The man who mows the lawns

Jared Carter, manicurist to the Bay Oval.

It’s one of the vagaries of sport, particularly cricket. The weather.

It can save games, lose games, make games, and destroy games. At a whim. And because even the noble institution of cricket can’t control the elements; it becomes a relevant something that captains, umpires, spectators and grounds men just have to factor in. Live with it.

So no-one was surprised when SunLive headed out to get a photograph of Jared Carter, manicurist to the Bay Oval, and one of summer’s busiest men, a shower of biblical proportions dumped on the oval to spoil things.

There was no cricket being played. But even if there had been cricket, there would have been no cricket.  

Jared – modest cricketer but legendary turf manager – that’s a groundsman in the old currency, but a learned, studied groundsman.

“I played Hawke Cup for Nelson,” says Jared. So moderately accomplished rather than just ‘modest’ – he was a handy off-spinner and a reasonable bat. “But I knew at 17 or 18 that I wasn’t going to make it. I just didn’t have it.”

“Our good fortune,” says Kelvin Jones, general manager of the Bay Oval Trust. “We are bloody lucky to have him.”

Because while Jared was enjoying modest success on the pitch, he was cultivating a career just off it, doing his turf apprenticeship.

Tending to “the living beast” as he calls the pitch, that seriously compacted 22 metre block of grass growing in ‘concrete’ out in the middle – centre stage of a cricket match.

“And what better way to spend a day than preparing a cricket wicket and then sitting down and watching a game. A great job? Yeah, I think so!”

Three office colleagues had their own spin on that. “I would rather jam my head in a door,” said one philistine.

“I would rather go to a funeral,” said another philistine. And: “I’d rather spend the day in a dark room.” But they wouldn’t know silly mid from deep backward square or a popping crease if they slid their bat safely over one.

Anyhow, SunLive decided to chat with Jared because he’s the man at the Bay Oval; the cricketing oasis in the bay.

He’s the bloke who preens the oval to picture perfect, the manicurist. He transforms a lawn into a green baize carpet, and when the TV cameras are in town it’s a global advertisement for Tauranga.

The old style groundsmen have rep – crusty, crotchety old buggers, not to be meddled or messed with types. And don’t walk on their grass. Even when I approached the Bay Oval Trust for a chat with Jared, I was told: “Oh – he probably won’t like that”.  

No-one told Jared. He breaks the stereotype – a genial bloke with a deep personal commitment and understanding of his craft, who loves the game and loves sharing stories about that love. And his only concern about engaging with the media was he might swear too much.

He saved one of his two expletives for the Basin Reserve where he once worked. “Great cricket ground but s*** weather.” There’s defence in truth. And the other expletive was fired at rugby stadiums and golf courses in general.

“They’re as boring at bats***.” From a turf manager’s perspective that is. “The work’s very routine, very structured; very monotonous. It’s probably over-simplifying it but a lot of what they do is just mowing, marking, fertilising and spraying.”

Whereas building up to a cricket match there are many more challenges presenting themselves. Like that vagary the weather. “So you are much more focused on that little bit of mud out there.”

Little bit of mud? He means that hallowed block in the middle, the pitch, the ‘bit of mud’ he spends countless hours mowing, rolling, fertilising, nurturing, covering, uncovering, the bit of mud that probably keeps him awake at night.

And what makes Jared’s job different is he’s growing grass in an environment that is exactly opposite to all other turf management. “With rugby and golf you are decompacting, loosening the turf to get the grassroots deep as possible to give you a luscious bed.”

But with cricket Jared is compacting, trying to get the pitch like concrete with healthy grass growing in it. “Then come game we kill the grass, or get as close to killing it as possible, stripping the colour out of it.

“With the white ball – T20s and One Day Internationals, the short forms of cricket – spectators turn up and want to see lots of runs. Big sixes and lots of fours. So we try to make a true a wicket as is possible – quick and bouncy, no seam nor spin, in other words a batsmen’s paradise.”

So you don’t want a short form game won on the toss of a coin at the beginning – you want a good true wicket and two teams prepared to back themselves.

No, the bowlers don’t have a word in his ear. They wouldn’t do that. And that wouldn’t do.

“The bowlers in short form cricket understand they are on a hiding to nothing. It’s about runs not wickets. And they back themselves to use the conditions they’ve got.” No good complaining about it.

They want bums on seats and those bums on the seats are paying to see a spectacle– they want pace and bounce so the ball will fly. Excitement. “If we have a low slung wicket it’s going to be hard to score boundaries. And if that happens, I cop it.”

And rather than disagree with television’s cricket commentators, Jared chooses not to listen.

”I self-analyse; I am self-critical. I don’t need commentators to tell me whether the wicket’s not doing what I want it to.”

There’s just a whiff of disdain from the turf manager. But of course he understands Rigor, Doully and Smithy and the like are sitting up there for seven hours a day and need things to talk about, like the pitch and presentation of the field. “But I don’t listen to them. I sit on the boundary where there’s no TV and I absorb the atmosphere.”

He’s worked at Lords and Old Trafford and 21 venues throughout New Zealand. He was also tapped to build wickets in the United States of America, where baseball is “the game of national pastime”. The Black Caps stopped in on the way home from the Caribbean to play Sri Lanka. And there were also wickets required for a division four International Cricket Council world cup qualifying tournament in Los Angeles. Our turf manager was there.

The late cricket legend Richie Benaud once described a cricket ground as a flat piece of earth with buildings around it. Technically, that could be the Bay Oval – but with 10,000 holidaying fans, the heat of the day and a tense ODI going down, it takes on new significance. Bay Oval becomes a mecca for the faithful – and one of the most picturesque and delightful purpose-built cricket settings in the country.

And that’s largely due to Jared’s work.

The Bay Oval will occupy much of Jared’s summer, he will be there most weekends, that’s the nature of the ‘living beast”. “Long hours but if you love working outdoors, it’s great. And if you love sports and especially cricket, then it’s even greater.”

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