Headingley: The Future of Test Match Cricket in the North
On the 20th March, well-respected cricket writer George Dobell published a gloomy article on the future of international cricket at Headingley. The root cause of the current problem is the stand at the Football End which is in need of redevelopment, Headingley is set to lose out on Test match cricket if funding is not sourced. According to statistics from Cricket Archive, Headingley’s first test match was hosted 118 years ago making Headingley an historical venue for the sport. It is also the home to Yorkshire County Cricket Club, one of England’s most successful county clubs of recent years.
Yorkshire have a strong team and have performed well in recent seasons, especially in the County Championship, winning the championship in 2014 and 2015 under the guidance of former Head Coach Jason Gillespie. The county has also produced a significant number of players in the current England set up including England captain Joe Root, wicket keeper Jonny Bairstow and leg spinner Adil Rashid. The county has contributed so much to the national team in recent years that it only seems right they should host test matches on a regular basis.
Yet Yorkshire’s financial struggle demonstrates the problem with County Cricket; counties no longer compete on the strength of their team but on the strength of their finances. Indeed, the future of Headingley as a venue for T20 cricket will also be called into question should a lack of funding prevent the redevelopment of the Football End. This would also impact Headingley’s availability to host the new franchise T20 format should it come into effect in the next couple of years.
It has already been announced that Headingley will host an Ashes Test match in the 2019 series. This is a welcome announcement for cricket fans in the north of England for whom Test match cricket has been a rarity in recent times. The redevelopment of Old Trafford has, until recently, prevented international fixtures from being held at the ground and the north-most ground in the 2015 Ashes series was Trent Bridge in the midlands. The vast majority of Test match venues are now centred around London and the south of England and this could have a detrimental impact on the popularity of cricket in the rest of the country.
The doubt over Headingley’s future as a Test venue coincides with the announcement that London Stadium could host a T20 fixture in the 2019 World Cup. The multi-purpose venue which was built in preparation for the London Olympics 2012 has a maximum capacity of 80,000, much larger than any of England’s cricket stadia. Although this move might increase the popularity and exposure of the event to the wider public, it takes away the opportunity for a county ground to host a game therefore reducing their income. England has 18 county cricket venues, at least one of these will have to miss out to accommodate a match at the London Stadium. However, The Telegraph concedes that some of the money generated by hosting a World Cup fixture at the London Stadium could be used to reimburse the stadium that loses out. Yet why should a specialist cricketing venue lose out to a multi-purpose stadium given the pressure on county cricket grounds to maintain their stadia to a high level in order to host such events? The move is indicative of a general trend to search for ways to bring money into cricket whilst shifting the focus away from cricket’s core values and traditions.
Although cricket at Headlingley is safe for the next two years at least, the future beyond 2019 looks bleak. Should Headingley lose its Test status, Old Trafford would be the only northern stadium capable of hosting a Test match. Although die hard cricket fans may be prepared to travel to see high profile games, the casual spectator would lose out.