Yorkshire struggle to paper over Headingley's cracks
County embarrassed as thinly veiled building site welcomes Ashes squads
Thursday 06 August 2009
In the dark and satanic building site, otherwise known as Headingley cricket ground, a charm offensive was taking place yesterday. This included but did not stop at buying fish and chips all round for the assembled press corps.
Given the ease with which most members of the sporting fourth estate can be manipulated, this was a shrewd manoeuvre and the mushy peas (the job lot from the exemplary Bryan's restaurant up the road) might have clinched the deal.
It could not fully deter questions, however, about the reasons for staging such an elite Test match at a venue which is incomplete, is overlooked by two huge cranes and has a dodgy new drainage system. Headingley or to give it the fancy contemporary name by which it insists on being known, Headingley Carnegie Cricket Ground, continues to look overbearingly bleak.
If the location spotters are out looking for a place to film yet another sequel to A Nightmare on Elm Street, they might well need to go no further. If the Western Terrace don't get you (and it was empty yesterday) the killer cranes probably will. Stewart Regan, who drew the dubious ticket in the lottery of life of being chief executive of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, was not daft enough to search for excuses.
"This is probably the biggest match we have ever hosted at Headingley," he said. "It will have a TV audience of 500 million. The club is embarrassed by the facilities that we currently have here.
"We know that when people come here to watch international cricket matches we cannot put on the best show we would like because the facilities are relatively second-class. We ask people to bear with us because this will be the last year we will have to be in these type of facilities."
The capacity for the fourth npower Test will be slightly under 18,000, more than usual despite the removal of the infamously old-fashioned winter shed seating area, where redevelopment work is now taking place. When work is complete it will be around 18,500.
Yorkshire's plans for a stadium they now own after borrowing £9m from Leeds City Council look impressive. When they knocked down the old slat-seated Western Terrace, which had become a den of reprehensible behaviour, they seemed to think it was the acme of modern design to replace it with a few thousand blue bucket seats with nary a cover in sight.
But seemingly inspired by the partnership with Leeds Metropolitan University (who came up with the redundant if redolent name Carnegie) there now exist serious intentions of moving into the 21st century.
When the state of the art Carnegie Pavilion at the Kirkstall Lane End of the ground is complete next year, Headingley will be at least partially transformed. But for now it still looks grim.
Regan said: "We would all say that in an ideal world you wouldn't stage a major match with a building site in the background, with work taking place. However, given the competitive nature of bidding for major matches everybody is trying to improve their facilities. It shows ambition and progress by the club that we are determined not to stand still and we actually want to be one of the best grounds in the country in terms of facilities."
The other significant concern for Headingley is the drainage system. It was installed last winter as part of the England and Wales Cricket Board's strategy and was a singular failure in the one-day international between England and West Indies in May when not a ball was bowled because of a wet outfield, although the sun shone for much of the day.
"I think in the circumstances we had then, we'd be able to get on and play," he said. "If we had a deluge like we did before the ODI, I can't predict what would happen but I can tell you there has been an 85 per cent improvement in infiltration of rain through the outfield. The ECB have inspected and are delighted with the progress we have made." Welcome to the new Headingley, where the fish and chips are smashing.
Broad Acres: The ground in brief
Stadium constructed: 1890
Ends: Kirkstall Lane, Football Stand.
1899 First Test – England v Australia.
1930 Don Bradman scores 334 for Australia.
1948 Australia score 404 on final day to beat England.
1977 Geoff Boycott hits 100th first-class hundred, against Australia.
1981 England beat Australia by 18 runs, after following on 227 runs behind.
2000 England dismiss West Indies for 61 to win in two days, Andrew Caddick taking 5 for 14 and four in an over.
2005 Bought by Yorkshire CCC for £12m.
2009 State-of-the-art drainage system and replay screen installed.
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