Cricket Groundcare: Trent Bridge groundsman Steve Birks on challenge of getting ground ready
The clocks have leapt forward and the door has been slammed shut on the winter months but this spring is decidedly different for cricketers and cricket followers.
Along with all other sporting activities the world over, the domestic cricket season has been put on hold due to a global pandemic that has wreaked unparalleled havoc on all of our lives.
This is usually a time when supporters, armed with flasks of hot coffee, warming blankets and their freshly printed editions of the new Playfair Annual and Wisden Almanack, would be planning their first outdoor trip of the new season.
Instead they, like the rest of us, are left wondering how much of the campaign may be salvaged if there is any likelihood of a return to something resembling normality.
Whilst the County Championship season should have begun over the Easter weekend, things are understandably quiet around each of the 18 first-class counties.
This year, for the first time in more than a decade, Nottinghamshire’s preparations for the new season took place in the UK.
Although a small handful of players were able to get away to warmer climes and experience some form of cricket, the bulk of the playing staff honed their fitness and skills inside a giant marquee at their Lady Bay training base.
Those same players have now all been sent home, many with exercise bikes and other essential fitness regimes to follow and equipped with a series of daily core exercises in the hope of remaining as close to match-fit as possible.
As things stand, there will be no competitive cricket in the UK before 28 May and it may become necessary for further postponements.
It’s a waiting game for everyone, including groundstaff, to see if we can get any cricket this year. They have to be ready though, just in case restrictions are lifted.
At Trent Bridge, head groundsman Steve Birks is preparing for his 23rd season in charge. He and his crew were already having to cope with one of the wettest close seasons of recent times.
“It rained virtually every day through October and November, so it was difficult to put seed down without it getting washed away,” Birks said.
“Then we had the floods in January and February, so we were down on our grass covering at that time.”
Notts should have opened their campaign this coming weekend at home to Leicestershire, the first of six championship matches that have had to be postponed.
“We’d all rather be playing cricket on 12 April but it is fair to say that the delay in starting the season will give the surface some extra time to recover from the winter rain,” Birks said.
“The square is up to speed now and will be ready to go whenever cricket re-starts.”
This had looked like being a packed summer for Nottingham’s cricket watchers, with Trent Bridge due to have hosted domestic red and white ball matches, four fixtures in The Hundred competition, an England versus Pakistan Test match, a one-day international against Ireland and the final of the Royal London One-Day Cup.
How much of that programme can be salvaged remains unclear but Birks and his team are maintaining social distancing, whilst putting in the hours to keep the ground in tip-top condition.
“We have a skeleton staff of three to carry out work that’s essential,” said Birks. “With the heavy lifting that’s needed, it’s not suitable for lone-working but we’re very conscious of staying apart from each other and working safely.”
Safety, rather than cricket, a priority for us all right now.
©Cricket World 2020