Looking after the hallowed ground: Evan Flint (left) and his crew pictured at Newlands. Photo: Independent Media

CAPE TOWN - Evan Flint is a man of simple tastes. In summer he will rarely be seen in anything other than shorts, slip-slops and his treasured dog-eared Western Province floppy handed to him by his lookalike Andrew Puttick upon arrival in Cape Town eight years ago.

Although recently the proud father of a baby boy after marrying his long-time girlfriend Jacqueline, Flint has only a few passions that keep him completely satisfied: Portsmouth FC, Maritzburg College and grass of course.

But with the Newlands curator’s beloved “Pompey” languishing in England’s League Two in recent years, Flint has had to gain pleasure from the remaining two. (Though Portsmouth were promoted after winning the division recently.)

However, last Saturday he was almost forced to choose between them. It was the equivalent to asking a mother to pick a favourite child. Flint had been nominated as Cricket South Africa’s Groundman of the Year and was summoned to attend the CSA Awards breakfast in Sandton.

The hiccup in the entire story was that Flint was due back in his hometown, Pietermaritzburg, to celebrate his 20-year school reunion on the Friday before the big rugby derby against Michaelhouse the next day.

A mutually beneficially agreement was eventually reached, with Flint opting to enjoy a few cold beverages with his old school mates, which should have included Kevin Pietersen - only for the former England Test star not to pitch - before a 3am awakening catch a 06:15 flight to Johannesburg to attend the Awards ceremony. He would though miss the rugby.

But fortunately for Flint, who cleaned up nicely in a jacket, white shirt, blue jeans and black formal shoes, the sacrifice was worth it as he was awarded the CSA Groundsman prize for the first time in his career.

“CSA called me to say that I needed to get up to Joburg for the awards. I immediately checked the calendar and boy was I bleak!

“I spoke to my wife and told her there was no way I could miss my reunion. I mean it was 20 years in the making! I informed CSA that I wasn’t going to attend. However, a week before the Awards, Nabeal (Dien, Cape Cobras CEO) told me that he had received a call about trying to convince me to attend.

“At that stage I realised I could actually win it, so now I was really stumped. After numerous calls between CSA and myself to find the appropriate flight, and with the help of my folks - they were integral in getting me to the airport - I eventually decided to bite the bullet and take that early flight.”

Those who are regular Newlands patrons will know that going the extra mile is nothing new to Flint. He is often the first person to arrive at the stadium and the last person to leave on a daily basis. Flint can be found watering the square long after the lights have been switched off after a day-night match or preparing the nets on a Sunday afternoon for the week ahead.

It is this high work ethic that many believed often went unrewarded at CSA awards presentations in the past. Flint, though, believes it’s just “part of the job” and that when he opted to “job shadow” former Kingsmead groundsman Phil Russell, when still a Grade 11 pupil, it was never for any personal recognition down the line.

And it for this reason that Flint believes his team and fellow groundstaff members are equally deserving of the award.

“This award is not just for me, but the entire staff that work so hard. I am happy to share the honours with them. We’ve got such a great team and I’m grateful to work with a bunch of guys who are so committed to getting the job done.

“It all starts in the build-up to any game. When players and coaches come up to me and thank me for the quality of the surfaces in the nets when they are done training, it feels that we are doing a good job. If your net facilities and pitches are good that usually translates into a good playing surface on match-day.”

When Flint arrived at Newlands almost a decade ago the outfield and pitch were in desperate need of improvement and restoration. With record scores now being struck at Newlands - the past season was the first time a batting team posted 400 in a limited-overs match - and the outfield in pristine condition despite severe water shortages, Newlands is now thoroughly deserving of its status as arguably the most picturesque ground in the world.

And that has plenty to do with a “Makatini from Maritzburg” and his team’s dedication to their craft.

Cape Times

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