In the Media
Beyond the Bay Oval Lights - Chris Wilkins
During the current summer at the Bay Oval, an unfamiliar English accent can by picked up coming from one of the Bay Oval groundsmen. In this edition of Beyond the Bay Oval Lights, we chat with Chris Wilkins who is spending the English winter assisting Jared Carter (Bay Oval Turf Manager) and his troops, in keeping the Bay Oval in tip-top condition.
Where were you born and where do you currently live
I was born in the London Borough of Hillingdon, Middlesex and live in Croxley Green, Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire with my partner Anna and her children, daughter Erin (15) and son Ethan (13). I also have a son William who is 24 years of age.
Tell us little about your early background
Prior to working as a groundsman, I worked in the motor industry for 17 years, working with Volkswagen, BMW and finishing with Bentley and Aston Martin. I worked in after-sales service and bodyshop departments and corporate sales.
How did you get involved with turf management?
My local cricket club had a vacancy and my late step-father, Geoff Wilkins, thought it would be a good change of career. He was instrumental and guided me through my initial year. From his early days in the 1960’s, as a pro, they were required to assist with ground duties, so he inadvertently learnt a lot which was passed on to me.
Twelve years on, I have completed various courses and a sports turf diploma, shared ideas and continue to see and learn new things.
What is your involvement with turf management in England
At home for the last 12 years, I have been self employed and have run my own ground maintenance business with support of full and part-time team members. We are currently looking after a couple of local clubs grounds, a private and state school grounds, a Royal Air Force cricket ground and Potters Bar Town FC.
The state run school currently has the Middlesex U17 and U19 age groups playing at the ground.
Within the North West of London (Middlesex) I am on hand to assist local clubs as their pitch advisor for cricket and football.
How did the Bay Oval summer season come about?
This is my fourth visit to New Zealand for work and travel - with the first to Dunedin during 2015 Cricket World Cup, Dunedin again for the Sri Lankan test in 2016 and then Queenstown for the U19 CWC 2018. I was able to visit the Mount and whilst visiting family met up with Jared (Carter) and through our network kept in touch.
How long are you at the Bay Oval and how did you manage to get the required time off
Arrived on the 4th November and are here until 14th February. My partner is very understanding and knows that my job, is not just a job but a passion and makes the sacrifice for me along with our children.
I am fortunate to have a great team back home who cope with everything perfectly. Through the years whatever I have learnt for myself or even learnt from my team, it is shared with everyone insuring they know as much as I do, which leaves me to not have to think about work at home but the task at hand here in New Zealand.
What are the differences between turf management in England and New Zealand
We both grow grass and nurture it, trying to produce the best track and then we rip it all out at the end of the season. The climate is similar hot and humid, though with a weak Ozone layer, you do notice the rays from the sun are intense, which is not really the case in the UK.
Soil clay content in New Zealand is higher at 70-80% clay (I am lead to believe) the UK soil clay content is 25-33%. The UK tracks will all be rye grass, at the higher level rye grass and hybrid, where here you can have rye grass and couch cricket blocks.
What are you learning on your stint at the Bay Oval
With climate change and the increase with temperatures in the UK - I am taking ideas and best practice on how to best manage our blocks. At home we historically cut our tracks down to 3mm for a match, which some groundsmen still do. We are now seeing groundsmen changing their ways and starting to leave the tracks with 8mm of grass, though not as thick and dense, but longer.
On each trip to New Zealand, I seem to get a better understanding of the culture and of the Maori ways and traditions which is of real interest to me. I am fortunate to have a younger cousin who shares the stories he has learnt at school from his Maori class.
How does the Bay Oval playing surface stack up with English international wickets?
From my personal experience the ground is up there with the best. I also have contact with a few England players who remark and tell me how they have enjoyed playing at the Mount and look forward to coming back.
Have you had any other international turf management experience?
Apart from the other New Zealand venues, I have been fortunate to work with and am still supporting the West Indies (Cricket) Board in Antigua, Barbados and Grenada, currently consulting with the St Vincent ground.
What are your impressions of Tauranga and Mount Maunganui
Tauranga and Mount Maunganui is a wonderful place to be, with lots to do around the area. Once away from town, the country has so much to offer and explore.
Did you enjoy your summer Christmas?
I felt lost without the multiple layers of warm clothing, hat and scarf, quite unusual to be wearing shorts, t-shirts and jandals at this time of year. The shops in NZ were brightly decorated for Christmas, though it was not the case at home, around the neighbourhood I was only able to see a handful of houses decorated for Christmas, which is a considerable difference to back home. All in all, though, it was a wonderful Christmas with family.
What were your impressions on the Bay Oval test match and how did they compare with the atmosphere at home
Lords or the Oval are so different to the Bay Oval, with a much larger population in London (depending on the terminology Inner, Outer or Greater London. - population figures varies from 10-18 million people). You certainly feel that buzz and feel how vibrant it is as you enter the grounds, with the hustle and bustle and the chattering of crowds, who are extremely enthusiastic.
The Bay Oval has its own character and is unique, with the additional bank grass area, corporate areas with marquee’s or on the terrace, plus the entrance is a vibrant place with music, the local business food and drink court area and seating, which allows you to watch the game on a large screen so you do not miss a ball.
All of this makes and sets the scene, for fans that are free to move about and come and go as they please, without missing anything. The English fans (I think I am right) were singing their songs and enjoyed it so much that by the second day they drank the bar dry.