England v Sri Lanka: A very Yorkshire sporting occasion

As if on cue, the clouds parted over Headingley on the first morning of summer, and an orderly procession began to snake its way from Burley Park station to St Michael’s Lane.

As it made its way along Chapel Lane, the England team bus drove past. Unable to overtake a road sweeping van, it moved only slightly faster than the pedestrians.

It was a very Yorkshire sporting occasion – excited yet understated. The back streets of suburban Leeds had come alive early as anticipation built for the first of four World Cup matches in front of the new Emerald Stand at the county ground.

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The first was also foremost – the only one to feature the home side. England had not appeared there in a World Cup match since 1983, 36 years ago almost to the day, when they trounced Sri Lanka by 11 wickets.

The ICC Cricket World Cup group stage match at Headingley
The ICC Cricket World Cup group stage match at Headingley

The visitors had waited a long time for a rematch on Yorkshire soil, and some had holed themselves up at local hotels the previous evening, so as not to risk missing it.

Lalith de Kauwe, a London barrister, arrived fresh from the Hilton in a Sri Lanka shirt, having seen his team lose by 87 runs to Australia at The Oval last weekend.

“All the English people in the audience there were supporting Sri Lanka,” he said.

Dr Dilan Fernando was making the round trip from London in a day, with friends. “But we’ve got dinner planned here in Leeds because we have a short game anticipated”, he said, attempting a straight face.

Dr Dilan Fernando (second left) with friends outside the ground at Headingley before the England v Sri Lanka match in the Cricket World Cup

Drawn from every age group and social demographic, the snake arrived at the stadium, to be greeted by bunting and volunteers in blue and yellow tracksuits. Among them was Pauline Cook, from Grimsby, who handed out free apples, engraved with the tournament emblem.

A second volunteer – some 4,000 have been recruited across the tournament – was drawing tribal stripes in the team colours on the faces of the younger fans, undercutting a lady outside who was charging £1 to do the same.

Next to her, a souvenir stall was doing no trade in brollies but a little in England flags that looked like remnants from last year’s other World Cup.

Further on, a steward was delivering the urgent news that “a very limited number” of tickets were still available. Spoken through a megaphone, his words drowned out the touts who had lined the route to the stadium.

Sri Lanka fans play musical instruments underneath the Dickie Bird clock during the ICC Cricket World Cup group stage match at Headingley

Only around 200 seats in the 18,350-capacity stands remained unsold by 9am, but a hardy few England supporters had left it to chance. The last of them disappeared through the turnstiles just as the Kandyan dance troupe performing routines native to Sri Lanka gave way to the national anthems, and the roar of the crowd echoed back down Chapel Street.

Steve Head, a steward from Dumfries, said it had been, if anything, a livelier start to the day than at Old Trafford earlier in the week. “You know how to celebrate here,” he observed.