The pitch curator is responsible for maintaining the pitch of a particular cricket stadium by respecting the weather conditions and soil and preparing it in compliance to ICC’s standards.
An avid cricket lover is well aware of the term ‘pitch curator’. The term pitch curator simply means the person in charge of maintaining the pitch. But did you know that until the 1960s, pitch curation was mostly an afterthought for cricket associations?
Until then, only groundsmen, colloquially known as ‘malis’ in India, would take care of the deck as there were no formal guidelines to pitch preparation. During that era, wickets were often left uncovered and incessant rain often left the surfaces damp and as such, a batter’s technique would be tested to the extreme.
It was only in the 1970s when ODI cricket came into existence and the World Cup started taking place that cricket bodies began to think of pitch curation as a necessity and started covering their wickets. However, the term ‘pitch curator’ only became common parlance in cricket during the 1980s.
Let’s discuss below the roles and responsibilities of a pitch curator and who are the best pitch curators of the 21st century.
Pitch Curator: What are the roles and responsibilities of a pitch curator?
A pitch curator, also known as a groundsman in different parts of the world, has several roles. The pitch curator is completely in charge of the pitch preparation and depending on the weather conditions, he decides the type of soil mixture and clay content that will best complement the natural environment of the particular region where the cricket stadium and the track is located.
The pitch curator decides on the amount of grass that has to be retained, the moisture levels, and how much rolling the playing pitch gets. It goes without saying that all these factors have a direct and indirect influence on the course of a particular match.
As such, the curator of the pitch is also responsible for various other aspects such as fertilizing, irrigation, draining and rolling the surfaces, and controlling weeds. They must also ensure that they follow and comply with all the International Cricket Council (ICC) regulations while preparing pitches ahead of a scheduled match of international cricket.
The pitch curator alone doesn’t do all the job. In fact, the term pitch curator applies to the chief curator of the cricket pitch who has staff working under him and he has the authority to control and manage all the activities which are related to the maintenance of the pitch.
In India, local curators usually begin their intense work and start to prepare pitches once the Monsoon season ends to make sure that pitches across the country get ready before the Diwali season and once domestic cricket tournaments get going in full force. It is also when the Indian national team typically commences the home summer.
The BCCI maintains a pitches and grounds committee, which is currently headed by Daljeet Singh. A team of senior curators who have passed the board’s exam also works as a BCCI curator under Singh.
These pitch curators are often involved in the preparation of pitches for international fixtures, and they particularly work with the local curators to prepare proper wickets for Test matches. These Test match wickets are said to be the most difficult to prepare since they are tested over the duration of five days, where work is also done on them once the day’s play ends.
How much can a pitch curator change the pitch?
Fans are almost always curious about the degree to which the curator can change the pitch. A true cricket fan is well aware that different countries have different preferences when it comes to preparing pitches and most curators try to stick to that template. England has green pitches that help the ball swing more, New Zealand and Australia have fast pitches that support the fast bowlers, South Africa has an uneven bounce on its pitches while pitches in the subcontinent, especially in India, are notorious rank turners.
The practice followed in India is that usually, seven before the start of a Test match, and depending on weather conditions, the pitch curator stops watering the track. As a result, the ball starts to turn from Day 1 bringing spinners into the equation very quickly. However, these tracks often run the risk of receiving a bad rating from the ICC and the match referees.
The ideal turning pitch is actually one where the curator stops watering the track a couple of days before the beginning of the match. As a result, the ball starts to turn from Day 3 onwards which is ideal in a Test match.
Bouncy pitches are quite rare in Indian cricket with the exception of Mohali during the 90s which was actually managed by Daljeet. The track in Dharamsala at a high altitude helps seam and swing movement due to cooler conditions. Similarly, seamers find better assistance at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata as well due to its close proximity to the river Hoogly.
Pitch Curator: Top 5 pitch curators of 21st century
|Wanderers Stadium, Johannesburg
|HPCA Stadium, Dharamshala
|Trent Bridge, Nottingham
|Basin Reserve, Wellington
|Sabina Park, Jamaica
Chris Scott – Wanderers Stadium (Johannesburg)
The only pitch curator to actually receive a Man of the Match award, South Africa’s Chris Scott is arguably the most respected name in the business. The Wanderers Stadium track is fast and provides assistance to pace bowlers. It has hosted several World Cup matches and provided for enthralling encounters.
However, the most noticeable effort from Scott and his staff actually arrived during the December 2000 Test match between South Africa and New Zealand. They worked tirelessly to ensure that play would continue despite Day 1 and Day 4 getting virtually washed out due to incessant rain.
Sunil Chauhan – Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium (Dharamshala)
Arguably the most beautiful stadium in the world, the HPCA stadium with the snow-clad Himalayan mountains behind them provides for a picturesque sight that cricket fans will never forget.
However, it is also quite different from most pitches in the country as the HPCA track, prepared by an enthusiastic Sunil Chauhan, offers lateral movement to the fast bowlers, good bounce, turn to the spinners and a great carry to the keeper.
Steve Birks – Trent Bridge (Nottingham)
The English Cricket Board has recognised the brilliant efforts of Steve Birks over the years as he has been awarded the Best Groundsman of the Year twice in the span of seven years. He is well known for his ability to curate result-producing tracks at the Trent Bridge in Nottingham in even four-day matches. In international cricket, his pitches start as bowler-friendly before becoming more conducive batting with the passage of time.
Brett Sipthorpe – Basin Reserve (Wellington)
Brett Sipthorpe was the pitch curator at New Zealand’s oldest ground, the Basin Reserve in Wellington, for over nine years between 2006 and 2015. His best work has been while preparing tracks for Test matches.
On the first couple of days of the match, the pitch usually has a grass covering that provides the fast bowlers the edge. However, the batters start becoming more prominent during the second half of the matches as the pitch starts to flatten out. All of this results in thrilling contests.
Michael Hylton – Sabina Park (Jamaica)
The Sabina Park in Jamaica is considered to be one of the fastest pitches in the world and batters often find it difficult batting here due to the significant grass covering that results in extra pace and swing.
Not a fan of high-scoring encounters, Michael Hylton loves preparing fast bowling decks where an individual’s skills and talents with the bat are tested thoroughly. He also loves emphasizing on the fact that batters with sound technique and ability will do extremely well on his tracks and his statement is actually backed by evidence and facts.
What is the salary of a cricket pitch curator in India?
Depending on their experience and qualifications, BCCI pitch curators are paid between Rs 35,000 to Rs 70,000 a month. Meanwhile, pitch curators with state associations are more vulnerable as many often get paid less than Rs 20,000 a month.
How to become a cricket pitch curator?
To become a pitch curator one needs to have a good knowledge of the weather conditions as well as the topography of the soil as it is his primary responsibility to manage them. They also need to have a basic understanding of chemistry and how different products influence the pitch and substances to avoid.