Yorkshire v Essex: Headingley groundstaff waging uneven battle with the elements

Water pours off the covers at Headingley on day one of Yorkshire's County Championship match with Essex (Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com).
Water pours off the covers at Headingley on day one of Yorkshire's County Championship match with Essex (Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com).
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YORKSHIRE have defended their drainage system and instead blamed “unprecedented wet weather” for the loss of all six days of cricket so far this season at Headingley.

The club are facing their first completely washed out County Championship match since 1987 – and their first at Headingley since 1967 – after no play was possible on the third day yesterday against champions Essex.

Earlier this month Yorkshire lost a three-day match against Leeds-Bradford MCCU, which was called off three days in advance after rain and snow.

And despite three days of mostly dry weather for the visit of Essex the outfield had not dried sufficiently to permit play yesterday, with umpires Ian Gould and Richard Illingworth once more pulling the plug after a post-lunch inspection.

Amid circulating criticism on social media, with some wondering why a Test ground should be so affected, Yorkshire’s chief executive Mark Arthur leapt to the defence of the ground staff and the drainage facilities.

“The recent bad weather has made for challenging conditions for our ground staff,” he said, “and there have been absolutely no issues with our drainage system.

“The reasons for these delays are that the ground has seen unprecedented wet weather over the past few months.

“If you couple this with low temperatures on drier days the ground has had no chance to fully recover.

“Ultimately the prime concern for the umpires has to be the health and well-being of the players.”

Arthur’s comments were echoed by director of cricket Martyn Moxon, who said it had been one of the worst pre-seasons he had known in 40-odd years.

Moxon also hit back at Headingley’s critics, saying there was nothing more that groundsman Andy Fogarty and his staff could have done.

“Unfortunately that’s what social media can do,” said Moxon. “It gives ill-informed people that platform to voice unfair criticism.

“Andy and his staff have worked 25 hours a day; they’ve done everything possible to get this ground fit, working ridiculous hours, mopping the ground up and trying to get it cut, and so on.

“When you look at the weather we’ve had since we came back from Potchefstroom, the few dry days that we’ve had have been cold, cloudy, we’ve hardly seen the sun, and it’s just been hopeless.”

Moxon said the players are “crawling up the wall” and sick of the sight of the indoor nets.

Since returning from that pre-season tour to Potchefstroom in South Africa, Yorkshire’s only competitive outdoor practice came in a two-day friendly against Leicestershire at Grace Road last week, where they spent 50 overs in the field and then batted for just 11.1 overs before that, too, fell foul of the weather.

“The water table is so high at Headingley that we were only able to get outside to practice last Wednesday, and even then it wasn’t fit really,” added Moxon.

“We had floodlights on, it was foggy, it was damp, drizzling, and that was just two days before the scheduled start of the Essex game.

“On that Wednesday morning, the ground staff were pulling the sheets off and there were big chunks of ice coming off; the water on the sheets had frozen.

“It’s been so wet that as soon as a bowler runs-up it becomes unfit as water comes up in no time at all.”

Yorkshire’s last abandoned Championship match was against Sussex at Hastings in 1987. Their last abandoned Championship game in Yorkshire was against Essex at Sheffield in 1985, while the last to be washed out at Headingley was against Leicestershire in 1967.

“It’s been the worst pre-season I’ve known in 30-odd years,” said groundsman Fogarty. “It’s just freak conditions; this weather seemed to start in January and has gone right up to now.

“We’re trying to prepare pitches and the outfield, and you get one good day in between seven or eight days of rain, and there’s nothing you can do. It’s really frustrating for us as well as players and spectators.”

The main area of concern has been sections of the outfield towards the old Football Stand. That stand is currently being rebuilt, with Headingley more exposed than usual at that end of the ground, but Yorkshire say that has had no bearing.

“We’ve just been unfortunate and hit a bad spell of weather and not escaped it,” said Fogarty. “Everybody is suffering around the country.

“It’s just in certain areas that it’s stopping us; it’s not the whole of the bottom end, only certain areas where the players will be running in and fielding.

“The last thing we want is players getting injured.”