“CHARACTER, not beauty, is the word generally applied to Headingley cricket ground. It seems to epitomise what most outsiders think of Yorkshiremen – dour, prone to bouts of mournfulness and generally a bit odd. Its development over the years has not really been development at all, but rather a patchwork, patched-up mess which has left the place looking as if it has been put together by a hyper-active seven-year-old with a few Lego bricks left over.”
So proclaimed the late Robert Mills, former cricket correspondent of The Yorkshire Post, in his book Field of Dreams (Headingley 1890-2001).
There has been no better description of the famous Leeds ground, which arguably took the Lego look to a new level with the opening of the Carnegie Pavilion in 2010.
But if Robert was gazing down from the giant press box in the sky yesterday he would surely have been first to say how magnificent looked the new £34m Emerald Stand, which has transformed the aspect of Headingley forever.
Yorkshire have got this right, very right indeed, as the first spectators to sit in the padded white seats could be overheard saying in England’s final competitive match before the World Cup.
To Mark Arthur, the Yorkshire chief executive and his staff, credit must go for one of the grandest and most well-appointed stands in the country, one which has given an X-factor to a venue that could hitherto boast only a Z-factor.
With four World Cup matches to come followed by an Ashes Test, the plaudits will no doubt continue to rain down, while more ground improvements are planned for the future.
There was a time when few people outside the Broad Acres had a good word to say about Headingley; now it has taken its place at the top table of England’s international venues, its future as bright as emerald green.
So, could England’s cricketers match their swanky new surroundings in this final match of the Royal London series?
So exceptional are England at one-day cricket these days that they stumbled rather than savaged their way to a towering 351-9 after winning the toss, the highest ODI total made at Headingley, eclipsing England’s own 339-6 against South Africa two years ago.
Despite a fine 97 from Sarfaraz Ahmed, the Pakistan captain and former Yorkshire batsman, they bowled out Pakistan for 297 to win by 54 runs and take the five-match series 4-0.
One says that England stumbled rather than savaged their way to 351-9, but, at 222-2 in the 30th over, they were eyeing a score well over 400.
The pitch was as flat and bare as for Yorkshire’s games this summer in the Royal London Cup, which had seen Steve Patterson’s men make 379-7 in their opening fixture against Leicestershire, the highest List A total made at the ground.
Jonny Bairstow, rested for the previous ODI at Trent Bridge, helped the hosts to 95-1 from the first 10-over powerplay, one of three men to contribute rapid 30s along with opening partner James Vince and Jos Buttler.
All three would have been disappointed not to go on, with Bairstow caught at long-on, Vince at deep square and Buttler at point as Pakistan took wickets at key intervals.
Captain Eoin Morgan had wanted to bat first to “replicate losing the toss in the World Cup”, and he seemed particularly keen to rise to this challenge himself. Morgan contributed 76 from 64 balls to a third-wicket stand of 117 in 19 overs with Joe Root, who top-scored with 84 from 73 deliveries having reached his quickest ODI fifty from 37 balls.
Morgan miscued a pull to square-leg after striking five sixes to go with four fours, and Root, who hit nine boundaries, pulled to deep backward-square in sight of his third ODI hundred on his home ground. Tom Curran injected late impetus with an unbeaten 29 from 15 balls, Shaheen Afridi taking 4-82 and left-arm spinner Imad Wasim 3-53.
Pakistan’s reply began calamitously when they plunged to 6-3 inside three overs, Chris Woakes taking all the wickets in nine balls as Fakhar Zamam edged to second slip and Abid Ali and Mohammad Hafeez were lbw.
Babar Azam and Sarfaraz added 146 in 24 overs, their stand ended by a brilliant piece of fielding from Adil Rashid.
When Sarfaraz played a ball from the Yorkshireman out to leg, Babar came charging up the pitch and was sent back, Rashid flipping from behind his back wicketkeeper Buttler’s wide throw to run-out non-striker Babar for 80.
Rashid then pulled off a brilliant caught-and-bowled, one-handed to his left, to remove Shoaib Malik, quickly followed by some smart work from Buttler to run-out Sarfaraz, the ’keeper blocking an attempted late-cut with his boot before gathering the rebound and defeating Sarfaraz’s desperate effort to ground his bat.
Woakes added the scalps of Imad Wasim and Hasan Ali to finish with 5-54, England winning at a canter despite resting Jofra Archer, Mark Wood and Jason Roy.