MARK ARTHUR has stepped up his call for a reduction in the number of Test match grounds after revealing that the cost to Yorkshire from the opening day washout at the Headingley Test match was “minimal”.
The Yorkshire chief executive described the policy of staging international cricket at 10 venues in England and Wales as “unsustainable” after Yorkshire’s desire to strengthen their hand as one of the chosen few was yesterday thwarted by heavy rain.
When Arthur arrived at Yorkshire earlier this month he immediately insisted that England should play only at the six traditional Test match centres – Headingley, Lord’s, The Oval, Trent Bridge, Edgbaston and Old Trafford.
However, Test cricket has proliferated to Cardiff, Chester-le-Street and Southampton, one-day international cricket to Bristol, while Somerset are keen to stage international cricket too, a policy Arthur believes puts too much burden on clubs like Yorkshire.
“Ten or 11 international grounds is unsustainable,” said Arthur, who first voiced his concerns in the Yorkshire Post.
“There is a finite amount of international cricket in this country and to spread it among 10 or 11 international grounds, and to expect all those grounds to be at the same level as the top international grounds around the world, doesn’t work.
“By the time our next staging agreement at Yorkshire comes up (in 2019) we’ve got to make sure we’ve got floodlights, we’ve got covered seating and we’re closer to a 20,000-seater capacity.
“But, fundamentally, we have to grow the base of cricket supporters who want to come to Headingley and the environment of the ground, because the spectator experience is vital.”
Yorkshire, who are protected against washouts by the England and Wales Cricket Board’s pluvious insurance, have attracted plenty of criticism for their spectator experience.
Headingley’s recent history is littered with complaints about stewarding, car-parking, excessive queuing at bars and high-jinks in the West Stand, factors Yorkshire have tried to address in an era of increasing international competition.
Headingley boasts more history and tradition than most of its rivals, however, and has made a good fist of showcasing it in this, Yorkshire’s 150th anniversary year.
But Arthur said that no one at the club is resting on their laurels.
“It’s up to us to reinvent Headingley as the great cricket ground and stager of international cricket as it has been in the past,” he said.
“We’ve got a critical point where our staging agreement runs out in 2019 and, by that point, we need people to see Headingley in a totally different light.
“We have to improve our ability to sell tickets, the capacity of the ground and the environment of the ground.
“That’s my job, and that’s what I intend to do.”
Yorkshire sold around 10,000 tickets for yesterday’s play, but significantly fewer people turned up because of the weather.
Although Yorkshire were desperately unlucky with the elements, Arthur accepted that a half-empty stadium does not look good and also suggested he would look at international ticket prices going forward, with the cheapest seat yesterday costing £40.
“We’ve got to make sure that Headingley looks good to the world of cricket and that’s something we’ll be looking at,” he said.
“A half-empty stadium doesn’t do that.
“The dilemma for Test match grounds is that we’ve got to raise so much money to pay for staging the event, and we’ve got to raise enough money to put back into the fabric of the grounds.
“My judgment between now and setting the prices for the Sri Lanka Test at Headingley next year is where do I fix the price point, and I will be looking at everything with a fresh pair of eyes.”
Spectators were entitled to a full refund yesterday because fewer than 10 overs were bowled.
However, Yorkshire are also offering spectators the chance to exchange their tickets on a like-by-like basis at no extra cost for the Sri Lanka Test, which is expected to take place in early June 2014.
“It’s the public I feel really sorry for,” said Arthur, “the people who had taken a day off work, for example. From a Yorkshire cricket point of view , this isn’t the disaster that people might perceive it to be. There is actually minimal financial implication for the club.
“The catering company is operated by the rugby club, so we don’t lose out in that regard, but it’s obviously frustrating for everyone concerned.”
Play was officially abandoned at 3.55pm after steady rain throughout the day.
“It’s really disappointing for everybody at Headingley, the supporters and the cricketers, but in cricket you learn to accept that you have days like this,” said Arthur.
“The forecast is better for the next few days and, hopefully, we’ll still get a really good Test match here.”
Yorkshire have sold around 12,000 tickets for today’s action – about three-quarters of ground capacity.
The Ticket Office, located in the Yorkshire Cricket Centre on St Michael’s Lane, is open from 8.00am.
For further details on how to claim a refund from yesterday’s play, visit www.yorkshireccc.com
Raining on Headingley’s Test parade: Page 8.
COLOUR AMID THE GLOOM: Spectators huddle under an umbrella waiting in vain for the Second Test to get underway yesterday at Headingley.