England v Pakistan: Overdue return of international cricket allows Headingley to get back to doing what it does best

YORKSHIRE chief executive Mark Arthur is hoping that the inaugural Twenty20 international at Emerald Headingley will be a worthy follow-up to the previous international staged at the ground.

England take on Pakistan tomorrow in front of the first capacity crowd at Headingley since that 2019 Ashes Test, when Ben Stokes inspired one of the greatest victories in the sport’s history.

Stokes hit 135 not out, and Jack Leach perhaps the most famous single of all time, as England beat Australia by one wicket.

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They shared 76 for the 10th-wicket to spark joyous scenes on a sunlit evening. Such scenes feel like a lifetime ago.

THAT MOMENT: England's Ben Stokes celebrates winning the third Ashes Test match at Headingley back in 2019. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA

Headingley had been due to stage two internationals last year – T20s against Pakistan and Australia, which were necessarily cancelled as fixtures were moved to biosecure bubbles in Manchester and Southampton.

Tomorrow’s match, coming just one day before Covid-19 restrictions are officially lifted (albeit lifted in the sense that what we are still expected to observe some of them), is part of the government’s Events Research Programme designed to ensure the safe return of spectators to live events and to shape future policy and guidelines.

Hence there will be upwards of 17,000 spectators present, with Arthur hoping for another red-letter day after that famous contest of two years ago.

“It’s the first-ever T20 international at Emerald Headingley, and we’re all really looking forward to it,” said Arthur, who had the honour of presenting Stokes with his man-of-the-match award.

MAN OF THE MOMENT: England's Ben Stokes is congratulated with his man-of-the-match award by Yorkshire's Mark Arthur. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

“We were all really looking forward to it last year, and obviously now it’s come full circle, and spectators will be travelling from far and wide.

“Ticket sales were fantastic last year, and they’ve been rolled forward this year, so there’s going to be a full house for the first time at Headingley since that Ben Stokes game.

“It’s what we do best – putting on international matches. We’ve been doing it since 1899, and it’s the lifeblood of our club and very important to Leeds as a region.”

At one stage, it looked as though Yorkshire would be desperately unlucky with the game falling so close to the end of the government’s so-called roadmap, thereby operating in front of a reduced capacity.

Arthur is grateful for the work of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and DCMS (The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport) in ensuring it is part of the Events Research Programme and can therefore have a capacity attendance.

“It had looked a bit dicey at one point, so we’re very grateful to the ECB and DCMS,” he said.

“It’s great that this pilot is going ahead and it’s another wonderful opportunity to showcase the ground.

“It has meant an awful lot more work for us, for our staff, to adhere to all the various protocols.

“But it’s worth it to have international cricket back in front of a full house at Emerald Headingley, and it promises to be a fascinating match.”

There are strict entry requirements in place for spectators, including proof of testing or proof of double vaccination.

Face coverings must also be worn when moving around the stadium.

Meanwhile, Yorkshire say that the Headingley outfield is fine after rain caused problems during last week’s County Championship match against Lancashire.

There were difficulties at the Emerald Stand end, where conditions became unfit and unsafe for play, with long-standing issues there caused by a layer of thatch that can lead to a build-up of water after the sort of heavy rain witnessed last Monday. Yorkshire are relaying the outfield at the end of the season.

“Unless there’s a flash flood or Noah turns up with his Ark, the outfield will be fine,” quipped Arthur.