Cricket: Yorkshire see a revival of attitude gathering pace: Derek Hodgson looks at the rebuilding of Abbeydale and the part it is set to play in a county's future plans

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SUCH are the vagaries of the Britannic Assurance County Championship fixture schedule, Yorkshire have dropped from third to 13th in the table without playing a match since 22 June.

Their attempt to scramble back up the slope, against Leicestershire in Sheffield, was foiled yesterday by a day and night downpour. Yet neither rain nor the machinations of the TCCB computer can dissolve the hard evidence of the game's revival in the county.

Test match bookings for the fourth Test at Headingley, three weeks away, are already beyond pounds 5.5m - pounds 500,000 more than Old Trafford's takings - a firm indication of the re-arousal of interest.

Attendances have risen wherever Yorkshire play and nowhere is the change of attitude more physically obvious than on the Sheffield ground, the home of the Collegiate Club that was pressed into service in 1974 when Sheffield United unceremoniously booted out Yorkshire cricket from its ancestral home at Bramall Lane.

Abbeydale became notorious not only for a pitch that sloped dramatically but also for the extreme variations of behaviour on the square: visiting players never knew whether they could expect the ball to be flying past their ears or turning square across their ankles.

John Fulford who, had he not become a first-class groundsman, might have been a wrestler, has worked hard over the past five years to get the square right. The ones who moan about it now are the bowlers, a sure indication that the umpires will not be reporting it.

The most spectacular alteration took place last winter when the Abbeydale club threw men, machines and money into an operation of motorway proportions to shift tons from one side of the ground to the other and, lo, the slope has all but disappeared and the player down at third man can now see his team-mate at long-on.

A bank, 20ft high on one side was levelled off, and 300 tons of earth were moved 200 yards to the bottom end for a levelling-off that cost the club pounds 300,000.

A new wall and a new grandstand means that Abbeydale can now cope comfortably with a 5,000- plus crowd. The topsoil was lifted from the square, a new drainage system installed. The square can now take 16 pitches, as opposed to eight, and the Abbeydale club were shrewd enough to ask the TCCB's inspector of pitches, Harry Brind, to give his approval.

Fulford, in charge since 1969, has the air and smile of a man promoted to a premier league: 'We now have one of the finest grounds in the country after struggling for so long with a lop-sided surface and almost non-existent drainage.'

Abbeydale's tree-ringed setting, permanent seating, and ample parking, with a brand new playing surface, should now be rewarded with at least one, possibly two, of Yorkshire's precious home four- day fixtures next season.