Sidharth Monga on India in South Africa 2010-11 December 22, 2010

The story of a groundsman

Wilson Ngobese is an unassuming 50-year-old who looks much younger than he is

Wilson Ngobese is an unassuming 50-year-old who looks much younger than he is. Kingsmead in Durban is his second home. He has been working here for at least 30 years, first as a labourer under Jai [that’s all of the name he remembers], the chief groundsman when Ngobese came here, and then slowly graduated to become the chief groundsman. He has no airs about his job, unlike a few others in other parts of the world, nor does he think too much of the massive significance of his position - being the only black African chief groundsman in the country.

For him, though, it has always been a matter of personal ambition. “I started here more than 30 years ago, but after some time I thought, ‘Why can’t I do this more important job. There is nothing wrong with me, why should I work as a labourer all my life?’”

So he started moving up the ranks, learning under Jai, and later under Phil Russell, but there was a limit to his ambition. “We couldn’t play cricket those days,” he says. “We just played soccer, and I love it still.”

I want to know what got him into the job if he didn’t ever play cricket. It was the self-respect that an important job brings, he says, and he loves watching cricket just as much anyway. “I have seen and cheered for Barry Richards here,” he says. “Graeme Pollock. Vince van der Bijl. Shaun Pollock was my favourite cricketer. Now that he is gone, I have settled for a small boy, Jacques Kallis. The team all treats me like a friend now.”

About the work, he says, “It is a tough job, I hardly go to my family during the season.”

Wasn’t learning how to make pitches difficult for him? “No. It’s a lot of hard work, that’s it. I can teach you how to make pitches. Come, you will have to start by measuring a strip, three yards wide by 22 yards long.”

I ask him if he had to face any discrimination because of his colour as he rose in the hierarchy. “No, they were in fact happy. I was born in Durban. I will die in Durban.”

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo