MARK ARTHUR believes Headingley can break into the top-four international grounds in England by the end of the decade and said Yorkshire are “changing perceptions” of the historic Leeds venue.
The Yorkshire chief executive warned last summer that Headingley had plunged to eighth in the pecking order of the nine Test match grounds.
But after staging a successful Test match between England and New Zealand, and amid ambitious plans to redevelop the stadium, Arthur said Headingley is making strides forward.
“By the end of 2019, I would like to believe that we are considered to be one of the top-four international cricket grounds in the country,” he said.
“Lord’s is No 1, and it’s very hard to say at the moment who’s two, three and four, but I do believe that we could justifiably get ourselves into the top four, and that’s what we should be aiming to do.
“We’ve still got a way to go; we’re on a journey to 2019 and we won’t be accepted as one of the very top grounds until such time as we’ve built the new stand at the south end of the ground and replaced the old Football Stand.
“But because we are putting other measures in place, because we are improving our performance, because we are selling more tickets, etcetera, we’re well on the way to changing perceptions of Headingley to the cricketing world.”
Arthur pulled no punches last year when he said that Headingley was lagging behind the new international venues at Durham and Hampshire, with only Cardiff below it in terms of facilities.
His comments focused minds – as did his prediction that the England and Wales Cricket Board would one day revert to the old system of six Test-match venues, further putting Headingley at risk.
Yorkshire are guaranteed international cricket until 2019 as part of a staging agreement with the ECB drawn up when the club bought the Headingley ground in 2005.
But post-2019, they will have to bid for England games in three-year blocks along with rival stadia, and they would be susceptible to losing their Test status without improvements such as the new south stand, which will lift capacity towards 20,000 in time for the 2019 season.
Arthur, who last summer announced a £50m master-plan to redevelop the venue over the next two decades, praised the Yorkshire and Headingley staff for presiding over a successful Test match this week.
Aggregate attendance was up 7,500 on last year’s Sri Lanka Test to 44,000; ticket revenue climbed by £170,000 to just under £1m, while the game passed without any arrests and only a handful of ejections.
Most importantly, perhaps, the pitch provided by groundsman Andy Fogarty and his team was again of high standard, with the Headingley Test producing a result on the fifth day for the third year running and some great entertainment in particular from New Zealand, who won by 199 runs after scoring at just under five an over throughout the contest.
Fogarty’s handiwork drew high praise from New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum, and Arthur revealed that England’s interim coach Paul Farbrace had been in touch to praise the club, too.
“Paul Farbrace wrote to me and said that while England didn’t perform as well as they would have liked, it was a great pitch for international cricket,” said Arthur.
“That’s great to hear, because we’ve got one of the very best groundsmen in the world in Andy Fogarty, and he produced the ultimate Test pitch.
“Because there is so much competition to stage international cricket, it’s vital not only to have great facilities but also to have great pitches that help to produce great matches.
“You have to provide a Test wicket that gives something to the batsmen and bowlers, and Andy again did a brilliant job.”
Of Yorkshire’s performance at the Test match overall, Arthur said: “We were very pleased with the way it went.
“The attendance was up, and that was a really good effort when you consider it was pretty inclement weather and we had no walk-up crowd whatsoever.
“The way we sold and marketed the game was very pleasing –as was the response we had from Yorkshire cricket clubs and the rotary clubs in particular, along with our own membership.
“Revenue was up as a consequence and the atmosphere in the ground was excellent.”
Arthur, who is preparing for another key test of Yorkshire’s operational capabilities tonight when they host Lancashire in front of a 16,000 sell-out in the T20 Blast, added: “The most pleasing aspect has been the feedback from the ECB, from New Zealand Cricket, and also from the general public about the environment that we created at Headingley, and the efficiency of everybody working here.
“We were really pleased with the relationship between the stewards and the paying public, which was excellent.
“We had issues with the catering side of things last year, and I have to compliment Headingley Experience, who operate the catering on behalf of Leeds Rugby, and say that both the quality and level of service was up by a huge percentage.
“All in all, everything is moving in the right direction.”