WHAT a week it has been for English cricket.
And what a week, too, for Yorkshire County Cricket Club.
Never in their wildest dreams could the club have imagined that their Ashes Test match would go so well.
To borrow the old cliche, you could not write the script.
Yorkshire’s first Ashes Test for 10 years – and only their second in 18 – will be remembered for as long as cricket is played.
The weather was perfect – apart from day one – as spectators basked in a late-August heatwave, and the performance of Ben Stokes was hotter still, his unbeaten 135 leading England to an incredible one-wicket win that levelled the Ashes at 1-1 with two Tests to play.
By introducing special party areas, family areas, and so on, Yorkshire have struck a better balance between those who want to enjoy themselves and those, like me, who would rather sit there in stony silence.Chris Waters
A couple of times during the game, I wandered over to the new main Emerald Stand opposite the press box to sample the atmosphere.
The views and facilities were simply breathtaking; high up in the gods, God’s own county stretched out for miles around.
I thought back to the previous Ashes Test at Headingley in 2009, when the new stand was then the old Football Stand in which was sited the old press box, and I reflected how far the ground had come in that space of time.
Not only was there no Emerald Stand in those days, but no Carnegie Pavilion either, that facility not officially opening until the following year, and Headingley still wore that dowdy old look that made it, for many, one of their least favourite venues – mine included.
Fast-forward 10 years and anyone watching from that new stand, particularly, would put Headingley right up there now in terms of England’s leading Test venues, one which has raised its game in the face of stiff competition to stage international games.
Further improvements are planned in the coming years – not least the installation of padded white seats all around the stadium, like those on show in the Emerald Stand. Changing the current blue seats to white will, in my opinion, create an even greater sense of space/style.
Thanks to the efforts of Mark Arthur, the Yorkshire chief executive, the club’s staff, Leeds City Council, the former Yorkshire chairman and the current England and Wales Cricket Board chairman Colin Graves and many others, the ground has improved beyond all recognition in the last few years.
It has not been easy – the journey has been fraught and the financial cost challenging – but it has served to keep international cricket in Leeds.
The behaviour at international matches at Headingley has also improved, and although this is never absolutely to everyone’s taste, gone are the days, it would seem, when the Western Terrace was more Wild West than cricket facility.
By introducing special party areas, family areas, and so on, Yorkshire have struck a better balance between those who want to enjoy themselves and those, like me, who would rather sit there in stony silence.
“Shsssh! I’m trying to watch the cricket! If you want to get drunk, go to the flaming pub...”
The point, though, is that Yorkshire and Headingley have lifted their game, and the Test match last week was a fitting reward for the hard-working effort.
It was as if the cricketing gods had looked down on it all and said, “Aye, you’ve done a good job. For that reason, we’re going to give you one of the greatest Test matches ever played. Enjoy!”
And enjoy it we did – every single minute of it: well, apart from England’s first innings batting, of course.
For England and for Yorkshire, it was indeed the perfect Test.
What a game. What a finish. What a truly extraordinary, unforgettable week.