Size, men are often reassured, isn’t everything – but for Nottinghamshire’s Steve Birks every millimetre matters.
The Trent Bridge groundsman recently lifted the ECB’s Groundsman of the Year Award in the one-day category and shared second place in its four-day equivalent.
His outstanding pitches helped England to a 10-wicket victory against Sri Lanka, whilst Notts triumphed in each of their Friends Life t20 group stage matches.
Yet having watched the 2010 county champions slide to sixth in Division One last season he’s more determined than ever to make the most of what he’s got to perk things up.
He said: “When we won the Championship we were cutting the wickets at 7mm and last year we flattened them out a bit more at 5mm.
“I don’t want to pre-empt what Mick Newell has to say but I’ve a feeling we might be changing that next season.
“It’s very nice to win the award but that’s no good if the team finish bottom of the league. We need to work as a unit – me, the captain and Mick.”
At most grounds around the world the chief executive would almost certainly be another stakeholder in the state of the pitch.
But Birks is adamant that Notts’ chief executive Derek Brewer has never encouraged him to make a pitch which lasts that bit longer.
He said: “Derek is fantastic. A week after he arrived he said that the groundsman is under the most pressure at a cricket club.
“He’s never asked for a so-called chief exec’s wicket. We sit down and decide what’s best for Notts or England and work together.
“I like a sporting contest that lasts until tea-time on the fourth or fifth day, depending on whether it’s a Championship or Test, and ends with a Notts or England victory. If I could have that every time I’d be a happy man.”
As well as a supportive hierarchy Birks attributes his success to a mixture of science and luck. He added: “The reason I won the award was that we got water on at the right time. It’s all about getting the right amount into the ground.
“Once it dries out you can never get enough back in. You have to maintain that moisture otherwise it’s a constant battle between being too wet and too dry.”
Birks took over groundsman duties at Trent Bridge in1997, having previously tended the pitches at Derbyshire.
In almost 15 years at the eastern end of the A52 he’s seen a number of changes, not least in the ground’s growing reputation as a bowler-friendly venue.
But he claims that is more to do with swing than seam – and that it doesn’t always work in favour of the hosts.
“Since we’ve had the new Radcliffe Road stand up it seems to swing a hell of a lot more and mostly it just does enough to make it interesting.
“But it may have been the reason we struggled with opening batters last season because it was doing too much.
“The nursery ground down the road is completely different and is as flat as anything so it’s difficult for batsmen making that adjustment.