the drizzle lasting till about 3.30 pm, they got the match to resume at 4.40 pm, after both teams expressed full satisfaction with the conditions.

“Yesterday (Sunday) we had a problem during the match. The umpires delayed a bit and those three-four minutes are crucial. We can cover the square, but to cover the outfield it takes time. Every minute we lose, the covers get heavier to drag because of rain water. And some of the boys panicked and the covers got tangled. Normally, umpires look at us and call for the covers. But yesterday the rain came so quickly,” Dabare added.

While another brief spell of rain around 8.30 pm on Sunday prompted the match officials to invoke the reserve-day, Dabare opined that they should have waited a little longer because they had got the ground in shape and even had it covered. “They decided to stop the game. I didn’t agree with it. We could have played 20 more overs and today (Monday) we could have played the remaining game,” he said.

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Heat lamps to dry

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The severity of the rain over the two days meant Dabare had to use some unconventional methods to get the pitch and outfield in shape. Apart from bringing fans to dry the wet patches on the outfield, especially around the run-up area, the groundstaff used what Dabare calls ‘heat lamps’ to dry up the clay surface.

“Me and the boys came up with his heater and cooler,” he says with a chuckle. “Since it is a clay wicket and if it is under covers for a long time, moisture will set in and it can change the nature of the pitch. So we used the heater to ensure the pitch condition didn’t change,” Dabare says.

As one of his groundstaff comes into the cabin asking if they should go back to their positions, citing the forecast on his mobile, Dabare quickly cuts him off. “I don’t trust Google weather. I trust the sky and the wind. They will give it away if it is going to rain or not. So get some rest.”

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