Groundsman Set For Test Debut: As Adam Lewis embarked on his first day in the job he bought lunch and sat in one of the grandstands at the SCG alone, with the famous venue all to himself.
“I just went ‘wow’,” he admits, saying he found the experience of walking into his new workplace as magical.
On Thursday, there will barely be an empty seat with a sold-out crowd of more than 40,000 in attendance for the first day of the fifth and final Ashes Test.
The series between Australia and England may have been clinched, but for Lewis, only the ninth SCG curator in the 160-year history of the ground, it is occasion he has been waiting his entire working life for.
It is less than two months since he took up the role, replacing his long-time predecessor Tom Parker, and the Sydney Test is his maiden first-class pitch at the SCG.
“I think it’s going to be overwhelming, watching that first ball bowled,” Lewis said. “There will be a lot of relief. But I’m excited. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Lewis, installed in the coveted position after years as the lead groundsman at Hurstville Oval, arrived as part of a restructure that also saw a grounds manager, Justin Groves, recruited from Adelaide Oval to oversee operations at the SCG as well as Allianz Stadium next door.
He is humbled by the history of the place and the legacy left by curators and pitches past, as well as players. The eight curators before him include Ned Gregory, who played in the first Test in 1877 and lived in the old SCG curator’s cottage around the time of the birth of his son, Syd, who would go on to play 58 Tests for Australia.
Groves, too, is conscious of the great figures that have walked on the turf before them, and has a personal connection to the greatest of them.
With his grandfather, the former Australian Cricket Board chairman Phil “Pancho” Ridings, he visited Sir Donald Bradman at his Adelaide home when he was a boy, having a bat signed that is now on display inside his office beneath the stand at the SCG that bears the legendary batsman’s name.
“I went to his house and got it done. My grandpa took me there one day. I would have been nine or 10, I reckon,” Groves says. “He gave me some Fritz and sauce and a glass of lemonade so I was pretty happy as a young fella.”
In his 15 years at Adelaide Oval Groves also had “quite a bit” to do with a young groundsman there by the name of Nathan Lyon, witnessing the meteoric rise of the Australian off-spinner first-hand.
“I was one of his bosses when he first came over there,” Groves said.
“He was great, a good young kid coming through. He was playing a bit of A-grade cricket in our competition and was sort of plucked out of obscurity to bowl in the [interstate] T20s. We were quite close in Adelaide and we still text each other and try and catch-up whenever we can when he’s not on tour.”
Lewis prepared wickets for Sheffield Shield and domestic one-day matches at Hurstville, and got to know some of the country’s leading players including Test captain Steve Smith.
The ground also played host to Australian sessions under his watch including a notorious one in 2016 when Mitchell Starc was rushed to hospital with deep cuts in his leg following a freak training accident. The incident was no fault of the Hurstville staff but it was a frightening moment, Lewis recalls.
“Steve Smith and [David] Warner came racing over to me and they were white. I thought ‘this is bad’,” he said.
“We just called the ambulance straight away.”
Lewis and Groves are putting the finishing touches on their first Sydney Test wicket with pitches and curators in the news. The Boxing Day Test strip was widely panned and on Tuesday night was officially labelled as “poor” by the International Cricket Council.
Groves does not believe what transpired in Melbourne puts any additional pressure on them at the SCG and feels for the ground staff at the MCG.
“I feel very compassionate towards them,” he said. “You know the work that goes into a cricket pitch and you put your heart and soul on the line for it.
“To get the feedback that they got is disappointing but obviously as a curator you’ve got to cop that on the chin and work out ways to move forward and make sure you’re producing the best pitch you can every time you go out there.
“We’re just going to produce the pitch that we think is going to have a bit in it for everybody.”
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