England v West Indies: Yorkshire fans ignore tourists' failings to boost Headingley ticket sales

THERE was an amusing moment on Test Match Special when West Indies were hurtling towards a three-day defeat against England at Edgbaston.

Got him: Yorkshire's Craig White traps Brian Lara lbw in the fourth Test at Headingley in 2000.
Got him: Yorkshire's Craig White traps Brian Lara lbw in the fourth Test at Headingley in 2000.

Commentator Simon Mann asked Geoffrey Boycott how ticket sales were going for the second Test at Headingley.

“After this, they’ve stopped,” said Boycott, who went on to describe West Indies in his newspaper column as “the worst Test match team I have seen in more than 50 years of watching, playing and commentating on cricket”.

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Boycott, who added that West Indies “can’t bat and can’t bowl”, thereby going two-thirds of the way towards evoking Martin Johnson’s famous assessment of England’s 1986-87 Ashes tourists, called the first Test “a mismatch” and “a Test match in name only”.

Umbrellas went up at Headingley last year when England hosts Sri Lanka in May. Picture: Nigel French/PA

He said that the gulf between the sides was “as wide as the Grand Canyon” and that it was “a cricketing tragedy to see the West Indies like this”.

When that first Test was still in its infancy, and the full extent of West Indies’ woes had yet to be laid bare before a plaintive public, sales for the Headingley Test stood at 85 per cent of tickets sold for day one, 88 per cent for day two and 63 per cent for day three.

Now, ahead of Friday’s opening day, pretty much all clear-view seats have been sold for days one and two, equating to around 14,500 of the ground’s 15,500 capacity, with some 11,000 tickets sold for day three.

If West Indies’ woeful display in Birmingham has had a negative impact on the perception of this three-match series as a competitive entity, which can be adduced from the comments of Boycott and myriad observers, it has not been felt at Yorkshire in terms of the financial bottom line.

Umbrellas went up at Headingley last year when England hosts Sri Lanka in May. Picture: Nigel French/PA

“It perhaps hasn’t helped day four,” quipped Andy Dawson, Yorkshire’s commercial director, with around 3,500 tickets so far sold for the Monday.

“But our ticket sales are better than in recent years.

“We’ll be full on the Friday and Saturday, with just a few tickets left before we go into restricted view seats.

“Then there are about 3,500 clear-view tickets left for day three.”

Although recent Headingley Tests have not exactly been played before swathes and swathes of empty seats, the ‘ground full’ notices have hardly been wheeled out for a pastime either.

A run of early-season Tests last year prompted Mark Arthur, the Yorkshire chief executive, to call for an end to Test cricket in the north of England in May, arguing that “the weather is historically not quite as favourable as elsewhere in the country and temperatures can be low, which can affect the crowds”.

Going forward, Yorkshire would like a regular July/August Test, and Dawson believes that this year’s commercial performance supports an in-house belief that the Yorkshire public will turn out to watch games if they are played at a more propitious time of year.

“I think it just shows that, given a Test match in the sort of heart of the summer, then the Yorkshire people will come out and support it,” he said.

“Having Test matches in the last four years against opposition in May is difficult; last year, 10 days before the Test match, it snowed, which obviously didn’t help. If we get fixtures at the right time of year, then they will be supported. That would be our message to the powers-that-be.”

All anyone can hope for is that the Headingley Test proves to be somewhat more engaging than the mismatch at Edgbaston, where England won by an innings and 209 runs with a cigar in one hand and a novel in the other.

Former England captain Michael Vaughan is not alone in fearing that the series may be “sad to watch”, pointing out that, in recent times, “every time they (West Indies) have arrived in England, they seem to have got worse”.

The tourists are without such big names as Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo and Darren Sammy, following a disagreement with the West Indies Cricket Board, and the claim of West Indies captain Jason Holder post-Edgbaston that “the series is not lost” sounded more like a forlorn hope than a declaration of fact.

Indeed, there would hardly be widespread surprise – even if the odds are against it – of a repeat of what happened when the countries met at Headingley in 2000, the last Test in England to finish inside two days, and just the fifth anywhere to suffer that fate since the Second World War.

Vaughan played in that match and top-scored with 76 out of 272, Messrs Darren Gough, Andrew Caddick, Craig White and Dominic Cork all playing their part as West Indies were routed for 172 and 61, Caddick famously taking four wickets in one over.

That West Indies side contained one of the greatest batsmen of all time in the form of Brian Lara.

This one barely contains a batsman worthy of the name.