Andrew Alderson

Andrew Alderson is a sport writer for the Herald on Sunday.

60 seconds with: Karl Johnson, Groundsman

Karl Johnson
Karl Johnson

Greetings, Karl. You took up a contract with Emirates in May to improve the turf quality at the precinct which hosted last week's Dubai Sevens. How's it unfolding? It's described as "Dubai's biggest party of the year" for a reason. It's estimated that around 3000 players participate in various tournaments at all the grounds including the main stadium.

What are you responsible for there? I maintain the turf on all seven rugby and three cricket grounds which form the sporting precinct about 40 minutes' drive from downtown. I've also helped organise a reconstruction project for the three cricket ovals which recently gained approval for International Cricket Council use. They had some trouble with the blocks last year where some cricket had to be cancelled.

You must have been flat out? Dubai doesn't have a lot of good turf facilities so my brief included rebuilding two ovals, setting up irrigation systems and putting 10 strips on both grounds after negotiating a clay order from Pakistan. Then they decided to add another ground, so we got stuck into that.

"Stuck into" sounds like an understatement ... More than 50 staff took about eight weeks to construct the ground which included negotiating Ramadan [the Muslim month of fasting] and the installation of portable lights so nocturnal work could be done to compensate for sleeping between the hottest daylight hours of 12.30-3pm. The facilities have since hosted ICC warm-up qualifying matches and will feature on the itinerary of the under-19 World Cup in February.

Has the OE been a revelation? My wife and our two boys (the second of whom was born in July) joined me in the Middle East during September. It's been a chance for us to do something different together. We live seven storeys up in a high- rise apartment which is a touch different to Hamilton. There's a bit more concrete ... I'm also legally driving 120km/h on the other side of the road which feels kind of crazy. I've never seen so many Ferraris and Lamborghinis but it's cheap to drive. I can fill the tank for about 18 New Zealand bucks. Then there's the shopping. Dubai apparently has the world's largest shopping centre and one mall has got a skifield inside. We're enjoying these differences. There's no tax but, depending on what you do, it can be expensive to live here because there's so much user pays.

Presumably the raincoat's gathering cobwebs? I was working in 53 degrees doing renovations on one (cricket) ground before returning to minus two degrees in Hamilton for the birth of my son in July. I don't miss the rain, though. We get about 100ml a year. The biggest problems are sandstorms. I've seen the whole place covered, including a Ferrari coated in two to three inches of the stuff.

- NZ Herald

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