MARK ARTHUR believes that Emerald Headingley is now one of the top-five international grounds in the country.
Four years ago, the Yorkshire chief executive warned that the venue was lagging behind its international rivals.
He felt that it was eighth in the pecking order behind the traditional centres of Lord’s, The Oval, Trent Bridge, Edgbaston and Old Trafford, plus the new builds at Chester-le-Street and Southampton.
Only Cardiff was considered to be lagging behind Leeds.
Arthur grasped the nettle and set Yorkshire the ambitious target of turning Headingley into one of the top-four international centres in England.
Key to the plan was the creation of a new main stand – known as the Emerald Stand – at the rugby stand end of the ground, which opened its doors to spectators for the first time on Sunday when England played Pakistan in a one-day international.
All I will say is that I think we’re well on our way to achieving the ambition to be one of the top-four grounds in the country. But we can’t rest on our laurels.Yorkshire CEO Mark Arthur
The £34m stand, which seats 4,400 spectators and lifts the ground’s capacity to 18,350, puts Yorkshire in a strong position to not only retain international cricket for years to come, but also to receive increasingly attractive international fixtures.
Allied to widespread improvements since Arthur took charge in 2013, with Yorkshire having created a much more professional and welcoming environment for spectators overall, Headingley has shaken off its tag as one of English cricket’s least salubrious venues and become a ground of which the county can be proud.
Asked where Headingley now sits in the pecking order after the opening of the new stand, Arthur told The Yorkshire Post: “I would have thought that we were somewhere placed in the top-five at the moment.
“It’s really for other people to say though and for them to do the talking.
“All I will say is that I think we’re well on our way to achieving the ambition to be one of the top-four grounds in the country. But we can’t rest on our laurels.
“We need to try to keep improving; we’re always going to be our own biggest critics.”
Arthur said that the reaction to the new stand had been overwhelmingly positive.
Neither he nor his staff, he added, had received any negative feedback from the 13,500 who attended Sunday’s game; the only minor point he referenced was that a steward asked to be moved from the upper tier down to the bottom tier because he did not like heights.
If the only complaint was that someone was suffering with a touch of vertigo, however, with the three-tiered stand providing a panoramic view towards the Carnegie Pavilion opposite and out across Headingley, Yorkshire would no doubt take that in a flash.
The club was also praised by disabled supporters for the access afforded by the new stand, while the Yorkshire players who attended the match spoke glowingly of the gleaming facilities.
With Headingley hosting four matches in the forthcoming World Cup, including England versus Sri Lanka on June 21, Arthur said that the ODI also served as a successful trial run.
“Operationally, it was a good test for us,” he said.
“We had a good chance to test ourselves with new facilities and we always said that the cricket World Cup was our objective to make sure that we were ready to stage that magnificent event.
“We had eight executives from the World Cup organising operation with us on Sunday, seeing how we operate, and we also had a member of the high-profile match panel from the England and Wales Cricket Board.
“All in all, we have taken a lot of confidence from Sunday – confidence but not complacency – and it was very pleasing to see how all the staff, both permanent and temporary, actually operated on the day.”
With Headingley also hosting the third Test against Australia (August 22-26), there is a sense that Headingley is taking big strides forward in the popular perception.
It is actually an absence of complacency that has brought Yorkshire to this point, with the club recognising that it needed to raise its game and acting accordingly.
“I’d like to think that we have taken a massive step forward with this new stand,” said Arthur.
“I think there’s now recognition that when we said that we would build a truly world-class cricket facility that we’ve followed through on that.
“It not only delivers a fantastic viewing experience being so close to the action of world-class cricket, but also it enables the club to generate significant income outside of cricket.
“The new Emerald Suite, for example, is capable of hosting numerous events.
“In my view, it’s one of the finest stands probably ever developed for cricket in this country, and, for that, there’s an awful lot of people who deserve an awful lot of credit.”