Manuka Oval is becoming featured more and more during the Australian summer. Previously the ground in Australia’s capital was reserved for hosting the Prime Ministers XI match, and that was about all. However, we have seen Manuka become host to lots of quality cricket over the last five years. From domestic matches to a handful of ODIs and T20s, as well as a test in 2016.
Manuka Oval is set to play another vital role for Cricket Australia.
The ground is set to host a Sheffield shield, a domestic one-day match, and two BBL games. At the beginning of next year, Manuka will also host three WNCL matches and the women’s Ashes test match. In February, the ground will also see a T20 between Australia’s men and New Zealand.
It’s fair to say Manuka is Australia’s smallest international ground, but that doesn’t take anything away from the spectacle. Many argue that Manuka is one of the most picturesque grounds in the country. It also has the advantage of having one of the flattest pitches, perfect for white-ball cricket.
Tom Fahey has taken up the role as head curator at the ground after long-time curator Brad van Dam decided to hang up the boots. Fahey spoke to The Inner Sanctum about his new role and what we can look forward to with the future of Manuka Oval.
Fahey’s journey to Manuka
Becoming a head curator at one of Australia’s most important grounds isn’t easy. It has been quite the journey for Fahey, as he described.
“I started my apprenticeship in Victoria at the green acres golf course. Two years in, I decided golf wasn’t for me. Then moved to Haileybury college and learned the art of making cricket wickets. I also worked at Wimbledon for the summer of 2013.
“I then spent two years here learning my craft under Brad van Dam. A role came up at the SCG and again was a natural progression for me. I spent two years in Sydney, and it was an amazing place to work. Once I heard the news of the shock resignation from Brad, I sat down and thought about the move back to Canberra.”
Fahey has had quite the journey to get to where he is today. He will oversee a huge new chapter of cricket in the territory, but he is most looking forward to working with a new team.
“I’m really looking forward to developing a young team. Understanding how everyone works to ensure we have a great summer of cricket.”
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Canberra’s unique characteristics
With Fahey’s experience at both Manuka and the SCG, he was able to speak on the differences that come with a ground that isn’t affected by massive grandstands like the SCG.
“We are very lucky at Manuka that we don’t have grandstands, and we are able to get optimum sunlight through the summer months. The humidity in Sydney is next level and is always a challenge when growing grass,” he explained.
“Manuka is a lot quieter through winter, which has been nice to get my head around the job again.”
Manuka Oval has changed quite a lot in recent years. The new media centre now towers over the ground, and it also now hosts an increased number of camera decks allowing for better coverage from the ground. Another change for Manuka has been the addition of new grass.
Marcus Pamplin was the head curator at Manuka Oval between 2004 and 2008 and is now the head curator at Bellerive. He spoke to The Inner Sanctum about his time at Bellerive while also giving insight into the Manuka Oval.
“We used couch grass in Canberra. We found the native couch grass worked best,” Pamplin said of the Manuka wicket during his time.
This is no longer the case, and much as is done at Hobart, rye is playing a more significant part at Manuka Oval, as Fahey described.
“In Canberra, we run a dual grass set up. In summer, we run Santana couch. then in winter, we oversaw with rye to give grass coverage while the couch goes dormant.”
A Canberra winter is like no other in Australia. Minus temperatures are typical, and snow is not unusual. An AFL match in 2019 was even played in the snow at Manuka Oval. This poses challenges for the curating team.
“Each ground has its unique characteristics and its challenges. Probably the biggest one we are dealing with at the moment is negative temperatures and minimal sunlight.”
These challenges are essential to the game. Cricket is one of the only sports where each match is played in different conditions; this is what makes the game so unique.
The summer ahead
This summer, fans will get to see Canberra’s unique characteristics, and Fahey is looking forward to showing off his team’s work during his first summer as head curator.
“We are really excited to host the PM’s XI, Women’s Ashes, T20 international between Australia and New Zealand later this summer. It will also be great to have early domestic shield cricket and marsh cup back at Manuka,” he said.
Specifically looking forward to the women’s Ashes test later in the summer, Fahey described what he is aiming for in the test match pitch.
“Our preparation will start about 10-12 days out. The idea is to have a little bit in it early on day one, flatten out day two. Start to show some wear and tear day three and four.”
The pressure is clearly on Fahey and his team during his first summer as the head curator; however, he keeps the main goal within reach.
“We are looking to host a great summer of cricket, giving opportunity between bat and ball. The aim is to keep improving the first-class standards that Manuka is known for.”
Manuka Oval is set to play a massive part in the summer once again. The ground will host its first match on the 26th of October, with New South Wales taking on Victoria in the Sheffield Shield.
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