Empty seats threatening Headingley’s test future

Fans don fancy dress at Headingley, but the first day's crowd was poor.
Fans don fancy dress at Headingley, but the first day's crowd was poor.
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YORKSHIRE’s chief executive Mark Arthur has described the 11,000 attendance for the opening day of the Headingley Test match as “not good enough” and reiterated his dire warning that international cricket will go elsewhere unless more people turn up to watch it in Leeds.

On a day when Sri Lanka scored 257 after being sent into bat, Stuart Broad taking a hat-trick and Yorkshire’s Liam Plunkett a Test-best 5-64 before England replied with 36-0, Arthur said he was “disappointed” with the turnout – some 5,000 short of capacity – and insisted Yorkshire “could not have done more” to drum up support.

Arthur, who visited dozens of Yorkshire league clubs during the winter in a concerted attempt to get more people to watch internationals in Leeds, believes Headingley is the eighth-best of the nine Test match venues in terms of facilities – above only Cardiff’s SWALEC Stadium.

Banks of empty seats will not help its cause, with Yorkshire needing to convince the England and Wales Cricket Board they are worthy of hosting international cricket once their staging agreement ends in 2019.

“There are 5.5 million people living in Yorkshire and only 11,000 have turned up to watch the opening day of the Test,” said Arthur. “You have got to be honest – an 11,000 gate is not good enough.

“As a club, we’ve done all that we can – I don’t feel we can do any more – and the simple fact is that if there is no appetite for international cricket in Leeds, then international cricket will go elsewhere.

“We had hoped, what with all the effort we’d put in as a club and with the lower pricing and early-bird discounts, that we’d get a much better reaction, but we haven’t.

“At the end of the match, we’ll have to sit down and assess where we are and take stock of things.”

Yorkshire expect a better gate today – in the region of 13,000-14,000 – but only 6,000-7,000 tomorrow.

They have sold circa 35,000 tickets for the match all told, 6,000 more than for last year’s Test against New Zealand, but still nowhere near the number Arthur is seeking.

For much of a mostly sun-kissed day, it seemed that reality would not match expectation on the field either as England let slip a number of chances.

Kumar Sangakkara, who top-scored with 79, had four lives before he became the first of Broad’s hat-trick victims – brilliantly caught by a diving Ian Bell at gully, a dismissal that sent Sri Lanka spinning from 228-5 as their last five wickets fell for 29 – including 4-1 in nine balls.

Broad had wasted a golden opportunity to run-out Sangakkara before he had scored, missing the stumps from the mid-wicket region, while television replays showed that Plunkett had him caught behind on 16 off the faintest edge that brought little, if any, appeal from the fielders.

On 27, Sangakkara was inexplicably dropped by Prior off Plunkett, the ball bouncing straight in and out, and, on 57, he was spilled by a diving Moeen Ali at point off Chris Jordan.

Once Sangakkara departed, Sri Lanka disintegrated.

Dhammika Prasad fell in the next over, caught behind taking evasive action off Plunkett, before Broad completed his hat-trick with the first two balls of the following over.

Dinesh Chandimal, the wicketkeeper brought in for the injured Prasanna Jayawardene, was caught at first slip by Alastair Cook and Shaminda Eranga held by Prior.

Then the most extraordinary thing happened.

Neither Broad, his team-mates nor most of the crowd realised that Broad had taken a hat-trick.

When last man Nuwan Pradeep kept out the next ball, spectators oohed and aahed, as though they thought that Broad had been denied.

Only when the news was announced over the public address system did Broad belatedly celebrate becoming the first Englishman to take two Test hat-tricks, following the one he bagged against India at Trent Bridge in 2011. It was the third Test hat-trick at Leeds after Jack Hearne’s against Australia in 1899 and Peter Loader’s against the West Indies in 1957.

The last word, however, belonged to Plunkett.

Bowling from the Football Stand end, from where he had Mahela Jayawardene caught one-handed at second slip by Jordan and Lahiru Thirimanne held at short-leg, having uprooted Dimuth Karunaratne’s leg stump with his second ball of the day from the Kirkstall Lane end, the Yorkshireman rounded things off by having Pradeep caught behind.

Broad finished with 3-46 and would have added to his tally had England opted to review an lbw decision against Kaushal Silva.

As it was, James Anderson had Silva caught behind after 55 minutes – the first wicket of the day and Anderson’s 1,000th in first-class, List A and T20 combined.

Anderson claimed his second wicket when Angelo Mathews was caught low down at third slip by Gary Ballance, but England struggled to remove Sangakkara.

Never at his most fluent, he was still good enough to swell a remarkable record of having scored at least 50 in 14 of his last 19 Test innings.

When England replied, Cook, on five, was adjudged not out when he edged Eranga low to Sangakkara at first slip, but otherwise there were no concerns.

Instead, it was Eranga who was inconvenienced while fielding near the White Rose Stand when a spectator threw a piece of cheese at him and was arrested.