Blair Christensen is the turf manager at Eden Park, leading a team of seven preparing for Cricket World Cup matches this summer. The father of two has his family Christmas at the ground and says his children think it’s their backyard
1. How much thinking about grass can one man do?
The grass at Eden Park is never far from my mind. It's alive, you see, so you can't not think about it: the weather, the humidity, temperatures, rainfall; how the grass will relate to it all. I can't switch off. Never have. I'm overly protective. [Wife] Tracey says I'm way too precious and have to lighten up. Sometimes I don't think I'm particularly popular with the teams that play here because usually I am asking them to "stay off the grass", "move away from that area", "you guys must be finished now", just trying to keep the grass in the best condition. I do have to remind myself the field is there to be used sometimes.
2. Who is hardest to get off it?
The All Blacks can be really demanding with regard to trainings, kicking practice. I'm trying to limit traffic in certain conditions and you can get into a standoff because it's their job to play rugby of the highest quality and I want a pitch of the highest quality. The management will say 'yeah, no worries, we respect [the timing]' but the players won't have a watch on. I usually just have to wait for them to finish and will come back into [my office] steaming.
3. What's Christmas Day like on the number one ground?
It's great. The ground is set up in game mode so everything is here. It's as if everyone has been sucked out of the venue but it's here for a purpose, the Boxing Day [cricket] game. We can't let it stay under covers, so someone has to be here to keep an eye on things. It's usually a couple of the team and my family. We do things we don't normally do - running races, football, frisbee. We have a lunch picnic in the middle of the ground. The kids don't want to leave. Ordinarily I'm saying "just behave yourself" but that's one day I'm a bit more relaxed.
4. How would you describe your childhood?
I grew up in Wellsford mostly but Dad was in the bank so we moved around a lot. I went to five different schools. Was it easy to make friends? Well, I don't mind interacting with people or anything like that. Tracey says I'm not social. It's probably all the thinking about grass. My school reports said "never works to his potential". But I played a lot of sport. And golf.
5. What did your parents teach you?
Probably what I want to teach my own kids: respect, really. To respect other people. Everything comes naturally after that I reckon. Manners, the way you treat people. It's about equality. I don't like people in certain positions speaking down to other people.
6. How would you go in the corporate world do you think?
I would have struggled I think. I trained at the Mangawhai Golf Club and have never had a job outside of turf. Ties? I wear one when I go to the Cricketer of the Year awards. I wear a tie annually.
7. Could you be indoors all day?
No. I'm outdoors most of the time. Sometimes when I come home Tracey and the kids will say "let's go to the beach" and I just want to stay in and watch someone else's grass on the TV.
8. Do you watch a lot of sport?
I try to catch parts of every game of rugby, NRL, cricket, any match in Australia and New Zealand to look at the grass. Nah, I couldn't tell you what happens in the game. I was here for the Rugby World Cup but I haven't even seen a replay of the Australia New Zealand game. That was an amazing time. They wanted so much rehearsal time for the opening ceremony - 68 hours - but we said the tournament isn't even that long. The Cricket World Cup is even more challenging because of the interaction between players and the surface. It's more stressful. The pitch plays a big part in the game.
9. Who is your favourite New Zealand sportsman?
It's my father-in-law, Hedley Howarth. He played cricket for Auckland and New Zealand. I don't know why I'm crying now but he died six years ago. He was a good cricketer but also a champion father to Tracey. He was 64 when he died of bowel cancer. We felt ripped off. The kids were just getting to know him. He played on Eden Park 100 times, took a lot of wickets here. One time he wasn't happy with the outfield so the next day he brought his lawnmower in and mowed it.
10. Has his early death made you think more about your own mortality?
It should make me much more careful of my own health. But my greatest weakness is vegetables. I love growing them but I just don't eat enough of them. [His death] was a wake-up call.
11. What's the greatest length you've gone to for a good pitch?
You get some crazy event schedules. In 2012 we had the New Zealand South Africa One Day International on the Saturday and then on Sunday we had NRL Warriors v Manly. The ODI finished at 10.30pm and we changed everything over - signage, logos, pitch - for a Junior Warriors game at 11.45am. We'd been there since early Saturday morning and I fell asleep about 2.30pm on Sunday in the office.
12. What do you do to relax?
We're on holiday next week actually. We're going farming. We move cows, do silage, feed calves. We're up early and it's hard work. It's active. The kids look forward to it every year. I am what you would call an 'active relaxer'.
But it's the one time I don't obsess about the weather.