A stop-start day thanks to some patchy Yorkshire weather hampered an exciting first day of the second Investec Test match against New Zealand at Headingley. However, when the players did manage to get on the field, they put on a fine show for a Yorkshire crowd that appeared to fall in love with the national team once again a year on from England’s disastrous first home series defeat against Sri Lanka.
The day did not start like the first day of a Test. Four batsmen with Yorkshire credentials – Adam Lyth, Gary Ballance, Joe Root and Kane Williamson – were named on the teamsheets. The thrilling finale at Lord’s which gave England a 1-0 lead in the series revitalised interest in tickets for this fixture. New Zealand are one of the most well-liked and exciting sides in world cricket at the moment. Brendon McCullum is a worldwide star.
And yet, as the time for the toss approached, the Headingley crowd looked sparser than it usually does for the average LV County Championship match. If it hadn’t been for the smattering of spectators in the usually-closed West Stand, it might have been mistaken for the build-up to Yorkshire v Worcestershire.
The few fans that were in their seats at 10:35 were huddled beneath umbrellas or inside waterproof clothing. The bars outside were mostly empty (of people not beer), and the grey skies stretched for miles in every direction. The crowds started to arrive as the clouds started to thin: umbrellas were folded away, pre-recorded material was taken off Sky and the BBC. Ben Stokes, man of the match at Lord’s, appeared. Not to play, but he was there. It wasn’t Yorkshire v Worcestershire any more.
An early lunch was taken, but it wasn’t long before the Headingley pitch was covered in the mad parade that comes with international cricket: the coaching drills, the ground staff, the photographers. With the rescheduled start just minutes away, the covers came back on for a teasing minute or so. “Jerusalem” finally rang out at 13.25.
After just ten minutes of play, James Anderson ended a forgettable and shaky innings from Martin Guptill to reach the milestone of 400 Test wickets. In a typically Yorkshire response to a Lancastrian’s success, rain immediately intervened and Anderson’s celebrations had to be continued in the dressing room.
The match took an even worse turn from a Yorkshire player perspective after the break, when Anderson found the edge of Kane Williamson’s bat on his second ball. It was the perfect delivery to a man with a double century, two centuries and two fifties in his last seven innings, well pitched-up and impossible for the batsman to ignore. Williamson has not been out for a duck in Tests since November 2012, when he was 22 years old. He has improved immensely as a cricketer since then.
Yorkshire County Cricket Club need Test matches to be profitable. The club is deeply in debt and there has never been more competition for international games than now, with Glamorgan, Durham, Gloucestershire and Hampshire all hosting top-level cricket at their home grounds. Taunton is going to join them in time for the 2019 World Cup. Headingley has a rich cricketing heritage, but it needs to keep producing memorable cricket to remain on the England roster.
From what we’ve seen of the pitch, Headingley could be home to exciting cricket for years to come: there was bounce, seam and carry, but positive strokeplay was richly rewarded. Once they had fallen to 2-2, Taylor and Latham might have been forced into their shell, but they got their side out of trouble with aggressive and stylish shots. As a fan, you could ask for nothing more from the ground staff than to encourage such cricket.
In 2014, the England team was stunned into a 1-0 series defeat by Sri Lanka, sealed in the final over when James Anderson fended a Shaminda Eranga short ball to Rangana Herath. England, and in particular some lacklustre captaincy from Alastair Cook, had let that game slip out of their grasp from an advantageous position. He cried as he accepted his player of the series award.
The newest “New Era” of English cricket may still have many people to convince. However, the Yorkshire crowd’s warm appreciation of James Anderson’s milestone on a happier day for England’s new-ball star can be taken as a sign that things are moving in the right direction. Headingley is still an important and exciting venue with an excellent pitch for Test matches. It can play a significant part in helping the public fall in love with cricket again; all it needs is some help from the weather.