“It’s every cricket lover’s dream to be locked inside Lord’s.” And for one man at the iconic Home of Cricket – it’s exactly the position he finds himself in.
The coronavirus pandemic and lockdown across the UK have put the sporting calendar on hold, including what would have been the start of the county cricket season over Easter weekend.
For Lord’s head groundsman Karl McDermott, he finds himself as just one of just a handful of people currently allowed to pass through the famous Grace Gates.
His team’s meticulous hard work during the long winter months to get the square and outfield ready for a new season have been for nothing.
But McDermott, who lives inside the ground with his young family, is still working hard, spending hour after hour either sat on the lawn mower or the heavy roller – in isolation of course – to ensure that if cricket is given the thumbs up to resume later this summer, Lord’s will be ready immediately.
“Getting up in the morning and being at work on your own and not greeting the lads is a bit strange really,” he told BBC Sport.
Had the coronavirus lockdown not been enforced on 23 March, Lord’s would have been a hive of activity for the past couple of weeks, with McDermott and the rest of his ground staff in the final stages of pre-season pitch preparations before Middlesex’s opening County Championship Division Two fixture against Worcestershire on 12 April.
Across the square and outfield, a typical day would have seen three people on rollers getting the wickets ready and another three to four staff members cutting the outfield each day.
“I haven’t sat on the roller so much in years,” McDermott said. “My deputy still comes in a couple of days a week and he is looking after the Nursery Ground, but we’re working in complete isolation from each other.
“That’s a great help, I can concentrate on the main ground and it’s sort of a throwback to being a club groundsman, where you’re managing everything yourself.”
The enforced break from cricket comes after one of the busiest and eventful summers in the game’s history last year as Lord’s hosted England’s dramatic World Cup final win over New Zealand before witnessing Jofra Archer steaming in at full pace to Steve Smith and company during the subsequent Ashes series.
“It’s nice for the square to have a rest,” McDermott added. “We spend six months of the year trying to make it look pretty and the other six months beating the living daylights out of it.
“I would have liked to use this down time to complete some more reseeding and top-dressing of the wickets, but you have to prioritise the big jobs when you’re working on your own.”
Groundsmen turn to WhatsApp for company
McDermott now finds himself having to do not only all the cutting, but the back-breaking clean-up work, including clearing the daily mountain of grass shavings himself.
However, he and fellow first-class ground staff are keeping each other company through a WhatsApp group, sharing tips and advice on how to manage the time when working in isolation.
“We’re quite a close group so it’s good to have someone to talk to or a shoulder to cry on if you need it,” he said.
Not only is the professional game on hold until at least 28 May, but for hundreds of recreational clubs, who in most cases survive on the goodwill and dedication of volunteers to maintain their pitches in most cases, there is also uncertainty.
Guidelines have been issued by the England and Wales Cricket Board and the Institute of Groundmanship for what can and cannot be done when working in isolation.
Meanwhile, £20m from a £61m ECB support package to help withstand the impact of Covid-19 is expected to filter through to the grassroots in the shape of interest-free loans.
McDermott’s top tips to amateur ground staff are:
- “Prioritise: Now isn’t the time to start doing all those little jobs around the ground you’ve thought of in the past, you just won’t have the time or the manpower.”
- “Focus on cutting and rolling the square. The outfield can wait for a few weeks and doesn’t need as regular maintenance.”
- “Make sure your square is ready to go at all times so if cricket does get the go-ahead to start, you don’t have to waste any time before your first game.”
His advice is echoed by those working in the community.
James Moss, from Kent’s community cricket team, stresses balance is key.
“It’s about what’s necessary and what’s achievable,” he told BBC Sport. “Be as minimalistic as possible.
“Carrying out lots of odd-jobs instead of the main ones might see your expenditure increase when you haven’t necessarily got the regular income from matches and subscriptions at this time of the year.
“Also, be considerate to your neighbours and your members about what control measures you’re putting in place.
“If you’re asking people to go and carry out ground work on their own, ensure they have the relevant supplies to wipe surfaces down, clean equipment and also that they’re trained to use certain machinery.
“Pre-season rolling is the most important task to keep carrying out. The ground is soft enough now to get that time and attention into pitches. You’re not going to get those conditions back again later in the summer once it gets warmer and drier.
“That should help reduce your workload and your running costs in the long term.”
And if lockdown life has suddenly left you with more time on your hands to look after your garden, what is McDermott’s advice to make your lawn as lush as the Lord’s outfield?
“I’ve had lots of friends ask me that, but firstly I don’t know much about gardens as mine is paved,” he joked.
“But, a bit of hard work: Get the rake out, pull all that moss and dead grass out of there and bin it and then you’re starting afresh.
“A bit of grass seed, water, regular mowing – all the things you’ve got time to do now and you can keep on top of it.”
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