Cricket / Fourth Test: Headingley still suffering from civil war wounds: Derek Hodgson looks at the conflicts which have led to a Test venue's decline

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The Independent Online
IF THE success of the England team, from whom all blessings flow, is the priority of English cricket, then why is not the first match of every Test series played at Headingley?

The money men will tell you that Headingley is no longer an automatic Test match venue because it does not raise sufficient revenue but that is a chicken-and-egg argument. Which comes first: a winning team or a money-making venue?

The fact is, as that estimable historian Paul Dyson points out in The Cricketer this month, that England have a better chance of starting with a win at Leeds than on any other ground.

Since 1981, when England beat Australia in perhaps the greatest Test match, there have been 10 consecutive results at Headingley. Admittedly, England have won only four and lost six of those matches but there can be no argument as to the entertainment and excitement that is provided in greater quantity than on any other English ground.

Headingley lost its proud place as the only permanent Test ground outside London two years ago, declining receipts being given as the reason. There were many factors involved. Yorkshire crowds, accustomed to seeing up to four or five of their own players in the England team, now found an appearance by a Yorkshireman was a rarity.

The Headingley ground, owned by Leeds Rugby League club, leased by Yorkshire, had suffered in the previous decade, a mute victim of Yorkshire's great civil war. Until what has come to be known as the 'Boycott faction' took over the committee, temporarily, the Leeds club were always given a place on the county committee, a privilege that was abolished.

Under the last two presidents, Mountgarrett and Byford, Yorkshire have moved to co-operate with Leeds again although, ironically, the men who have brought the clubs to their closest this century are both outside the normally tightly drawn tribal lines: Alf Davies, the Leeds chief executive, is a cheerful, gregarious man from Wigan, while Chris Hassell, his Yorkshire counterpart, although Surrey-born, arrived at Headingley from Old Trafford.

The ground remains bleak and featureless. The elm trees on the Cardigan Road side, the ground's one green feature, were diseased and had to be removed but should have been replaced; how can trees compete with a line of advertisement boards ? The vast tiers of seats on the West Terrace are painted a dismal grey, the ground's predominant colour.

Both cricket and rugby league club are becoming increasingly nettled at the continuing, sometimes derisory, criticism of the square. The Yorkshire committee are meeting today to discuss the matter and before this match the plan was to have the Test strip, the pitch reserved only for international cricket, prepared in such a fashion it would resemble the new, rock-hard surface at Old Trafford.

The drastic step of excavating the whole square will also be contemplated, but if that were to happen the new pitches would still have to settle down.

The only guaranteed method of filling the ground is by a general revival of interest in Yorkshire and, through it, the return of Yorkshiremen to the England team. There is one Yorkshireman in this match, Neil Mallender, originally from Hull, recruited by Northamptonshire, now with Somerset.

When it became known he would be leaving Northampton there was considerable interest in Yorkshire, then committed to their native- born only tradition, in bringing him home, a proposal urgently endorsed by the then-captain David Bairstow. Mallender went off to play in New Zealand, the arrangement being that a Yorkshire committee man would telephone to confirm contract details. The call never came and Mallender eventually decided that Yorkshire had lost interest, and joined Somerset.

While Waqar rightly won the headlines yesterday, the ball of the day was delivered by leg-spinner Mushtaq Ali to dismiss Graham Gooch. Small boys who aspire to become practitioners of cricket's most difficult, and enticing art, should study that googly; it had everything: enough flight to leave Gooch uncertain as to the length, exact direction to leave Gooch thinking it might pitch and turn away, enough turn to shoot around the bat and hit the stumps. Men have gone to heaven singing Hosannas for less.