Lord’s keeper declares, one short of fifty

This was his last international match and Mic Hunt, the head groundsman at Lord’s, fought with rain to get it going. (Source: Reuters)

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On Friday evening, the day the second Test actually began, Mic Hunt, the head groundsman at Lord’s, drove to the hospital for some cancer treatment. This was his second visit in a couple of days. The problem goes back to 2008 when he found that he had tumours in his kidney and bladder. He had them removed then, but every six months he still has to go for scans and treatment.

This was his last international match in which he fought with rain to get a game going. Just two more games (between MCC and Hong Kong) left in a 48-year old career as groundsman. Scratch that. “49 years,” he corrects you with a laugh. “The illness was a shock. I must admit I wasn’t expecting it. You had to just get on with it. I was working through the tournament. I had to go back this Friday again.”

How does one handle cancer? How did he do it? “You go to children’s hospital — that puts things in perspective, isn’t it? To see children like that. You don’t think it can happen to you. Someone asked me about the tumours, and I said, ‘no, you got the wrong person!’ You don’t want to face it. But you just get on. You got to.”

The talk moves to his career and all those years of tending to the most famous ground in the world. “Been a roller coaster, high points, low points, bad times, good times — just like any other job. The ground was under water and no chance of play and 45 minutes later we were playing. It was terrific.” It’s a good job that has its perks. It comes with a house at Lord’s and provides private-school fees for the head groundsman’s children.

Change is the name of the game

The game has grown in leaps and bounds with more professionalism coming in, more money being pumped in, but a certain sense of romance has gone from the game, Hunt feels. Like banter with the players.

“There was more banter before, nowadays it’s all more serious. David Gower was always good to be with. Viv Richards. It’s more professionalism now. See the fielding now. Someone has dropped a catch now, years before they would not even have got near it, now it’s a dropped catch. The way you look at things has changed. Whether it’s for the best, I don’t know.”

It was cold, rainy, and he was warming himself with some tea, but no beverage can match nostalgia for warmth. His mind goes back to Richards and you can sense admiration and respect in his voice when he recounts conversations about the pitch with the most dangerous batsman in the history of cricket. “Oh! He would never look at the pitch. He would say it’s same for both teams and that it doesn’t matter. I would ask him what roller he wants, and he would say, ‘whatever you fancy, whatever you want to put on’. That sort of attitude.”

Times have, of course, changed. “It’s more in depth now. What would the heavy roller do, what would the light roller do, what would no roller do! There is always a little bit of ‘hope you are not going to take any more grass, you are going to leave a bit of grass’ and such. There certainly was more banter in the past.” Uncontrollable bursts of cough follow, but laughter seeps through at the end of it.

For a man who has dug up the soil and watered it for 49 years for cricket, it’s the Olympics that he remembers most fondly. “Archery was here. I would call it bows and arrows but that didn’t go too well.” Again that laughter. “We had two weeks after a Test. It was fantastic. We had good sub-contractors and they were brilliant. It was during the summer and the turf had to be harvested in early hours of the morning. It was a different (experience).”

Hunt says he would miss the people the most. “Even the other day, when it was raining, I met this guy who said, ‘in our village cricket, we would have played through this’. And I go, this is not village cricket but Test cricket. You get all sorts of characters here.”

Hunt seems a contented man after nearly 50 years here. Was he tempted to continue for one more year as it’s a year of the World Cup and the Ashes? “No, no, it’s time. Old body. I have a family; got two daughters, two sons and nine grandchildren. Now, more time with the family. I missed out a lot with them. Working through the summer. We never had picnics or days at sea. I was always working.”

It’s perhaps apt to ask the man who has been doing it for nearly half a century the feelings at the end of a Test. Is it great satisfaction? Is it happiness that all the hard work has paid off for another Test? Is there a celebration ritual he does? “Not really, no ritual. We start work at 5 in the morning, and finish at 8 or 9. Most of the time, you just want to go home. And when the Test match finishes, it’s a bit of an anti-climax. You go, this is it. It’s over.”

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