If not for Babu Lal, the last Mohali one-day international (ODI) between India and Sri Lanka—and Rohit Sharma’s epic third double century in a 50-over game—would not have happened. There was some rain about in the lead-up to the match but the PCA head groundsman prepared and covered the pitch well in advance to negate the washout threat.
The 13.5-acre IS Bindra Stadium of Punjab Cricket Association (PCA) has given the Indian cricket fans many fond memories, including the chartbuster victory over Pakistan in the 2011 World Cup semifinals. The Mohali pitch is liveliest in the country on the days it plays true to its old reputation for pace and bounce. Of the nine ‘best pitch and outfield’ awards in IPL’s India seasons, the stadium has won seven. People imagine an army to be working behind the show but it is the team effort of just 10-to-12 permanent employees with perfectionist standards.
MAN FOR ALL SEASONS
Babu Lal has been in PCA’s service for more than 23 years, since the first game at the stadium. He has tended the ground in all its 40 international games, including 13 test matches, the latest against England last November. It’s his job to look after the pitch day and night, decide when and how much to water it, know what kind and how much of soil to put in. With a bagful of experience, he is go-to man for pitch curator Rakesh and head curator Daljit Singh.
If a match is announced today, you can’t start your work a week ago. “You have to work round the year,” Babu Lal says. “The pitches play different according to season but every turf demands care.” He has been to Mumbai and Surat for training, and it’s no surprise that he is full of knowledge about maintaining a cricket ground.
CURATING IS SCIENCE
Pitch curator Rakesh Kumar joined the PCA in 2000, when his job was to look after the club management. Since his real interest was in tending to the ground, he has been doing it with perfection since 2007. Head pitch curator Daljit Singh is also chairman of the curator committee of the Board of Control for Cricket in India(BCCI). In charge of the upkeep of this ground from the beginning, he has put in a lot of scientific knowledge into making it a quick and bouncy track.
Rakesh Kumar says: “I have been associated with the stadium since its inception but it is not because of me alone that it runs. Like cricket, it has been a team effort, where everyone has contributed and their efforts and hard work cannot be undermined. The people working behind the scenes are the PCA’s real heroes and it is because of their dedication that we are able to hold matches.”
The stadium keeps a permanent staff of 10-to-12. During matches, it hires extra manpower from outside. “The association has helped us a lot financially in buying equipment from abroad,” Rakesh Kumar says. “The fertiliser for the ground comes from Germany.”
The PCA was first association in the country to deploy imported machines for groundwork. Mechanic Hardeep Singh has kept the equipment running for more than 15 years. The association organises training for the curators and the groundsmen every year.
Semi-skilled worker Karam Singh mows the grass, waters the pitch, and fertilises the ground. He has all the knowledge of even how to run the machines for multiple purposes. Khilawan Singh maintains the giant screen, which is one of the best in the country.