© Getty Images
Headingley is the headquarter of Yorkshire County Cricket Club © Getty Images

As the second Test between England and New Zealand starts off at Headingley, Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the moments from the past Test matches held at this historic ground.

Oddest of Omissions

It is curious in retrospect that while writing his 1951 book on the famous cricket grounds of England, novelist Laurence Meynell covered Lord’s, Trent Bridge, The Oval and Old Trafford in sprawling and eloquent detail, but went on to club Headingley with the also rans in a compressed  chapter at the very end of the volume.

True, Headingley made a late entry into the elite club of renowned centres of English cricket. Trent Bridge was always entwined with the lores of William Clarke’s inn and his travelling All-England XI. Lord’s, its treacherous slope notwithstanding, became the accepted Mecca of the great game. On the southern side of the Thames, The Oval hosted the first ever Test match in the country in 1880 and then became the birthplace of the Ashes in 1882. Two years later, in 1884, Old Trafford became the third Test venue in the country and promptly the Manchester skies opened up to wash out the very first day’s play.

In comparison, Headingley, with its introduction in 1890 was a relative newcomer. The first Test match just about managed to be played in the 19th century, when Archie MacLaren’s men took on Joe Darling’s Australians in 1899.

Besides, even to the hardened supporters of the Yorkshire county side, the Headingley suburb of Leeds was not quite the sole identity of their cricket.

Plenty of men were devoted to Sheffield, and Bramall Lane was often seen as the spiritual home of the toughest cricketers of the land. A famous Test was played here in 1902, when Clem Hill struck a superb hundred before Monty Noble crushed England with his baseball-trained swingers.

Earlier still, it was Hyde Park,  Sheffield, where the pre-county side of Yorkshire played their serious variety of cricket, producing exceptional bowlers as if on a perpetually active assembly line.

And then there was Park Avenue, Bradford, which got its share of home matches. Even this ground predated Headingley by a decade, and continued to hold games through to almost the very end of the last century.

But, even with all the concurrent claims to being the home of Yorkshire cricket, Headingley had already carved an impressive  amount of history by the time Meynell penned his Famous Cricket Grounds.

The very first match at the venue, between the touring Australians and the North of England in 1890, had seen the terror striking duo of Charlie Turner and JJ Ferris bowl the visitors to a big victory.

The inaugural Test of 1899 was a quiet affair. But, three years down the line, in 1902, even as the Test match up north was slotted at Bramall Lane, Headingley saw the Yorkshire county side defeat Victor Trumper and the other exceptional Australian visitors of the summer, with George Hirst and Stanley Jackson routing them for 23 in the second innings.

As more and more Test matches were scheduled at the venue, there followed a steady stream of  memorable moments.

In 1907, Colin Blythe single-handedly outspun the battery of South African googly bowlers. In 1909, Tibby Cotter and Charlie Macartney outbowled the genius of Sydney Barnes.

Macartney was back after the Great War, this time with the bat, scoring a hundred in 1921. In 1926 he notched up  another epic that is still talked about. The England captain Arthur Carr dropped him in the slips before he had scored, and the Yorkshire crowd was treated to the second ever century before lunch.

The feat was repeated at the ground four years later, by a diminutive 21-year-old sensation called Don Bradman. He did not stop there, but ended the first day at 309, before falling for 334 on the morrow. In 1934, he was back at his favourite venue, piling up 304, adding 388 with Bill Ponsford, hitting two of the six sixes of his 52-Test career.

The great man was slightly less successful in his next visit in 1938, getting a mere 103, but a crucial one that ensured a hard fought victory for the Australians.

After the Second World War, cricket stuttered haltingly to a start in the bomb damaged stands of Bramall Lane as the Australian Services side took on the English team in the second Victory Test.

And three years later, in 1948, Bradman appeared at Headingley for the final time, and scored his final Test hundred, and what turned out to be his final Test runs, as he and Arthur Morris put on 301 and Australia overhauled a 400-plus target on a turning fifth day track.

The following year, as New Zealand visited, the Yorkshire crowd enjoyed the rare occurrence of Hutton and Denis Compton scoring centuries in the same innings.

All this had already taken place by the time Meynell penned his thoughts on the English grounds. One can’t help wondering, especially looking at the deeds of Bradman, and to an extent Macartney, at this famous ground,  whether the author’s Midland origins played a role in the omission of this sterling landmark of England’s far north.

Headingley continues to flourish

Bramall Lane remained a sentimental favourite of the Yorkshire fans, but after that solitary match in 1902, no other Test took place. It remained a happy ground for the county. After  the Great War, and up to the final cricket match played in 1973 , the side played 163 championship matches at the ground and lost just 18.

Some found it baffling that no more Test was played in this shrine of Sheffield. JM Kilburn, the Neville Cardus of the east of the Pennines, grew up near the ground and soaked in its cricket, his impressions fired by his adolescent romanticism.  It was a place of ‘sharp wit and comment’ said he, and Yorkshire Post was full of lilting descriptions of great games in progress in old Bramall Lane.

Only later, with the scales of youthful imagination falling from his misty eyes, did Kilburn realise that the ‘pit of concrete and steel with not a tree to be seen’ was not the ideal venue for the visiting teams.

He went further in 1952, a year after Meynell’s book was released, when he collaborated with Norman Yardley to pen Homes of Cricket, mixing up prosaic reality with his brand of romantic lore: “The clatter of passing tramcars and the scream of the saw-mill and factory hooters make a background noise to the cricket and a brewery chimney periodically pours smoke and soot into the air. An old story insists that the workmen of the brewery follow the Yorkshire fortunes with care, and stoke up most vigorously when the opponents are batting.”

Yorkshiremen can be odd.

The story is told of Ephraim Lockwood, touring America with Richard Daft’s team in 1878, standing in front of the majesty of the Niagara Falls. When asked about his impressions about this wonder of nature, the man from Huddersfield responded, “Nowt. If this is Niagara, give me Sheffield any day.”

But, it is apparent that the touring sides continued to find Headingley a much better option to play Test cricket. The saga of historical feats continued after Meynell’s book.

In 1952, a fiery local young man made his Test debut by hurling thunderbolts at the Indian top order. Fred Trueman reduced the hapless visitors to 0 for 4. A year later Trevor Bailey batted four hours and 21 minutes to score 38 and save England from a certain defeat.

The 1956 Ashes encounter saw the familiar Laker-Lock demolition of the visitors. Two years later,during another Laker-Lock spin riot, New Zealand was defeated with the hosts losing  just two wickets in the entire match. Those were the days when England ruled the cricket world with a  bit of bent arm and some dodgy wickets to help them along.

The memorable Test matches continued into the 1960s. Another Trueman special brought England a win against Australia in 1961. But, by 1964 the fire refused to rage that fiercely in the aging paceman, and Peter Burge got better of  him at a crucial juncture of the Leeds Test.

A year later John Edrich hit 52 fours and 5 sixes in an unbeaten knock of 310 against New Zealand. In 1966, after Bobby Moore had held aloft the World Cup at Wembley, Garry Sobers scored 174 and then captured eight wickets in one of the most incredible all-round displays as West Indies crushed England by an innings.

In 1967, Geoff Boycott took his time to score 246 not out against India and was dropped for slow batting.

The archetypal Yorkshire opener redeemed himself a decade later, in 1977, as he scored his 100th First-Class hundred against arch rivals Australia as England won by an innings. But before that, there had been turbulence in the 70s.

In 1975, vandals had dug up the pitch leading to an Ashes Test match being called off on the final day. And a year later, stung by the infamous ‘grovel’ comment by England skipper Tony Greig, West Indies launched their pace attack to defeat England by 55 runs. Greig went down fighting, scoring 116 and 76 not out in brave counter-attack.

With the new decade there was the 500 for 1 Test match of 1981, when England followed on, tottered on the brink of an innings defeat, and rose from the ashes by virtue of a miraculous innings by Ian Botham and an inspired spell by Bob Willis.

The home team, however, was nearing a rather forgettable phase.

In 1983, New Zealand upset England by five wickets, but strangely Richard Hadlee remained wicketless. All the damage was done by Lance Cairns and Ewen Chatfield.

Three years later, as no other batsman from either side scored over 36 in unplayable conditions, Dilip Vengsarkar batted his way to 61 and 102 not out to pull out an emphatic win for India.

As the years went on, Imran Khan’s 7 second innings wickets vanquished the hosts, as did Terry Alderman’s swing and several instances of West Indian pace.

There were defeats galore for England as they went through perhaps the worst period since the War in the 1990s. These were punctuated by some rare heroics , the most memorable perhaps Graham Gooch’s match-winning 154 not out against West Indies in 1991.

But the turn of the century saw some wins to savour. The low key Mark Butcher played a stellar role in two of them, scoring a century in the close win against South Africa in 1998 with local man Darren Gough finishing things off. And then, in 2001, his 173 not out helped the hosts score the required 316 to win a by now rare Test against the Aussies. In between, Andy Caddick decimated West Indies in 2000, dismissing them for 61 and ending the Test in two days.

India tasted success again in 2002, when the Indian trio of Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly hammered centuries on their way to a famous innings victory. And in 2009, in another memorable match eminently forgettable for the hosts, Australia defeated England within two and a half days.

July 2010 saw a new kind of landmark for the ground. Pakistan, forced to play in neutral territory because of turbulent conditions at home, won a close match against Australia.

Even the last Test played at the venue witnessed a classic. Sri Lanka forced the issue with the penultimate ball of the game, in spite of a valiant century by Moeen Ali.

The Yorkshire spirit

Bramall Lane opted for football after 1973. Robert Jackson, the man who engineered the shift, was confronted by a disgruntled fan. “Tha’s got rid of cricket at Bramall Lane, and I’m going to put a curse on the football team.”  He kept wondering whether this had something to do with the rather ordinary fortunes of Sheffield United.

Poor attendance down the years forced Bradford to discontinue cricket after 1996.

However, if one walks into Headingley, one can make out the painstaking effort that goes into maintaining the spirit and soul of cricket in the venue.

Yorkshire County Cricket Club cares about its cricketing heritage as none other. From the gates to the press boxes to the stands to the incredible cricket-flavoured décor of the adjoining Headingley Lodge, the game is nurtured in the venue with a caring and firm hand.

It is but little wonder that in spite of Meynell’s omission, the current day Yorkshire headquarters of the game has surpassed some of the more traditional cricketing venues of the land. The spectators have changed down the years.

The hard-bitten Yorkshire fans, with their pungent humour and acerbic wit, their fierce patriotism alongside Yorkshire-first spirit have gradually given way to a more cosmopolitan, urbane crowd. Yet, the love for the game and the appreciation of good cricket is ever present.

And good cricket has indeed graced the venue through the 116 years of Test matches.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)