THE perfect antidote for Yorkshire folk suffering from World Cup blues was on offer at Headingley yesterday.
For once events seemed to be conspiring in Yorkshire’s favour during their place in the international sun.
A dry forecast with the weather set fair – whisper it gently in these parts – for five days and sports fans having, metaphorically, taken off their football boots and replaced them with cricketing spikes after England’s demise in Brazil.
Time for the walk-ups to Headingley for a series decider after all that drama at Lord’s earlier in the week when Sri Lanka survived against England by the skin of their teeth.
Factor in a competitive, decent-paced pitch, as opposed to the docile surface at Lord’s, which according to one IT Botham possessed less life than a tramp’s vest. In short, a good contest between bat and ball – before the tourists’ late implosion, anyway.
The ingredients were all there at the start; we even had three home boys in Liam Plunkett, Joe Root and Gary Ballance, and a century-appearance maker and a classy bat at that in Ian Bell.
Just a shame a few more spectators did not dial in their sat-navs to Headingley, where advance sales for the first day stood at 11,000.
It is a fair bet that plenty more wished they had parted with their hard-earned and made the effort, with Plunkett truly announcing himself again with England. A hat-trick chance as well, to boot, but it was left to Stuart Broad to claim that honour, albeit spanning two overs. Someone tell him.
Around 7,500 were in, early doors, less than half-full, as England elected to bowl after winning the toss – in the sort of cloudy, muggy conditions that Headingley is famed for and which generally prompt a decision to ‘have a bowl’. That’s the theory anyway.
Alastair Cook, under the pump and in need of runs, did what most would expect especially given the four-seam attack at his disposal.
Although some with a bit more local knowledge would have been tempted to go the other way and bat, with sunny intervals predicted later.
Early on there was heavy cloud cover and a dark look or two from Broad – some things don’t change – after an lbw call wasn’t reviewed against his better judgment when it would have been out. But the forecast was largely good.
An interesting toss decision then; wonder what Shane Warne will have made of Cook’s decision. He wasn’t around in the Sky box after the stink he’d caused with the England captain.
Plenty of others weren’t around either when James Anderson worked over Chamara Silva to take the first wicket, incredibly just his 10th in Test cricket in Leeds.
While the numbers game may not quite have stacked up for Yorkshire officials, two North Riding men – Liam and Alan Plunkett – had reason to celebrate one statistic.
The latter was holidaying in sunny Cyprus when his lad made his Test return at Lord’s last week. But he was on deck to see his boy claim the wicket of Dimuth Karunartine with the second ball of his opening spell at his home ground, just as the clouds were breaking at Headingley. It was the start of a grand day for them both.
The sight of the Middlesbrough-born enforcer uprooting the leg stump of left-hander Karunartine was a box-office moment, the sort that would have been heralded by vast throngs of parochial spectators on the old Western Terrace in its heyday after he powered in from the Kirkstall Lane end.
The cheers were appreciative, but not exactly raucous and lusty. Certainly not alcohol-induced, although in fairness it was still a bit early in the day at 12.30pm.
Thankfully, a few more were in by the time Plunkett well and truly came to the party just under two hours later.
The Teessider ran in from the Football Ground end to take the wickets of Mahela Jayawardene, brilliantly caught one-handed by Chris Jordan – worth the admission money alone that – and Lahiru Thirimanne in successive balls, with the hearty if belated cries of ‘Yorkshire, Yorkshire’ like greeting an old friend.
Test cricket was back at Leeds, and the hullabaloo about the T20 Roses game next Friday can wait.
The clouds made way for sunshine and the White Rose Stand suddenly looked much fuller – much more of this and the tea-time trade would be lively.
Plunkett’s double burst failed to bring a hat-trick, Angelo Mathews blocking the money ball. But the crowd were enlivened and the blushes of Matt Prior spared. He had fluffed a dolly catch to send Kumar Sangakkara packing in Plunkett’s previous over.
That moment got Steven Gerrard off the hook. For a few minutes anyway.
Spin, of the part-time variety, arrived at 3pm from Moeen Ali and a half-century for the accomplished Sangakkara. Not a man you would choose to drop once, let alone twice, with Ali fluffing his lines before tea. A run-out opportunity had also been spurned when he was on nought.
The temperature rose and the noise decibels were again cranked up with Ballance, at third slip, tidily catching Angelo Matthews.
Less edifying was an over of off-spin before tea from Root, but the late-comers were royally entertained in the final session as Sri Lanka disintegrated after Sangakkara finally run out of luck, caught by Bell on his big day for 79, with Plunkett soon reaffirming his return to the top, along with Broad, improved of mood.
The fun in the sun may not stretch to five days. So get yourself down to Headingley while you can.