Groundsman on a sticky wicket

Simon O'Hagan talks to Steve Rouse, whose preparation of a Test pitch last season went down in cricketing infamy
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The Independent Online
There is a poster on the wall of Steve Rouse's office entitled "A Guide to the Control of Weeds, Pests and Diseases". After all the offensiveness that the Edgbaston groundsman has had to put up with, you could imagine the advice it contained extending beyond the horticultural.

The ferocious strip Rouse prepared for the Test against the West Indies last year has gone down in cricketing infamy. Which is why, as wickets tumbled on the first day yesterday, he was hoping that he would not be in the firing line again.

"I was hurt by some of the things that were said after the West Indies match," Rouse saidduring the afternoon session. "I had some pretty nasty letters. I wouldn't have minded if the people had signed them. I'd have written back. I'll take the blame. That was my fault. But the last thing I want in this Test is people saying the same things again just because the Indians have batted poorly.''

On the evidence so far, the 1996 Edgbaston wicket does hold fewer demons than its predecessor. But, from a distance at any rate, it still looked much greener than was suggested by David Lloyd's early-morning description of it as "slate-grey''.

Rouse, though, had a clear conscience. "I'm very pleased with it," he said. "There's a bit of pace in it, but I wouldn't have said it was an up-and-down wicket." Hang on a second. What about the balls from Dominic Cork that Jack Russell was leaping to take above his head? And the ones from Chris Lewis that Russell was taking below his knees?

The relative ease with which first India's lower-order batsmen and then England's openers coped will have come as a relief to Rouse, the 48-year- old former Warwickshire left-armer who has been head groundsman at Edgbaston since 1993. The West Indies experience upset him, and he has had a difficult time getting a Test wicket in shape this year.

Another track was originally earmarked, but it needed resewing in March and, when it still had not responded by last month, the decision was made to switch to a more evenly-grassed wicket two along. "The grass is deceptive," Rouse explained. "What matters is how dry it is. Teams have come here, seen a bit of green in the wicket, put us in, and the next thing you know we've scored 500.''

Rouse makes no apology for his fast, bouncy wickets. As long as Allan Donald was spearheading the Warwickshire attack, that was what was required, while the county's batsmen, he said, developed the technique to deal with opponents who, misinterpreting what they saw, bowled too short. "You get flat wickets and it's total boredom," Rouse said. "I like to see results." It looks like he's going to get one.