Headingley counts cost as weather fails the first Test


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The Independent Online

As play was abandoned at Headingley yesterday, the new chief executive of Yorkshire warned against creating a north-south divide in cricket.

The wisdom of staging Test matches so early in the season, especially in the North, could be called into question, with the second Test between England and New Zealand delayed until today.

Mark Arthur, who took up his job with the county a fortnight ago, said: “One of the best things that happened to England football was the reconstruction of Wembley because for a time England took their games round the country. More people were able to watch and that’s one of the unique factors of international cricket in England.

“It’s important to understand that not everybody has the spending capacity of the people who live in the south-east of the country. That has to be factored by the major match group when it is allocating matches. There is a finite amount you can charge people in the provinces.”

Nearly 10,000 tickets had been sold for the opening day of the match, which was eventually called off at 4pm. Arthur thought this was encouraging but agreed that Yorkshire had to do more to engage with the public and persuade them to come to Headingley.

The trouble for all northern grounds is the comparison with Lord’s, which was all but full for all four days of the first Test against New Zealand last week. Headingley has been struggling for years as it has been rebuilt piecemeal, dragged slowly into the 21st century by Yorkshire’s philanthropic millionaire chairman, Colin Graves.

There are four Test matches north of Birmingham this year – in Leeds, Manchester, Chester-le-Street and Nottingham – with the other three in London. In its four-year strategy document, “Champion Counties”, issued last Tuesday, the England and Wales Cricket Board said its policy was to promote the game by staging international cricket on a broad geographical basis.

But Arthur, who was chief executive at Nottingham Forest until January and of Nottinghamshire before that, recognises that there is a huge gap to bridge. “It is up to us to reinvent Headingley as the great cricket ground and stager of international cricket that it has been in the past,” he said.

Arthur suggested that the growing number of grounds staging international cricket was unsustainable. He said there could be discord if the ECB was not careful where it staged matches and urged more sympathy in the allocation of matches.

“That is the dilemma for Test match grounds,” he said. “We have got to raise so much money to pay for staging the events and raise enough money in order to put back in the fabric of the ground. My judgement between now and setting the prices for the Sri Lanka Test here next year is where do I fix the price point. You have got to fix it according to the market, not necessarily the budget.”

The cheapest ticket price at Headingley is £40 but Yorkshire may reconsider that, aware that the perception of a venue is gleaned from how it looks on television. Half-empty grounds look terrible.