Thursday 10 January 2008 

Steve Birks Interview

Cricket World caught up with Nottinghamshire head groundsman Steve Birks, who took time out of a busy schedule to tell us about his life as a groundsman and the role he plays, and the future of the Trent Bridge ground, which is undergoing extensive re-development.

Can you tell us a little about your background as a groundsman?

I wanted to do something with sport, but I wasn’t quite good enough to play at a decent level, so the next best thing was groundsmanship. I’ve been doing it for 30 years now - I was at Derbyshire for 18 years and I’ve been here (Trent Bridge) for nearly 11 years. I went to college in Derby and started there as assistant groundsman at 16 and did four years as assistant and then I was head groundsman for about seven years after that. I came over here 11 years ago and have enjoyed it ever since.

The profile of a groundsman has changed quite drastically, hasn’t it?

Yes, that’s improving all the time. People realise how important the job is – we’ve had a new chief executive who started two years ago and his first comment was ‘I can’t believe how much pressure the groundsman is under.’ He classes our department as the most important because that Test wicket is worth a million pounds; if that goes wrong, the club loses a lot of money.

Nowadays, we’re really well looked after; everybody thinks the groundsman is worth his weight in gold. Wages are a lot better than they used to be, but there is a lot more paperwork now than there used to be.

When you prepare a Test wicket, is that still about 40-50 hours worth of work?

Yes, it’s catch 22 though as sometimes, you’re under pressure – everybody wants a bit of you. We had a bad one here a few years ago against South Africa, where it was an awful wicket. It was a good game of cricket, and England won, so everybody was happy but I got absolutely slated in some pubs and praised in others. When it goes wrong in England, they do slate the groundsman. That makes it hard work.

And what about the work involved with the pitch for domestic games?

We could have four Championship matches in May, and that’s going to be hard work and with this year’s bad weather, we’ve been working 48 hours non-stop. The day before the Test match, the ground was completely flooded, so we had to work all night. We had to do that many extra hours just to get grounds fit and games to be played but we worked well – we brought extra machines in and we ended up pumping out a tremendous amount of water.

How is the new ground re-development going?

It’s really going well, and it’ll really change the face of the ground. There’s a new scoreboard going up, with a TV on it – that’s what you need now for applying for Test matches. We’ve got floodlights coming as well and they’re going to be the most powerful ones in England.

Will that all be ready for next year?

Yes, it should be ready for the start of the season; it will be officially opened during the Test match against New Zealand in June. That will be tremendous.

In November, one month after our visit to Trent Bridge, Steve was named as runner-up in the ECB Groundsman of the Year Awards. He came second in both the one-day and four-day categories, narrowly missing out on the top prize, won by Bill Gordon from the Brit Oval.

© Cricket World 2008