By Paul Edwards
A cricket ground without people is nothing more than concrete and metal, wood and glass, plastic and turf. You might admire the architecture or the construction but the soul of the place will elude you if you are not stirred by what has happened there. So whatever its modernity Emerald Headingley is, and must always be, more than a stadium. Young Yorkshiremen have arrived at the ground wanting nothing more than to play for the county; veteran cricketers have walked off this sacred space after their last games not trusting themselves to say anything at all; and every springtime supporters turn up, gruff and tender, hoping to see the White Rose prosper. “It’s [uz] ground” say the county’s players and supporters and dare you to correct their grammar. “[Uz] can be loving” wrote Tony Harrison, a Leeds poet, in one of his most famous 16-line sonnets and there has never been any shortage of emotion at Headingley. It has been so since 1890 when the ground hosted its inaugural first-class match and spectators saw The North lose to the touring Australians by 160 runs. Ah yes, the Australians. I didn’t think it would be long until we got round to them.
This will be Headingley’s first Ashes Test for a decade and only its second in 18 years. The series began in 1890 and for 80 years after 1921 the notion that an Australian touring team should visit England and not play a Test at Leeds appeared unthinkable. Then in 2005 – the era of bids and packages – some bright spark thought it. This summer, though, Yorkshire welcomes Tim Paine’s side back to a ground which possesses perhaps the richest heritage of any Ashes venue in England. And it is not absurd optimism to expect such greetings are reciprocated, even as the rivalry assumes a fresh intensity and another great series takes shape. Where once there was Ray Lindwall, there is now Pat Cummins; where once there was Morris Leyland, there is now Joe Root. The place is nowt without people.
But there is nothing remarkable in the simple truth that Australian players and spectators have enjoyed visiting Leeds. The visitors have won 10 of their 23 Ashes Tests at Headingley and, indeed, did not lose to England on the ground until defeat in 1961 began a rather gloomy period in which they were defeated in five out of eight games.
Tomorrow morning, it returns to Yorkshire… pic.twitter.com/wpKvIBI67P
— Yorkshire CCC (@YorkshireCCC) August 21, 2019