Ben makes sure Sussex's pitches are in first-class condition - but when will they see some first-class cricket?
When he took over as Head Groundsman at Sussex in the first week in March, Ben Gibson’s priority was to try and get a wicket ready for the first pre-season friendly on March 23.
“We’d had a very wet February and early March and it was touch and go whether we’d be ready for the first game,” he said.
“The pitch would have been okay, but the outfield would have been touch and go. It’s a bit crazy when you think of what has happened since then.”
Instead of a game against Hampshire on March 23, the country went into lockdown as the coronavirus crisis escalated. Six weeks on Gibson sits on his mower at the 1st Central County Ground wondering, like everyone else, when or even if there will be any cricket this summer.
It’s been an extraordinary first few weeks in the job for Gibson, who came on to the ground staff at Hove in 2011, after serving a two-year apprenticeship at Horsham CC.
He has taken over from the popular Andy Mackay, who was ‘HG’ at Sussex for 14 years before becoming ECB’s Pitches and Grounds Advisor.
Mackay and his team won nine awards for the quality of their pitches during his time while the outdoor nets, which Gibson has looked after for the past five years, are highly regarded on the county circuit.
Like most county groundsman, he is still working normally. “We have a couple of maintenance guys on site but most of the time it’s just me,” he said.
“There are still plenty of jobs to do. Grass is now growing again after a wet March was followed by one of the driest Aprils on record. To be honest, the rain we’ve had in the last few days has been very welcome.
“I mow the outfield every day which takes about 90 minutes and there are lots of smaller jobs around the site which I can get on with.”
Gibson’s team of ten also look after the Academy ground at Blackstone and the Aldridge Cricket Academy in Brighton, where Sussex’s women’s team are based.
Eight have come through an apprenticeship scheme Mackay began in 2009. Two of his colleagues are working full-time to keep both sites ticking over.
There are 17 pitches on the square at Hove, three of them the new hybrid surfaces which Gibson still hopes will be used for one-day cricket this year.
So how long would it take to get a wicket prepared for first-class or one-day cricket?
“We haven’t done anything to the square itself for the last few weeks, but I reckon we could be ready to play in a couple of weeks,” he said.
“Renovations this winter were more difficult because last October, when we started, was so wet but I’m interested to see how the hybrid pitches play. But we would still have to do a renovation this winter, no matter how much cricket we play.
“The best way of getting rid of thatch (dead vegetation between grass and soil) is cricketers playing on it.”
The ECB have announced that there will be no professional cricket until at least July 1.
“As soon as we have a timetable I can get the rest of the team back and we can start to get ready,” said Gibson. “But it would be really strange to have a whole summer without cricket.”