Thursday 10 January 2008 

Behind The Scenes With Simon Lawrence

Whether you are a player or an avid fan of this great game, it's very easy to lose sight of the big picture, which is what makes it possible for top class cricket to be played week in, week out. For most of us, it is simply a case of turning up in the hope of scoring runs or taking wickets for our club, while for others, tuning in for their team's big game and living every moment is a weekly highlight.

The club player and the ardent fan would hope for success every week. However it's not the end of the world if results do not go their way, they can enjoy a cold drink and relax, hoping for better luck next time. Not everyone can switch off, however, whatever the result.

In 2007, Simon Lawrence, who has been based at the Castle Park ground in Colchester, Essex for ten years, won the Cricket World and Pitchcare Groundsman Of The Year award. For the majority of the year Simon's main focus is making sure that he has prepared a pitch, as well as the outfield and indeed the playing area for club matches held at the Castle Park ground throughout the season. He told Cricket World that winning the award means a lot to him:

It's given me a huge boost. It's good to have that recognition and it's nice to be appreciated.

While Lawrence is understandably proud of this accolade, he is of the belief that not all clubs and players understand the commitment and hard work which ultimately benefits club and players alike.

I think some clubs don't realise the amount of work that's involved. I don't think some of the players realise; they turn up and expect everything to be done for them and I don't think they realise how many hours I spend preparing the pitches, he explained.

Working outside and meeting different people from all walks of life were what Lawrence outlined as his favourite aspects of the job. When asked what advice he would give to youngsters wanting to follow a similar path to himself, he had some words of caution.

If you enjoy being outside, meeting various people, and enjoy the sports element of it then it's right for you. I don't recommend the hours; it's alright if you are young and single but if you are married then it's a lot of hours involved during the playing season. But I have been working outside for twenty years so I have enjoyed it,' he said.

Lawrence started off working for the Local Authority, and even though he now works for a private contractor, he believes the relationship he has built up with the Local Authority has helped his cause in terms of being able to maintain as good a standard of cricket ground as he has in Colchester:

The local authority does put a lot of support into maintaining the grounds. They are contributing to various major works that we had done on the square, so they definitely do help.

He is also aided by the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) Pitch Advisor for Essex, Laurence Edwards who said, I help him where possible, with any information or anything he's not sure of. I will try and guide him in the right direction. He does his own thing, it's only if he has a problem, or if he's not too sure, then he will consult me or Stuart Kerrison from Essex.

While Lawrence is responsible for the ground at Colchester, which hosts a few county games each season, The Ford County Ground, in Chelmsford, is the home of Essex County Cricket Club and where the majority of Essex's home matches are played. Kerrison, the Head Groundsman, lives on site; such is the demanding nature of his role. Kerrison has been in the job since 1991, and he explained that he has an 'open door' policy with regard to giving advice to other groundsmen in Essex, yet he prefers to let the groundsmen work without too much interference as he trusts their skill and ability:

Someone like Simon (Lawrence) I deal with more intensely because we obviously are playing county games there, but we have a few other groundsmen that deal with second XI cricket and I speak to the groundsmen there, not on a regular basis, I pretty much leave them to get on with it because I know I can trust them and we have got good groundsmen at these places.

Although Kerrison believes that his career can be very rewarding, he advises youngsters considering following a similar career path to think very carefully about the amount of dedication that is needed to be successful.

I would say think very hard about it.There is an awful lot of time spent on the ground, and it's a seven day a week job during the summer. You have to be at work at half past seven on a Saturday or Sunday morning if you have got a match on and you don't want to turn up drunk and in a terrible state. People still want to have summer holidays, but in this job holidays are unheard of, I haven't had a summer holiday in 20 odd years, that's the nature of the job, so I would say think hard about it,he advised.

Good groundsmen, such as Lawrence and Kerrison, who are dedicated and prepared to put in the necessary long hours, cant create a good quality cricket pitch all on their own, however.

The loam is an important part of the process. Loam is soil composed of sand, silt and clay in a relatively even distribution and once the groundsman receives the loam it is then their job to work it into the surface and create the type of pitch they want.

Cricket World was present at the Castle Park cricket ground, in Colchester, when Binder Loams delivered the loam to Lawrence, for his end of season maintenance.

There are various types of loam,Edwards told us. You must always stick with one particular loam, because the loams don't necessarily bind together, and they don't support each other. You can change loams, but care and sound advice must be taken.

Philip Furner, manager of CH Binder Limited, part of the Monro Sports Group, told us that he believed that a good quality loam makes the groundsman's life a lot easier, as long as the groundsman is prepared to put in the hours. He said, It is a misconception that you need lots of expensive equipment to spread but actually you don't, it is just man hours: that is the best way, you don't need lots of equipment, you just need willing people to get on and do the work.

Edwards further outlined its importance, advising that it isn't something with which a club can take shortcuts, explaining, Ive always said, get that right, as if you get your end of season work right, you will have good pitch play all next season.