Yorkshire crowd reveals its best qualities

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The Independent Online

Those who witnessed the often replayed miracle of Headingley '81 came in little waves as news, in a pre-mobile age, seeped through Leeds that over at the cricket something extraordinary was happening. The ground was far from full when Bob Willis knocked back Ray Bright's middle stump.

Yesterday they flooded in early not in expectation of an England victory but in the hope of seeing some decent resistance and perhaps the last chance to glimpse a very great Australian side. I drove over because it would be the final opportunity to see Mike Atherton bat – but he was dismissed just as I passed the signs for Morley. On the radio Jeff Thomson said he could see surprisingly few blue seats in the new West Stand and in the afternoon there was scarcely any vantage point to be had.

The West Stand has replaced the old Western Terrace, the most notorious bank of seating in English sport, famed for the drunken boorishness and frankly open racism of its inhabitants. There was surprisingly little beer about, but plenty of passion on display from a hitherto maligned audience.

We sat beneath banners advertising the England Cricket Board's latest marketing gimmick, a series of cartoon lions called Maxie, Little M and Widget known as the Pride. They might have been called Weeny, Weedy and Weaky so badly had England performed until now.

Here they did not look out of place; the West Stand was young and full of children in ubiquitous football shirts, encouraged by Yorkshire's enlightened decision to let kids in for free and charge £10 to everybody else. There was not a corporate suit in sight – the atmosphere was like the "People's Final" at Wimbledon this year; pure unaffected and somehow unBritish.

As the old manual scoreboard rattled up the partnership between Mark Butcher and Nasser Hussain, they grew in voice and stature. Shane Warne was mercilessly lampooned while the wayward Brett Lee seemed intimidated.

As for racism, a Pakistani family, who had obviously passed Norman Tebbit's cricket test, sat to my right and like the rest of the crowd gave throaty ovations to Butcher, who is of mixed race, and to Hussain and Mark Ramprakash. They were Yorkshire at their best. Unlike their counterparts in 1981 they did not witness a miracle but a declaration gone wrong, just as in 1948 Norman Yardley had challenged Bradman's Australia to make more than 400 in a day and lost.

For once you could forgive the football-style jingoism and the Mexican waves, preceded by a tickertape of ripped-up newspapers. Australia had been so condescending about England's cricketing abilities that they almost deserved a come-uppance.

Before play began, Test Match Special's Australian commentator complained he was sick of seeing videos of Headingly '81 and joked that England might do well to repeat Headingley '48, with Butcher playing the role of Bradman. He was to have his wish granted.