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Grind of the Groundsman - Maidan, Kolkata

It is flash back 1974. As the tall Tony Greig, of England started his run up in a test match in Eden Gardens, the commentator said, ”Here comes tony Greig from the Maidan end.” Like the Nursery end of Lord’s or Paddington end of the Sydney cricket ground, the ‘Maidan’ end of Eden Gardens has a special place in the history of cricket.

‘Maidan’ is a Bengali word and in English it means playing ground. The ‘Maidan’ of Kolkata has a vast expanse, surrounded by many species of trees which forms the cream of its greenery. Dubbed as the lung of the central Kolkata, its cynosure of attention is the varied number of play grounds - small and big in size, some lush green and some barren. Apart from having the giant Eden Gardens, the ‘Maidan’ has three close grounds with galleries that belong to the big football clubs.

If this be the numbers game of ‘ Maidan’ then there are men to uphold and enhance the breath taking beauty of the place, men who work relentlessly to maintain the grounds and the lawns of the tent. Maintaining the open grounds is a herculean task, especially in a populous city like Kolkata. People will walk through the open grounds or sit on it, destroying the grass.

On these open grounds multiple sports are played. In winder it is cricket, in summer it’s football and hockey. Without any modern equipments the grounds men (Mali, in local word) has to slog 24 x 7, in true sense. Motorised pitch roller is an illusion. The heavy roller is pulled to prepare pitches. They drag the long water pipes from one corner to another. They wield the axe to make the ground even..

Physical toil apart heir financial plight is even more shocking, both to see and listen to. Most of them hail from the eastern coastal state of Orissa. Away from their family they stay in the dingy rooms inside the tents, infested with mosquito. Only a handful of them get a proper ground man’s t-shirt. The very torn vest, a bare feet and sun tanned skin will reveal how poorly they are paid. Most of them are scared to speak out against their club heads, fearing a backlash.

The picture at the Eden Gardens is much better if not ideal. The three big clubs have enough in their coffer to spend on their grounds men. But for reasons best known to them they are reluctant to put smile on the faces of the men who despite many odds prepare the turf where the club wins matches that bring smile in the faces of the supporters.

On behalf of Cricket World I hope that someday good sense will prevail among the club officials. The long, arduous grind of the grounds men may end.

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