YORKSHIRE chief executive Mark Arthur insists that Emerald Headingley is ready to rise to the challenge of hosting its first Ashes Test for a decade.
The historic Leeds venue has not staged a Test match between England and Australia since this corresponding week in 2009.
Yorkshire did not bid for an Ashes Test in 2013 or 2015 as they lost circa £1m in staging the neutral Pakistan versus Australia Test in 2010 and considered it too great a financial risk.
But the “blind” bidding system for Tests has subsequently been scrapped, whereby everyone could bid for games with the winner determined simply by who bid the most, with counties now recognised for their overall commitment and contribution to the game.
After next week’s second Test at Lord’s, Headingley stages the third in the five-match series from Thursday August 22 as England strive to recover from their 251-run defeat at Edgbaston on Monday.
“We’ve been waiting 10 long years to have the Ashes back in Yorkshire and we’re absolutely ready for it,” said Arthur.
We will do it in a traditional Headingley way, as it were, and try to build on a successful World Cup from our point of view.Mark Arthur
“We’re sold out for the first four days and are really looking forward to it; it promises to be a cracking occasion.
“Since we last staged an Ashes Test here, the ground has changed a lot – the Carnegie Pavilion officially opened in 2010 and our new main Emerald Stand opened earlier this summer.
“Our reputation has also been greatly enhanced and the atmosphere within the ground is completely different from the boisterous one that used to be associated with Headingley; it’s now very much what you might call a cricket-watching cricket ground.”
Headingley effectively had four mini trial runs for what promises to be a pivotal fixture in the series when it staged four matches in the recent World Cup.
Those games came under the control of the International Cricket Council, however, with Yorkshire effectively back in charge for the upcoming Test.
“While we had really good crowds at the cricket World Cup and lots of new faces coming in to Emerald Headingley, the ICC was very much in charge of those four days and they did things their way,” said Arthur.
“We will do it in a traditional Headingley way, as it were, and try to build on a successful World Cup from our point of view.
“Everything that was under our control during that tournament went well, and the ‘wow’ word was used on a regular basis by people when they saw the new stand.
“It was interesting the other day when we (Yorkshire) played Birmingham Bears; there was a crowd of around 6,000, about a third of capacity, and the most populated area was the new stand and the upper tier in particular, with people having very quickly gravitated to that stand as it provides a wonderful viewing area and arguably one of the best vantage points now in world cricket.”
One criticism from the Edgbaston Test was that the pitch did not play to England’s strengths. There was a lack of help for the quicker bowlers, with former England captain Nasser Hussain among those who believes that the hosts will need surfaces more conducive to seam and swing to get back into the series.
“They won’t beat Australia in conditions like that,” said Hussain after England’s defeat. “That’s like playing them abroad in Australia.”
Arthur believes that if anyone can produce the ideal Test pitch it is Andy Fogarty, the highly-respected Yorkshire groundsman.
“The pitches that Andy Fogarty produces regularly score highly,” he said.
“There is plenty of carry for the bowlers so they get value for their efforts, but if batsmen get set they’ve always got a chance of putting on a good score.
“I think there will be a bit more life in it (Headingley) than perhaps there was at Edgbaston, but a lot depends on the climatic conditions in the build-up to the game and sometimes things are taken out of groundsmen’s hands.
“But, in Andy Fogarty, we’ve got one of the best groundsmen in the world and there won’t be any need to give Andy any instructions in how to produce the very best Test match wicket.”
England’s defeat at Edgbaston has somewhat dampered optimism; they also need to win the series outright as Australia would retain the urn with a draw as the current holders.
But if the hosts can hit back at Lord’s, the rubber would be beautifully poised by the time that the carnival comes up to Leeds.
“Hopefully it will be 1-1 and the series will be on a knife-edge,” said Arthur.
“Let’s hope for excellent weather and some wonderful cricket.”