Johannesburg: When Chris Scott sits down to watch the World Cup final at the Wanderers on Sunday, few people will realise what a big part this virtually unknown man has played in the outcome of the game.For 32 years, except for a three-year break from 1996, Scott has been the groundsman at Wanderers and there is nothing he does not know about the famous venue."I know just about every blade of grass here," Scott said. His face is weather-beaten by hours under the harsh African sun and his numerous pictures of famous tussles between South Africa and arch rivals Australia, bears testimony of his commitment to prepare a perfect pitch."I like to think of these grounds as a stage. The players are the actors, and I am a stage manager. Once play starts, however, I stay in the background," he said.
At Wanderers there are 10 pitches with different wickets having been used for the five World Cup games which have already been played. Made from a special clay and compacted by hours of rolling, the preparation of the middle is an exact science.One of the most important aspects is to get the moisture content just right."If the moisture content is too high, you get a soft pitch, which gets damaged by the batsmen, the bowlers and the ball.
If it's too dry, it can crack, giving the ball an uneven bounce," said Scott.The amount of grass growing also plays a huge roll on how it will perform.More grass favours bowlers, which allows the seam of the ball to bite into the pitch, causing it to swing while little or no grass at all favours the batsmen with straight-forward and slower balls.Wanderers has traditionally been a fast pitch, favouring medium and speed bowlers.
For the final, however, Scott is planning a batsman's pitch which he hopes will produce total scores in the region of between 250 to 280 runs."I want to give the 32,000 spectators and the 1.25 billion people watching on television a batting spectacular," he said. Long hours of work have gone into the preparation of cricket's premier battleground, often under difficult conditions and often long after the spectators have returned home.South Africa has 12 official groundsmen, at least four of them black, said Scott.
In the run-up to the tournament, one of the sponsors ran a television advertisement featuring "Chris Scott" and how his dream of having the six-week tournament being played in South Africa came true.The only problem was that the groundsman wasn't Scott - he is played by an actor chosen by the advertising company, much to the real Scotty's chagrin.But recognition does come in the strangest ways.
A personal highlight was three years ago when, after only one day of play during a rain-drenched Test against New Zealand, he was appointed man of the match."It's probably the only time ever a groundsman has been awarded that particular honour," said Scott. But the World Cup has been the highlight."For 32 years I have waited for a World Cup final to be played here. The final is the be-all and end-all of cricket. The pressure on a groundsman is immense to do it right," he said. "For me it's a dream and a nightmare come true."