As far as workplaces go, Mick Hunt has little competition. As Head Groundsman at Lord’s, he has the enviable task of tending to the most hallowed real estate in cricket. Hunt joined the ground-staff in 1969 but after 49 years in the job, he is retiring. Thursday’s Test match, between India and England, is set to be the last of a distinguished career.
“It’s been testing at times; there have been good and bad times. A lot of people have said that [I had to complete 50 years] but figures are not important. When your body tells you it’s enough, it’s enough. I’ve got a family to think of, my health to think of,” he says.
Hunt was a wicket-keeper for Middlesex Colts but wasn’t good enough to play professionally. He joined the ground-staff instead, to remain involved with a game he loved dearly.
Since he took over as Head Groundsman, in 1985, Hunt has developed a reputation for producing good pitches. “I’ve always played it fair,” says the 66-year-old. “A lot of visiting captains over the years have said, ‘At least we know Lord’s is going to be fair.’ And that’s very heartening.
A curator’s job is a thankless one, rues Hunt. “Years ago, most of the commentators weren’t ex-cricketers, they just loved cricket. Today, most of them are ex-cricketers. They speak as if they never dropped a catch or bowled a bad ball in their lives. It does annoy you sometimes when after the first over of a five-day Test match they’ve already passed their judgement on the pitch, which is total nonsense.”
He still feels nervous on the morning of a Test match. “For the first few overs you’re thinking, ‘Have I done it right? Have I done it wrong?’ It’s nerve-wracking. I don’t enjoy Test matches. Too much stress.”
There’s no secret to pitch preparation, Hunt says. “I don’t think there’s a special ingredient. Mother nature plays a part. The pitch for this India Test match has been very challenging because it’s so hot. Out in the middle it’s 34-35 degrees.
“We’ve had the pitch covered a lot more than usual, to keep the moisture in and keep the sun off. I’ve been out there at five o’clock in the morning with a roller. It’s cooler then. It’s just me and the pigeons and the old fox out there.”
His favourite match of all time is the Natwest Series final of 2002, when India came from behind to beat England. “It’s probably the best game of cricket I’ve seen. Towards the end, I was cheering for India,” he chuckles. His advice to aspiring groundsmen is simple: “We curators are here to ensure people are entertained. So keep it fair. A good contest is what you want.”
With a World Cup and an Ashes series scheduled for next year, he has no desire to continue. “I’m a bit sad to be leaving,” he smiles, “but the time is right.”
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