PERHAPS the most striking aspect of Yorkshire’s 2015 fixture list is not the fixtures per se but a little word in brackets after six of the matches to be staged at Headingley.
That word is “floodlit”, and it marks a venture into new territory for Yorkshire with the erection of permanent floodlights at the famous Leeds ground.
After months of consultation and work behind the scenes, floodlights will finally go up for the first time in March.
It will enable the club to start T20 home games at the later time of 7.00pm, thus making it easier for people to get there after work, and vastly increase Yorkshire’s capacity to retain international cricket at Headingley going forward, with floodlights now a key stipulation for international hosting.
On Monday, Mark Arthur, the club’s chief executive, along with board members Steve Denison and Martin Farrington, plus commercial director Andy Dawson and finance director Paul Hudson, will travel to London to submit Yorkshire’s bid to stage four games during the 2019 World Cup.
Without floodlights, there would be no point in the quintet addressing the Major Match Group; if you do not have lights, International Cricket Council rules now say you are out in the dark.
The main benefit to Yorkshire, however, would not so much be the boost of becoming a host venue for the ICC World Cup, with a decision on match allocation expected before Christmas, but what it will mean on a year-to-year basis.
Specifically, it will give T20 crowds a shot in the arm, so vital now for all county clubs.
“Whilst floodlights are now a requirement of the ICC, the key benefit of having floodlights at Headingley will be to Yorkshire cricket,” said Arthur.
“It means we will be able to play the majority of T20 games under lights, which enables us to put back the start time from 5.30pm to 7.00pm, which, in turn, enables people to finish what they’re doing on a Friday and get to Headingley after the Friday night traffic congestion has dissipated.
“Significantly, it will enable people from all over the county to have the time to come and see us – particularly those who are cricketers themselves.
“We know that over 100,000 people are playing cricket every weekend in Yorkshire and that, by and large, they don’t get much opportunity to see Yorkshire play.
“This is a chance for them to be able to get to Headingley at a more convenient time and for us to improve the size of our crowds.”
Arthur estimates that the floodlights, which have cost circa £1.2m, will enable Yorkshire to attract average attendances of 3,000-5,000 for T20 fixtures.
It will also bring an extra dimension to box-office contests such as the annual T20 home match against Lancashire, which will be further spiced next year by the availability of England players for the match on Friday June 5.
Yorkshire, whose T20 season tickets go on sale next week, priced £70 adults and £20 U16s, should also benefit as the revamped county schedule becomes second nature.
Arthur believes the introduction of Friday night T20 has been a success, helpful for clubs and spectators alike.
“We’ve got a much better appointment-to-view now,” he said. “People need to know when the matches are on, and the floodlights will help create a terrific atmosphere on Fridays at Headingley.
“We’re also hoping to put on some women’s T20 before the men’s games.
“The lights will make a big difference and, of course, help us in terms of international cricket.”
Yorkshire have a staging agreement with the England and Wales Cricket Board to host international cricket at Headingley until 2019, negotiated as part of the deal to buy the ground in 2006.
As such, they do not have to bid to stage Tests and one-day internationals between 2017-2019, a process currently being undertaken by other counties alongside 2019 World Cup bidding.
Next year, Yorkshire will need to start from scratch, however, when bidding begins for the next group of international games between 2020-2022.
Yorkshire’s bid will be contingent on plans to have built by then the new South Stand at Headingley, earmarked for completion by 2019.
“At the moment, we’re concentrating on the World Cup bid, which is not a financial bid, but one in which we’ve basically got to justify to the Major Match Group why it would be suitable for Headingley to host games,” said Arthur.
“Whenever we’ve held a one-day international over the last 10 years it’s been sold out, so that’s very important.
“The Major Match Group will also look at the commitment of the local authorities, which is excellent, and they’ll want to know about the work we’re doing in the local community, which is an extraordinary amount.
“The Major Match Group will make a recommendation to the ECB board, which meets in mid-December, and I’d like to think we’ve got a good case.”
None of it would be possible without the floodlights, which will transform the aspect of Headingley forever.
Although it might be trite to say that Arthur and co have ushered in a bright new dawn, it would also be accurate.