Rain puts dampener on Yorkshire’s big day but outlook remains positive

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CONSIDERING Headingley had awoken to a leaden sky sporting nigh on 50 shades of grey, maybe the first day of the Test match between England and New Zealand was always going to be something of a tortuous experience.

No play was possible after a series of heavy showers left the outfield sodden and thousands of cricket fans twiddling their thumbs until play was finally abandoned shortly before 4pm.

Worse still, the strong gusts of wind that battered Headingley throughout the day left even those cricket fans hardy enough to brave the unseasonal May weather cowed into submission.

It was a miserable and disheartening start to what Yorkshire officials are hoping will be a showcase for all that the county’s headquarters can offer in this age of too many Test grounds bidding for too little international cricket.

That may still happen, of course. For a start, the weather forecast for today and tomorrow is much more encouraging with bright sunshine expected across north Leeds.

Throw in Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow getting among the runs against New Zealand and the White Rose cricketing public could yet have a Test match to savour. This, though, will be of scant consolation to those who bought tickets for what turned out to be a hugely frustrating and, ultimately, fruitless day.

Perhaps Yorkshire’s Bairstow best summed up the mood when introduced to one of the mascots shortly before noon as puddles formed on the outfield in the wake of what turned out to be one of the afternoon’s heavier downpours.

Standing on level 2 of the Carnegie Pavilion, one of a trio of White Rose players in the 12-man England squad sympathised with the youngster before adding: “It’s horrible, isn’t it?”

All around, older heads nodded solemnly in agreement as the realisation, even at such an early stage in the day, hit home that Headingley was in danger of suffering its first washout of the summer at the most inconvenient time.

So it proved, with the end coming after both lunch and tea had been taken early and the vast majority of the 10,000 who had bought tickets in advance had stayed well away.

A weather forecast that proved unusually accurate saw to that, as rain that had begun falling overnight eventually proved too much for a ground that boasts one of the most modern drainage systems in the country.

Judging by the low-key feel to the start of the day in LS6, the previous night’s forecast on the local television news had been required viewing in homes across Yorkshire.

Not only were the streets surrounding one of English cricket’s most iconic venues eerily still and those arriving by train outnumbered by members of staff waiting to check tickets. But, perhaps more tellingly, the area’s hostelries were also quiet – something unheard of when Test cricket comes to Leeds.

Even the offer of a breakfast and a pint for the princely sum of £6 had not, it seemed, been enough to tempt in the punters. The Yorkshire Post – for research purposes only, you understand – popped in to the Headingley Taps pub at 9.30am and found only a handful of punters lining the stomach ahead of the anticipated day’s drinking.

On a typical Test day, the 9am opening time of the Taps and their ilk will see hordes of thirsty fans waiting patiently outside but that had clearly not been the case yesterday.

Once inside the North Lane venue that started life as a pumping station, even those washing down their bacon and eggs with a pint at such an unearthly hour were not doing so with the gusto expected of those whose cricket watching at Headingley Carnegie is usually limited to a just day or two of a Test match.

It was a similar story once inside the ground, with even the bar staff under the West Stand – usually as busy as an opposition fielder when Alastair Cook is in full flow – stood around idly for much of the day.

Pints priced at £4 were, of course, a factor but it was more the weather that had, quite literally, put a dampener on proceedings. Oh how the catering company responsible for the stadium bars must have been cursing the weather, as a quick tour of the local pubs after play had been abandoned – again, conducted selflessly on behalf of you, dear reader – revealed.

As Danny Cipriani discovered not so long ago, the infamous Otley Run can test the drinking resolve of even the toughest of men. By late afternoon yesterday, it seemed many had – just like the one-time England rugby international – failed that test with various stages of inebriation evident among the motley collection of ballet dancers, Elvis Presleys and super heroes frequenting the Taps, Original Oak et al.

Yes, the fancy dress brigade were out in force on the streets of Headingley with a mention due to the astronaut whose costume – complete with home-made helmet, consisting of a cardboard box and plenty of tinfoil – looked like it had been made by either a long-suffering partner or kids from the local nursery school.

That none of those sporting fancy dress made it inside the ground was not a surprise. Not with the threat of rain never being far away thanks to a sky that looked as grey as a battleship until, ironically, a halt was called at 3.55pm.

The Headingley groundstaff did their best. Working feverishly during any of the breaks in the rain, they did everything in their power to make the ground playable.

As part of those attempts, two blotter machines were pressed into action the moment a shower stopped in an attempt to deal with the puddles that formed either side of the covers during a prolonged downpour.

The first of those ended shortly after noon and the hope was, as the sun finally put in a welcome appearance, that a start may be possible once the outfield had been given sufficient time to dry out.

Ninety minutes without further rain was the suggested requirement, meaning the taking of an early lunch at 12.30pm would lead to a possible start time of an hour later.

Finally, those who had made their way into Headingley had some encouragement. The appearance of umpires, Marais Erasmus and Steve Davis, 20 minutes or so before that hoped-for start time then raised hopes further that the second Test might be about to get under way.

However, just as the South African and Australian officials began the walk back towards the Carnegie Pavilion and the 1,000 or so in the ground tried to glean a positive sign from the umpires’ demeanour, the heavens opened again and we were back to square one.

The ensuing heavy shower saw the puddles quickly reform and although there was another dry spell to offer more hope, the rain returned again shortly before 2.30pm.

Back up went the umbrellas as those without protection from the elements ran, once again, for the sanctuary of the concourses, the members-only Long Room or the rugby stand.

“I just wish it would chuck it down properly,” was the response of one Headingley regular to this newspaper while we both sought cover behind the Trueman Enclosure, “as that way we could go home. But this weather is just teasing us. I reckon we’ll be here until gone 6pm.”

He wasn’t right on that score, though this particular unhappy Yorkshire member did get it right that the weather would continue to tease throughout the afternoon as the clouds parted several times to suggest play may finally become possible.

Then, however, the sky would swiftly darken again and a downpour would follow to again leave the natives indulging in that most English of traits – moaning about the weather.

Eventually, the few remaining hardly souls had to admit defeat as the giant scoreboard that sits to the side of the East Stand flashed up the message: ‘Play Abandoned For The Day’.

The torture was over, as those who had remained through more a sense of hope than expectation filed out in a mood every bit as sullen as the grey sky above them.

richard.sutcliffe@ypn.co.uk