Newlands loss is Wanderers gain as Flint leaves his ‘rock’
The Bull Ring beckons after grounds manager won accolades over more than a decade in the Mother City
After Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur criticised the standard of SA pitches during the New Year’s Test at Newlands, he sought out Evan Flint, the groundsman, to explain himself.
“Mickey … came to me on the fourth morning after he saw how his comments had blown up and things had got a little out of hand,” said Flint.
“He said he was just calling it as he sees it, and, well, I completely agree with him. I think Wanderers was probably the best out of the three. Myself [Newlands] and Centurion were definitely far too early. You can’t have uneven bounce on day two of the Test match.
“The easy argument would have been to look at the score and how well SA were batting, but with okes getting hit on the gloves and with all the stoppages … it certainly wasn’t my best pitch.”
It would be hard to find anyone who would not describe Flint as a good guy. He has a disarming honesty that has stood him in good stead as he has progressed from an assistant groundsman at Kingsmead to head up the field at Newlands, where he has spent 10-and-ahalf years.
On February 1 he will start a new adventure as grounds manager at the Wanderers. He has been voted Cricket SA’s groundsman of the year twice and has been praised for transforming the Newlands pitch into a world-class one, after taking the brave decision to relay six pitches when he arrived.
Many SA pitches may need surgery to avoid enforcing Arthur’s point, he says.
“A cricket pitch has a life span, but with all the cricket we have you simply can’t afford to dig one up,” said Flint. “If you relay it, that means it will be out of action for 10-14 months. The three or four middle strips are the TV strips on the big ground and no one has relayed them for a good 10 years and we may, possibly, be about to hit a few problems,” he said.
“We have had a few problems in the past few years and a lot of it is down to that.”
The Wanderers once had a history for recruiting the country’s best to the Bull Ring and in Flint they will have a man who can boast a fine record in Test cricket. From March 2009 to January 2019, his pitches have seen SA win 10 of 14 Tests, with three losses and one draw.
Leaving Table Mountain will be hard, said Flint, but, well, it is the Wanderers.
“It ’s a question that I still ask myself when I go to work every day and you see that big rock in the background, and you wonder, ‘What am I doing leaving he r e? ’ At the same time, I was in Joburg for the Test match, for the build-up and a day, and, well, it’s the Wanderers. You walk in there, you hear the ball hit the bat and that echo that goes around the stadium.
“These kind of jobs come around so seldom. Scotty [Legendary groundsman Chris Scott] was there for it feels like 50 years. It was a new challenge.
“I feel I had done as much as I can at Newlands, I had taken it as far as I can go. My job and title is going to be basically the same, but I just want to get my shoes off and get my toes into the sand and the grass. That’s as good as it can get.”
On the first day of his first Test in March 2009 against Australia he was nervous, wondering what the wicket would do.
“It ’s got no better after all these years,” laughed Flint. “I still get nervous as all hell. I was hoping it was going to get better and that time would make it easier, but it’s just as bad as it was for the first game. The Wanderers might be even worse.”
Flint is expecting to do a little more work in the winter with the Highveld receiving most of its rain in summer. In Cape Town, he would have his “feet up for three months”, but on a tour of the Wanderers, Scott showed him where the block of winter nets is.
“So, they train in winter here,” laughed Flint. He is looking forward to it all, learning how to ride Joburg’s thunderstorms.
He will still get nervous before internationals, he will still watch the first session on the television instead of live, but, you believe, he will help shape the future of the Wanderers into a place that has always kept both batters and bowlers honest. It’s all he wants and all he knows.