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Prajakta Pawar in Johannesburg

The Wonderful Wanderers

A walk through memory lane at the Bullring

Watching a game of cricket from the grass embankments at the Wanderers Stadium is one of the most surreal experiences in the cricketing world. And the one person who has had an even better view and has been enjoying it for decades is the Head groundsman, Chris Scott. The man dug and laid out the wicket that produced the historic one-day international ever to be played.

A wicket that decades ago used to be called the ‘Green Mamba’ (after the dangerous snakes found in South Africa), a nightmare for batsmen because it was green and it used fly around and do a lot, had turned into a paradise for them when the highest scoring ODI game unfolded on March 12, 2006.

Recalling the day as his most memorable moment, Scott says, “It was so interesting to stand and watch the crowd, their faces and emotions. The people were in disbelief. Everybody including me was in disbelief.”

“And what made it extra special for me was the pitch that I actually laid out. I dug it out and I laid it, it was a pitch that I had prepared. So I felt it was mine and that was really special.”

The fifth ODI between South Africa and Australia saw the hosts win by one wicket and had produced two back-to-back remarkable innings; Ricky Ponting’s 164 off 105 to take Australia to 434 for four followed by Herschelle Gibbs 175 off 111, not to mention skipper Graeme Smith’s 90 off 55 and Mark Boucher’s unbeaten 50 off 43 that helped the Proteas chase down the mountainous target.

Remembering the momentous occasion he says, “I think everybody would understand if I said my most memorable moment would be the 438 [runs scored by SA against Australia]. It was an absolutely huge moment. To have two equal sides to be able to achieve what they did was absolutely fantastic. It is just mind boggling a number like that.”

“When I saw the score get to 200 I said that was fantastic. 200 was fantastic, but it just went on and on and on to 300 and then I thought, ‘Oh My God what is happening here?’ I had never thought that this would happen. And once Australia put that score [434 runs] on the board everybody including me thought there wasn’t much chance of chasing that kind of score down. And then South Africa went and got it. That was just unbelievable.”

“Mark Boucher and Makhaya Ntini were at the crease when they reached the target. Ntini only scored one run but that one run was worth fifty. It was just so brilliant.”

“The wicket that we have for the final here for the CLT20 final here today looks very similar and I am hoping that today we are going to have maybe a record put for the Twenty20 games. I would love to see that happen today as well.”

Then there was the Test where England actually held South Africa to a draw (Played at New Wanderers Stadium, Johannesburg - second Test, November 30 - December 4 1995). When England came in to bat in the second innings they had very little chance. But Mike Atherton (185 not out) stayed at the crease for more than a day. He managed to keep his wicket as did the rest of the English players and the draw was achieved. It doesn’t sound exciting that you can be happy about a draw, but the wicket was on Day 5 and for a batsman to be able to stay in the whole day [was remarkable]. The wicket stayed good, it stayed true, and that for me as a groundsman was a great sense of achievement, to have something like that happen. There have been other Test matches. Some wonderful Test matches have been played here against India, Australia, Pakistan, England, over the years. I have had many good moments.”

“The 2007, World T20 final between India vs Pakistan was absolutely amazing and the crowd that we had here was fantastic.”

“When you look at some of the other games nowadays you can see who is playing by looking at the audience. Like when the colour is yellow you know that the Chennai Super Kings are playing. But, for those games it was almost black. I don’t why. There were mainly Indians here and the colour of the dress that they wore was dark and the stadium looked almost black and it was an amazing thing for me to see. I suppose it was blues and greens and darker colours but it just looked very dark.”

What also makes the Wanderers a unique venue for playing cricket is the drainage system which has been upgraded and hence it is even more efficient says Scott.

Explaining their unique drainage system he said, “About 20 years ago I put the drainage system into the ground, but it only did [worked on] the cut of the ground which is the south side where they dig into the ground and then they used the soil to put it on the north side to make it level because it [the ground] is built on a slope. The veldt side does drain quicker than the cut, that’s how I put in the drainage system. Now we have a new upgraded system called the Shelton drainage system. They put in drains and new gravel bands, it is a new technology and it works efficiently. We had that system put in 2003 for the World Cup. And the gravel bands were redone last year so the drainage is very good. There is gravel drainage band a meter apart over the whole field. Any water that goes in, goes into the gravel band runs down into a pipe which is about a meter below the ground and that pipe in turns runs off and discharges out the water. So the water goes very quickly into that drainage.”

Speaking about the setting he added, “Adjacent to the stadium is a Golf course. The stadium was built after the Golf course on what used to be part of the driving ranges. So they had to change the Golf course slightly and because it was on a slope they had to cut and make it. It is actually shaped like a saucer upside down so that the water runs in all directions away from the pitch. So that also one of the big things that makes the drainage that much better. The water only has to go half the field to be off the pitch.”

He also explained that the ‘Bullring’ as it is called is because of the steep stands surrounding the stadium. And when you look down it gives you the effect of the bull rings in Spain. He also said that the grass embankment was earlier a smaller patch of land and has been increased by eight percent in the recent years.

“Earlier there was just a small piece of grass and the rest was just the concrete structure around the ground which made it very much a bull ring. It is softening now, there is more grass and things like that. The feel that you get when you walk out on to the field, when the place is full and the crowd is roaring every player will tell you it is unique feeling. That’s where the name of the bull ring comes from,” Scott explains.

The Bidvest Wanderers Stadium, situated south of Sandton in Illovo, Johannesburg in Gauteng Province, South Africa is also the home ground for the Highveld Lions who will be taking on the Sydney Sixers in the CLT20 2012 final on October 28. Now it also has a number of other facilities essential for modern day cricket like electronic scoreboard, high quality PA system, integrated CCTV, top class broadcast centre among other things. 

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