Recently valuable contributor, passionate sports turf manager and part of the admin setup for The Perfect Pitch, Darryl Davidson poised some great questions to NSW Blues opening batsman Nick Larkin. Nick is one of the premier cricket batsmen in the country (Sydney University Cricket Club), with a penchant for big scores with his most recent Sheffield Shield match making 109 for the Blues against South Australia and currently in the Melbourne Stars BBL setup. Besides being an outstanding cricketer (if you think you’re having a good cricket season, check out his MyCricket stats), Nick is also approachable and responsive to the game. We thank him for taking the time to give some insight from an opening batsman’s perspective on curating and what The Perfect Pitch is.
Daryl Davidson: The Perfect Pitch would like to know from a player’s perspective what is The Perfect Pitch. Obviously, you’re a batsman but what do you consider to be The Perfect Pitch?
Nick Larkin: Even contest between bat and ball. Needs to offer assistance to either quicks through good pace and carry or turn for spin bowlers. Even bounce is key, whether that be consistently low or consistently steeper.
The best batsman negotiates these conditions, and it sorts the wheat from the chaff.
DD: You have seen a lot of pitches over the years, do you think you can judge a pitch by looking at it or have you been surprised over the years after judging a book by its cover?
NL: Generally, fairly easy to gauge as to how they will play. More to do with the nature of the surface and underlying hardness as opposed to what it looks like on top.
DD: Playing as a professional cricketer coming back to grade cricket do you think at all a good pitch can be made to look below average from the players using it?
NL: Yes, I believe that is true. Lower scores don’t mean worse wickets. Weaker batsmen generally can’t deal with extra pace or bounce. And the nature of batsmen is that they will whinge if things aren’t perfect for them.
DD: In your experience as a player do you ever look at the weather in the area your meant to be playing in leading up to a game or do you just look out the window and think we should be right even though you’re playing 30kms away?
NL: Personally, I take all those things into consideration and try not to judge the wicket until the latest possible time before play starts to allow the preparation of the wicket to be completed.
DD: Over the years have you ever noticed when a player looks at a field and asks themselves what was played there during the winter, what concert or event was held, or do they just rock up and expect the perfect surface every time?
NL: Most players understand that there is churn from winter to summer, particularly with their home grounds. It is still challenging to deal with though when the state of the field impacts your ability to execute skills and players definitely react in the heat of the moment to blame the state of the ground.
DD: Do you know what variety of grass or soil you are playing on and if so, what is the best variety you have played on around the world?
NL: I honestly don’t know any details like this. My club in Belfast used Surry Loam (I think that is why it was called) and it spun a lot in dry weather.
DD: With Shield pitches what day do you expect it to be dead or break up? And do you investigate each grounds history of how the pitch usually plays, and the weather expected or do you just rely on players feedback?
NL: Consideration given to both historical nature of pitches and how they have been playing recently according to players. Expect break up or general deterioration to start taking impact day three. Wickets that deteriorate provide the best cricket. Whether that be cracking up and variable bounce, or footmarks for turn.
DD: Can a green pitch be a great batting wicket
NL: Absolutely. As long as the bounce is even.
DD: Have you ever investigated the clay content on the pitch you are playing on, and the moisture content apart from the old pressing the spikes into the deck?
And did you know each wicket soil is very different from state to state and country, meaning that if you had more knowledge on the soil you would be more confident on a decision at the toss to bat or bowl?
From a soil analysis perspective, higher clay content will dry out slower than a clay with less clay content, but as clay has such a high field capacity to hold moisture it also has the highest permanent wilting point percentage. A lot of the moisture in clay is unavailable to the plant as the particles are so small meaning a pitch with high clay content over five days should really affect the health of the grass compared to a pitch with a lower clay content with the same soil moisture at the start of play, this could possibly change a pitch dramatically over five days and highlight differences between venues.
NL: Had never given consideration to any of the above. I generally use both spike test and test the wicket by tapping my bat to hear what it sounds like, hard or dead.
DD: Do you think Cricket Australia should provide training to all curators to help provide better quality turf pitches around Australia at all levels?
NL: Yes, I do. I think education around how to produce the best wickets for the style of cricket desired in that state association is essential. It shouldn’t be expected that curators across the board know how to make wickets that are conducive to good cricket. And high scores don’t mean good cricket.
Thanks Nick Larkin!