A recent trip to Nottingham gave me the opportunity to catch up with Steve Birks, Head Groundsman at the County Cricket Ground. I was keen to find out more about the new multi-million redevelopment project to expand the capacity of Trent Bridge and build more top-class facilities for players and spectators.
Trent Bridge is the home of Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club. It is recognised as one of the finest cricket venues anywhere in the world and has hosted County and Test cricket since 1899 making it the world's third oldest Test ground.
The founder, William Clarke, saw the potential of a quaint little meadow at the back of the Trent Bridge Inn in 1838. He married the landlady, Mary Chapman - must have been keen on cricket - and, within a year, was hosting matches on a newly created, fenced off, cricket ground alongside the pub.
Considered by many players and spectators to be one of the most pleasant in England, the architecture of the ground has been kept within the parameters set by the pavilion which was built in 1886.
Trent Bridge held its first international cricket match in June 1899, between England and Australia, the game ending in a draw. It was the first of a five-match Test series in which W.G. Grace played his last Test at the age of 50 years and 320 days when the series ended; only Wilfred Rhodes played Test cricket at a greater age, and he made his debut in the same game!
This will raise the capacity from 15,358 to more than 17,000. The club are also installing six permanent floodlights and building a new office block for match day officials and administration staff.
There will also be a new electronic scoreboard on the office block that will act as a replay screen during major matches.
Work began in late August with contractors Clegg Construction setting up the site, including a compound area for vehicles, erecting fencing and hoardings around the ground and removing all the seats from the West Wing and Parr Stand. These have been donated to local sports clubs and the small scoreboard, that was located in the Parr Stand, has also been donated to another local cricket ground.
Work has continued at a rapid rate following the demolition of the two stands and the old office block. The old stands were broken down on site using a concrete crusher and now form the haul road that currently runs three quarters of the way around the boundary edge to allow deliveries to the site.
The project is scheduled to be completed in time for next season with the new stand officially opening for the npower Test with New Zealand, starting on June 5, while the floodlights will be in use for the first time for the second NatWest Series One-day International against South Africa on August 26.
The redevelopment works gave Steve the opportunity to begin his end of season renovations early, making good use of the favourable weather conditions.
The last game was played on the 26th August and, by the 29th, the square had been put to bed. The renovation consisted of two programmes of work.
Traditional end of season renovations were carried out on the majority of pitches, leaving four to have some more in depth remedial work using the Ecosol Drill and Fill system.
The traditional renovations consisted of scarifying to a depth of 6mm in three directions using a SISIS 600 scarifier. The square was then topdressed (6 bags per strip), fertilised with a Scotts 8:12:8, seeded with Bar Extreme and over watered.
The Ecosol Drill and Fill system is a favourite of Steve's. This was the third year that he has brought in the drill to help sought out problem of layering on some of his wickets as a result of different loams being used to renovate the wickets in years gone by.
The aim of the deep drill is to go down beyond 150mm and effectively back fill with the same loam found in the top 100 mm.
Ecosol drilled in two passes and back filled with kiln dried loam which was then compacted down by hand. It took Steve and his staff three days to complete the backfilling. The final result is a 150mm long clay soil 'nail' that physically locks the two loams together.
Germination was even and then the wickets had a series of cuts and another dose of autumn/winter fertiliser. Once the square had settled down a programme of solid tine spiking was carried out on a monthly basis using the Groundsman Punch Spiker.
Very little work was carried out on the outfield with the exception of a cut and spike when conditions allowed, as much of the boundary edge was still being used as an access road for the building works.
Steve's staff were kept busy with work at their training ground - the old Boots Company Sportsfields - that they now look after.
New investments by the club include a Hover Cover from Stuart Canvas - the same as the ones in use at Old Trafford and Lord's. Steve reckons it will make life a lot easier covering wickets on match days. He has also been evaluating some new flat sheets which he may consider getting for next year.
The club also invested in a new triple mower to boost the fleet he has at his disposal. With all the renovation work now complete Steve and his staff can get some much needed R&R, with many taking the opportunity to use up their annual leave entitlement before the onslaught of the new season and the new surroundings.