Who doesn’t love the sights and atmosphere of a cricket match on a warm summer’s day? Fans are all too familiar with being thankful to players for the hard work they put in for our entertainment. Yet without one group of people, matches wouldn’t. This group of people is the groundsmen. Damian Hough is one of these men.
Cricket is one of very few sports where the conditions of the ground are different for every game.
Knowing these conditions and curating these conditions is a skill that few have perfected. A cricket groundsman or curator is responsible for the maintaining of a cricket field as well as producing the best pitches for matches.
Damian Hough is one man that does just that. He is responsible for one of the most picturesque grounds in the world and what many believe is the best Cricket pitch in Australia.
Hough, currently the head groundsman at The Adelaide Oval. He was nice enough to speak to The Inner Sanctum about his job and the upcoming summer.
Hough is known as one of the world’s best curators. But it wasn’t always that way. Becoming the best takes a lot of work, as he pointed out.
“I started as an apprentice in September 1996 and worked my way up to taking over running the grounds department in July 2010″ Hough explained.
“I have always had a passion for turf and am grateful to be given an opportunity to work at such an amazing ground,”
Adelaide Oval is laced full of history. from being the home of Bradman for a time to being where the Chappell’s grew up, The Adelaide Oval has also been the home of many of the very best test matches.
From ‘Amazing Adelaide’ in 2006 to South Africa hanging on, during one of the most enthralling draws in 2012. From 1996 Hough has been there for every single one of them.
Being at the cricket every summer is a massive privilege and something Hough was quick to point out.
“Extremely fortunate and blessed to work at Adelaide Oval, which I rate as one of the most picturesque grounds in world cricket. It has so much history; I pinch myself most days.” Hough explained.
Hough has been intimately involved and seen every change at Adelaide Oval for 25 years. Over the last decade, we have witnessed Adelaide Oval go from a dated cricket ground to a state-of-the-art stadium that is one of the best in the country and the world.
In 2011 Adelaide Oval saw AFL return to the venue. The return created many challenges for the grounds team, but overall, Hough believes these developments have been beneficial.
“The redevelopment of the stands and playing surface in 2013 has made Adelaide Oval a truly multipurpose venue.
“With sport and events occurring 12 months of the year – as well as concerts, functions, tours, RoofClimb and Oval Hotel – the venue is active, in some form or another, every day of the year,” Hough told of how the ground has changed in his time.
The most important aspect of Adelaide Oval for cricket lovers is the pitch. The pitch at Adelaide Oval has seen so much history over its time, from the Bodyline series to Shane Warne and Mitchell Johnson destroying the English.
While it may be a pitch steeped in history and highly rated, during the mid-2000s, there was some criticism. Critics suggested that the pitch was too flat, and scores were too high. While some of us may argue that it is just part of the pitch’s personality, Hough made changes.
The introduction of Day/Night Test cricket and The pink ball test is one change, but Hough believes a more significant change occurred during the ground’s redevelopment.
“The drop-in pitches have meant the long format characteristics of the pitch have slightly changed. However, feedback suggests it has been positive, with the pitch providing a good balance between bat and ball and the ability for both seam and spin to play a part.” Damian Hough said of how new pitches have affected the ground.
Throughout 25 years of experience, Hough has learned how to prepare the perfect pitch. Adelaide, in particular, has been the home of so many good white-ball matches as well as quality test matches under lights in recent years. Hough explained how the Adelaide Oval crew prepares for each form of the game.
“The (Sheffield) Shield and Test pitch preparation are identical. We are trying to produce the same type of pitch. A pitch that has a coarse layer of grass is tough and has good compaction.
“This allows the ball to grip slightly into the grass layer, providing seam and spin as well as good bounce and pace. Once the ball gets older, we hope runs can be scored more freely.” Hough explained his teams work on the pitch.
Over the last decade of test cricket at Adelaide Oval, high scoring has been the name of the game. The ground has averaged 33.35 runs per wicket, including an average of 1100 runs per test match being scored. This of course includes David Warners massive 335 not out against Pakistan.
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The Adelaide Oval has also been the home of many wonderful One Day and T20 matches. Adelaide is home to perhaps Australian cricket’s greatest spectacular, the New Year’s Eve Big Bash Game. Damian Hough went onto explain how his team prepares a pitch for white-ball cricket.
”With regards to white-ball cricket, we do the same type of preparation but have a soft fine leaf with no mat or coarseness of the grass. This change aims to allow for good pace, bounce, and carry, but little seam or spin.”
Adelaide Oval’s prowess as one of the most incredible white ball pitches is also shown in the numbers. In 14 matches played in the last decade, 6865 runs have been scored. These runs have come at an average of 31.63 runs per wicket at 5.14 runs per over. Adelaide is a high-scoring ground that allows an excellent spectacle for the fans.
To increase the spectacle of cricket at Adelaide Oval, Cricket Australia made Adelaide the home of the pink ball test. There seemed to be a lot of animosity around this in the early years, but Damian Hough saw it as a challenge to take head-on.
“In our first couple of years, we did have to alter the way we prepared the pitches. This was as much to do with the early development of drop-in pitches in Adelaide as us continuing to understand how they behaved – and trying to get them to deteriorate as the old pitches did.
“We now prepare all longer format pitches exactly the same; whether it be a day game or a day/night game, a Shield game or a Test match,” Hough explained how the Adelaide ground team prepares pitches in the new age of pink-ball cricket.
Cricket in the Covid era
Covid has been difficult for every sport to navigate and cricket has had to adapt to the challenges and changes like everyone else. We saw in 2020 a Sheffield Shield Hub in Adelaide, in which Adelaide Oval played a part. While Hough wasn’t the leading man looking after the hub, he was thankful for the hub staff’s work.
Hough explained the extra work that COVID brought in.
“The Big Bash League (BBL) schedule was very busy, with far more games than normal, but went really well.
“A number of venues around the country had an increase in games, with all curators and grounds departments continuing to do an exceptional job. At the end of the day, it is part of our job to assist, where we can, to get cricket up and running – this is our view with the increase in workload.
2020 also saw a lockdown throughout all of Australia while we got a handle on the pandemic. This affected many workplaces, including ground staff, as Hough explained.
“Lockdown was certainly a challenge, as it was for many. The focus of the role did not change, however, flexible scheduling was key.
“Due to the changing AFL fixture and series of new and different major events, including the postponed State of Origin Game 1 and National Pharmacies Christmas Pageant. We worked closely with Cricket Australia, the South Australian Cricket Association (SACA), SA Police, and SA Health to ensure we had a safe COVIDSafe Management Plan.”
The 2021/22 summer
This summer Adelaide Oval will see a tremendous amount of cricket once again. An Ashes summer is the pinnacle of cricket, and no man knows this better than Hough. While he is aware of all of the history of the Ashes, he doesn’t believe it adds pressure to the job, as he explained.
“I don’t feel added pressure between an Ashes year and non-Ashes. We try to produce a high-quality pitch and outfield, no matter who is playing. Every Test match comes with an incredible amount of pressure, but again, this is part of the job.”
This summer Adelaide Oval will host Sheffield Shield cricket, with the first match being on the 14th of October. Adelaide Oval will also host the second match of the Ashes, with the first ball being bowled on the 16th of December. Damian Hough will be the main man for all of Adelaide cricket for the upcoming summer.