TurfMeister - Keith McAuliffe, Chief Executive of the New Zealand Sports Turf Institute, consultants to the Asian Cricket Council on Grounds and Pitch Development

One has only to recall the landscapes featured in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ movies, which were shot in New Zealand to appreciate just how varied the terrain of that country is.

In New Zealand itself there has been a concern in recent years to preserve the bountiful richness of the soil that its inhabitants inherited, for deforestation and inappropriate land use have eroded many of its life-sustaining qualities. Attention to the problems of ground maintenance in their own country has literally created a cadre of New Zealand experts who understand the issues faced by groundsmen the world over.

The New Zealand Sports Institute (NZSTI) are world leaders in the field of curatorship and their proven excellence has been harnessed by the Asian Cricket Council for a number of years now. The association between the two bodies has now been formally extended through to 2008.

“Without quality playing surfaces you cannot have quality cricket.”

Keith McAuliffe and I corresponded by e-mail from his current base of operations in Queensland, Australia for this interview.

How did the NZSTI become the ACC’s Grounds and Pitch Development consultants?
"The Institute’s dealings with cricket in Asia go back to the mid 1990s, when I met up with representatives from the Malaysian and Singapore Cricket Associations. Subsequent contracts with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (to evaluate and report on first-class grounds in India) and the Malaysian Sports Ministry (to build cricket pitches for the 1998 Commonwealth Games) helped establish the Institute’s reputation in the region."

"When the time came for the ACC to select a body that could help with developing playing surfaces throughout Asia, the Institute was a logical choice. Mr Jagmohan Dalmiya, ACC President at that time also, demonstrated his faith in the Institute by offering a 3-year contract for developing grounds and providing Curator training courses."

A Fast Track fixture between Nepal and the UAE

Quite a leap from working within a country to working across a continent?
"Absolutely. Not only does the region cover a great diversity of climates from South East Asia through to the Gulf and Middle East, it represents arguably the most important region in world cricket, covering the Test playing nations of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Cricket is tremendously important to these countries who, for all the brilliant cricketers they produce, could not thrive without having quality playing surfaces on which to perform. We are very aware of our duties and responsibilities in this respect."

"In fact, we urge ACC member countries to be more pro-active in using the resources made available to them via the ACC."

What are the challenges you face?
"There is definitely a need for developing natural grass wickets and better quality grassed outfields in most member countries. This fact was borne out in a recent cricket administrator’s survey which identified 11 out of 14 participating countries requiring facilities improvement as a key priority."

"The ACC has demonstrated commendable vision in investing in developing and upgrading playing surfaces. As specialist consultant to the ACC, the Institute has endeavoured to identify what improvements are required and how the ACC could most wisely invest funds in achieving results."

Al Emarat in Muscat, Oman, soon to be a brand new ground

"From a technical angle the region has posed challenges for Institute staff. In the arid Middle East/Gulf region the main challenge with developing grassed surfaces is water supply (quality and cost). In the south eastern wet tropics region the main issue is too much water at times."

"Understanding the diversity of climate, soil, culture and economies has been critical in order for the Institute to offer the best, sustainable advice."

Thimphu Cricket Ground in Bhutan for which a full-size synthetic pitch is planned

So how do you go about communicating your expertise?
"The process involves visiting each country to assess facilities. To the average Kiwi cricketer it would perhaps come as a shock to learn that much of the cricket in the ACC region is played on bare sand outfields and concrete strips."

"In addition to the visits and consultancy work, the Institute has been running a 3-module training programme for curators throughout Asia. Several New Zealand curators have been called upon to assist Institute staff provide these courses. The intention is to built up a pool of trained local curators throughout the region, who in turn can help with the development of the next tier of grounds staff."

"Feedback from these courses has been excellent, and full praise and thanks must be given to those who have contributed."

The Curators Course in Kuwait in December 2004

No contact with Asia would be complete without a little lag time surely?!
"As the Institute moves in to the second phase of its contract with ACC it will continue to be challenged! There is still plenty to do in bringing about improved facilities and skilled curators to manage these facilities. A lot of that will improve with a greater sense of accountability and appreciation for - and from - the cricketers and administrators themselves."

"We have always found that short-cuts lead to problems!"

Next Page | “The ACC’s Development programme is resulting in much progress being made throughout Asia with cricket facilities.”