A day after the third Test between England and New Zealand and Headingley could hardly have looked more ripe for the occasion, with azure skies overhead, the white roof of the new football stand shimmering at the sunshine and the combination of a beige field and an arched green outfield hinting at another racing feast.
There is also a huge appetite for this game. England may have a 2-0 lead with one to play, but the swagger shown in the chase at Trent Bridge last week – plus a trio of locally produced players in Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and Alex Lees – left around 400 spare tickets on days one and four, with two sales sandwiched in between. Around £3million in net revenue is on the cards and that’s before punters have quenched their thirst and filled their bellies at the various bars and food outlets.
It was, of course, the Headingley Test that almost didn’t and one only has to look at the rebranded Clean Slate Pavilion to remember that. The link to an Indian digital streaming company – owned by Virat Kohli’s brother-in-law Karnesh Sharma – is among a number of new business deals struck by Yorkshire’s new chairman Lord Kamlesh Patel and his team of management since the exodus of partners which resulted from the club’s undoubtedly sloppy handling of Azeem Rafiq’s allegations of racism.
Yorkshire’s international host status was suspended by the England and Wales Cricket Board last November and their organization of the prestigious and lucrative match has been questioned. Losing him – something Rafiq himself didn’t want to see – would have risked financial ruin for Headingley. But the new regime has since shown enough reform to lead to the ban being lifted, even though the governing body last week accused the club and a number of former employees of bringing discredit to the club. football.
These charges, made public the day after Trent Bridge like a bucket of cold water, remain unresolved. Likewise, the Works Court cases which resulted from the dismissal of 16 staff and could still cost Yorkshire a pretty penny. But it was still disappointing that no club or ECB representative was there to discuss Test cricket’s return to Headingley during the two days of training. Instead, as is too often the case when the going gets tough, players had to answer questions.
“It was incredibly sad to see what happened,” said Kane Williamson, the New Zealand captain who returns to the pitch he called home for four spells between 2013 and 2018 after missing the second. test with covid-19.
“I can only hope that something positive will come out of this and the awareness that will come from it. There is no place for racism or discrimination in sport or in society. I have enjoyed my stay here in Yorkshire. Obviously I have been made aware of some issues more recently and you can only hope that through this there will be a cure.
Ben Stokes, Williamson’s counterpart, preferred even broader terms, citing the responsibility of his England players to be role models on and off the pitch; play cricket in a way that will attract new fans. “That’s all we can do, that’s what we do well – go out and play cricket and win games,” he said.
It was probably too much to expect for either captain to delve deep into what has been a nuclear affair through fallout, and especially when the suits went the ostrich approach. Still, it was an early reminder for Stokes, the less experienced of the two, that his opinion will be asked on a range of issues beyond tactics, selection and the filibuster approach his players have shown so far. now.
Stokes was more open about those topics ahead of his first Headingley test since his historic Ashes heist here in 2019. And shortly after he spoke, on the Dickie Bird players’ balcony, was the sight of Jamie Overton on the phone with a smile while as wide as the Taw-Torridge Estuary near his former North Devon club. The younger of the Overton twins by just three minutes is set to make his Test debut after Jimmy Anderson left Nottingham with a swelling in his left ankle.
Overton’s promotion – which saw him overtake Craig in the pecking order and give Matt Potts his first chance with the new ball – injects pace into England’s attack, which may be needed watching field. But then the old adage in Headingley is to look up, not look down, and while day one looks like another scorching hot, more cloud cover (and possible rain) is expected to arrive over the weekend. .
New Zealand is ready for some changes. Williamson’s return will eliminate a top seven member, while Kyle Jamieson is out of the attack with a back injury. It could be that the all-rounder Michael Bracewell gives way to his captain and Neil Wagner brings his mark of thunder with the left arm. No spinner would be a risk, however, and Ajaz Patel could also replace Matt Henry or Tim Southee.
Motivation? Both teams have spoken about the points on offer for the World Test Championship although neither threatens a place in next year’s final. A bigger carrot for England, at least, is the prospect of a first sweeping series since beating India 4-0 at home 11 years ago.
As for Yorkshire, the aim is to show that Headingley are welcoming to all and that the decision to lift their international suspension was not a rash one.
England (confirmed): Lees, Crawley, Pope, Root, Bairstow, Stokes (c), Foakes (wk), J Overton, Leach, Potts, Broad.
New Zealand (possible): Latham, Young, Williamson, Conway, Nicholls, Mitchell, Blundell, Southee, Wagner, Patel, Boult.