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It’s just the over twenty year old tractor and the Wiedenmann Terra Spike.” “Clippings have always been reintroduced, so a layer of organic material or soil has built up on top of the sand which is now around 50 to 60mm soil on top of sand.”

Until then, a strict maintenance programme must continue if the team is to deliver the excellent surfaces players have grown accustomed to. Fixtures dictate when they can come in and spray the grounds – usually the May and October half-terms. They’re in at 5.00am to do some of the work, then I open up the rest of the grounds at 6.30am for them. For Paul, his biggest concern with the grounds is less a result of individual issues, whether that be drainage, undulation or thatch, but rather one of workload and demand. Not one to pick favourites, Paul speaks highly of both machines, yet reveals his hand when I press him.

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Presentation of the grounds rates very highly with Keith, but there are not enough hours in the day to allow him to do all the tasks he wants to with only himself working there. “The grounds sit on an elevated open site, so we pretty much endure the best and the worst conditions that the weather can throw at us. The prolonged periods of rain, followed by the periods of severe drought we have been experiencing over the last few years, are the most disruptive to us.” “It has been a very wet season here, particularly at the end of last year and into this year, which has meant I have had a lot of verti-draining to carry out.” There is no fancy equipment here like undersoil heating or covers to help.

“We have a big John Deere fleet, so it would be easy to say that we favour their machines. Brand new, with new blades, I’d favour the 7700, but I’ve always felt Toro blades last longer, which is partly why I use the bigger 6700 for the first square,” he reveals. Over two years, some 16mm of thatch was taken out, 8mm in the first year, and the process repeated in the second, reducing it to a manageable level. “Thatch is very much under control now, at 1-2mm,” Paul adds, “which is the general build-up over the year, and nothing that the Graden can’t deal with. Controlling thatch can be a real nightmare in cricket, so we’re fortunate that we’ve now got it under control.” We only have to look to Spain’s FIFA Euro 2012 footballing success to see that good coaching, youth development and investment in premier facilities are at the heart of sporting achievement.

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Yet, stress aside, it’s the moments like those he spent with the record-breaking rugby team of ’97 that make it all worthwhile, and throw up some of his most memorable moments. London clay does not make life easy, but Paul is determined to keep Dulwich at the very top and is proud of the standard of his wickets. Accolades aside, Paul still aspires to emulate standards at another independent school that Dulwich regularly competes against. “Tonbridge has it just right. The grounds are immaculate and I want to achieve that level here.” “I liaise with both the director of sport and the individual sports masters when it comes to fixtures and cancellations. You have to do what’s best for the long-term health of the pitches which, in bad weather, will mean postponing fixtures.”

The status and responsibility of groundsmen in Paul’s position is on the rise, as knowledge of the challenges of the role become better known. At Dulwich, the culture is very much one of joint decisions cricketplaza and consultation, with Paul consulted in many of the issues affecting the vast sporting footprint. Despite the challenges, he feels positive that the industry is moving in the right direction.

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“The wage structure is strong here, and in the independent schools market generally, and good wages attracts more talent, which can only be positive in bringing in younger grounds professionals into the business, which at present poses real problems for all of us.” Paul tries to work ten days ahead of fixtures, especially at first team level – five to seven days for junior levels. Sometimes though, having things run to your own schedule just isn’t possible, and that’s more often than not the case for Paul and his team. In the long-term, it’s evident that Paul feels there’s much he can still do to improve the quality of his playing surfaces, such as to remedy the undulating characteristics of the main campus site.

“We don’t have any real outbreaks of disease here, not really, just the odd outbreak of fusarian patch on the bowling green, and some of the lesser diseases on the pitches, like red thread or snow mould, but nothing to get concerned about.” “There is not any real brand loyalty here. We buy when we need it and wherever we can achieve the best deal. The Kubota tractor was purchased over fifteen years ago by me and was a few years old at that time. However, the Terra Spike was bought, also secondhand, but has proved to be an extremely vital piece of equipment around here.” As well as repair work, he overseeds the pitches and arranges for the sand dressing to be completed. “Everything is affected by budgets in the current economic climate,” he said. “I have very much adjusted my approach and the products I use in an attempt to keep costs down, but I have to say I have always been permitted to spend on anything I have asked for.”

“All the pitches on site are sand carpet. They were constructed well over thirty years ago, but I am not sure exactly when.” It took time but, eventually, Keith began to enjoy the job at Newforge and learned a lot from former staff members and various training courses. Extending to around seven acres, the complex hosts rugby and football games mostly, but also lawn bowls, cricket and American football. “I remember one fixture, against Tonbridge as it happens, when first team captain Tim Dux asked me if he could get into the away dressing room to leave them a note.” Paul is certainly happy with his lot, and what he has achieved in his last twenty-two years at Dulwich, amid an ever-swelling schedule of fixtures.

Continue with pre-season preparations, dragbrush to lift sward before mowing the square. Outfields will also need some attention to detail with a light harrow, mowing at 25mm and aerating. Keep records of work carried out such as, core samples, mowing and rolling. Re-commission your irrigation systems and check you have not had any frost damage.

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We deliver thought leadership, development excellence, specialist advisory and project success to a wide range of public and private sectors throughout the region. The heavy silt soil could benefit from being decompacted at the end of the playing season. I am surprised to see a heavy silt soil has been used, and not a black clay soil. It would be worthwhile having a lab analysis carried out on all soils used for cricket in India so the clay content of the soils can be compared. With extensive data, statistical analysis and match previews, you can be rest assured that the coverage leading up to a game will quench your thirst.

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Even though he has not got the time to consider being involved with any groundcare organisations, he did wish to say the job is highly undervalued. “I think, on the whole, we are undervalued, although I think it is out of ignorance. Employers and the general public, who have little understanding of our industry, do not always appreciate the value of the knowledge, experience and dedication that we put into our work.” When considering the groundcare industry, Keith has his own ideas of how people perceive groundsmen and what tasks they actually do. “They swoop down and dig up the pitches in the search of leatherjackets and other critters that might pass as a meal. I am never done repairing the damage they cause. We also have a group of hooded crows that reside in the area year round and they too can be quite destructive as well.”