Ashes triumph at Headingley was ‘perfect Test’ for Yorkshire cricket

ENGLAND and Ben Stokes not only saved the Ashes – but Yorkshire’s finances too.

England's Ben Stokes is congratulated by Yorkshire Cricket Club's Chief Executive Mark Arthur with the man of the match award.

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The club have revealed that they were staring down the barrel of a £500,000 shortfall before the “Miracle of Headingley 2019”.

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Yorkshire made around £4m from the third Ashes Test, which finished on Sunday in an incredible one-wicket win for the hosts after Stokes struck 135 not out – arguably the greatest innings in Test history.

But after Joe Root’s men were bowled out for 67 in their first innings, it looked like being a costly three-day finish for Yorkshire before Stokes’s genius prevented England from going 2-0 down with two Tests to play and thus losing the Ashes to the current holders, who would retain them in a drawn series.

Mark Arthur, the Yorkshire chief executive, who is celebrating “the perfect Test” after Headingley put on a magnificent display off the field to match Stokes’s diamond brilliance on it, admitted that he feared a loss against budget when it seemed unlikely that the match would last into Sunday.

England closed day two trailing by 283 runs and Australia, with just four second innings wickets left, looked set to seal the series on day three.

But after being left to chase an English Test record 359 when Australia were dismissed half-an-hour before lunch, England survived 72 overs to close day three on 156-3 as Root, Stokes and Joe Denly showed tremendous pluck.

What happened next took its place alongside the Ian Botham/Bob Willis-inspired “Miracle of Headingley 1981” as Stokes and Jack Leach shared 76 for the 10th wicket to lead England home.

“When we got to the end of day two I was in a darkened room because I was staring down the barrel at a potential £500,000 shortfall with the game finishing on day three,” said Arthur.

“That would have been the potential amount from catering, hospitality, merchandise and so on, so that was going to be a real issue from our point of view.

“People would have got their ticket money back and we were insured against that, but we would have missed out on the money from those other areas.

“I was also feeling very sorry because a lot of the people who had bought tickets for Sunday had bought them a year in advance and were looking forward to their day at Emerald Headingley.

“People were still feeling pretty forlorn when we started our second innings, which could well have finished on day three, but fantastic batting by Joe Root and Joe Denly initially gave us a little bit of hope of a decent day’s play for the expected full house who had bought tickets for day four.

“Then, of course, no one could possibly have predicted what happened next. When it got to about 18 needed, I started to think, ‘Oh my goodness, this could happen’, and then we won – just jubilation, ecstatic jubilation.

“You wake up in the morning and think, ‘Did that really happen?’, and so far I’ve watched the highlights twice just to convince myself that it did and to take it all in.”

Arthur presented Stokes with his man-of-the-match award and said that, in his view, what happened eclipsed the drama of 1981. Then, England famously won by 18 runs after following-on as Botham hit 149 not out and Willis took 8-43; Australia, in a neat twist, lost 8-43 at the end of their first innings in this Leeds Test.

“I had the absolute privilege of presenting Ben with his man-of-the-match award which, only an hour earlier, we were ready to present to Josh Hazlewood,” said Arthur.

“I just said, ‘That was fantastic, Ben. Thank you.’ He won’t have known why I said, ‘Thank you’, but, from our point of view, it was the perfect Test in every sense and people will be talking about Headingley 2019 for generations to come.

“I heard Bob Willis say that it was a far better cricket match than the one he played in back in 1981 and that what happened surpassed that. I thought that was very generous of him and I think he’s right.”

Arthur believes that Headingley’s performance this week, along with that of his hard-working staff and the consistently excellent groundsman Andy Fogarty and his team, means it is now firmly ensconced at the top table of England’s international venues.

He also paid tribute to the man who has done more than anything to make it what it is today, the England and Wales Cricket Board chairman and former Yorkshire supremo Colin Graves.

“Since Colin Graves first walked through the door 17 years ago, the whole ground has been transformed and he is the proud father, if you like, of the modern-day Headingley,” said Arthur.

“Colin was there for the first two days and he told me how proud he is of what has been achieved by a number of people over the years.

“The club staff did another great job, the crowd were amazing throughout – good-humoured and respectful – and, before I presented Ben Stokes with his man-of-the-match award, I went to see Andy Fogarty and his team and shook them by the hand because they produced another quality pitch.

“It had lots of bounce and carry, a decent amount of turn on the fourth day, and yet England were still able to chase down their record fourth-innings score – they are simply the best.”