I’m something of a rarity among Lancastrians in that I actually like Headingley.
There are plenty of reasons not to, not least the preponderance of Tykes around the place. The playing area is surrounding by a concrete track, around which, throughout the day, endless numbers of folk of the White Rose County perambulate perpetually, halted only by stewards closing the barriers at alternate ends to keep them from walking behind the bowler’s arm.
So, if you want a view of the cricket uninterrupted by Yorkshire bodies, you must either take one of the glorified school-type chairs ringing the boundary boards, or must seek somewhere to sit with a little height.
Unfortunately, in the glory days of my regular visits to Headingley, this was limited to three places, the Football Stand, the Western Terrace and the top deck of the Winter Shed. And the Football Stand (which was named for how it was two-faced, backing onto the Rugby ground), was inside that half of the ground that was only accessible by Members, Yorkshire or Visiting.
(There was, I discovered by chance, a way around that restriction, as described in my novel Tempus Infinitive (https://mbc1955.wordpress.com/2012/10/03/tempus-infinitive-the-tempus-trilogy-book-2/), though becoming a Lancashire member in 1986 removed the need to sneak about).
The Football Stand was superb, and you could get yourself a seat directly behind the bowler’s arm at that end. As for the Western Terrace, which now rings with controversy at Test level, lies 90 degrees to the pitch, and is of such a low camber that, by the time you reach the highest row of seats, you are nearer to Bradford than to Leeds.
Which left me, at first, with the Winter Shed, high, exposed, with a glorious view, albeit from a widish long on/long leg position vis-à-vis the wicket.
Mind you, as the photo above demonstrates, it’s all changed now.
I’ve had a variety of experiences at Headingley, but one in particular stands out as especially outstanding. Given Headingley’s reputation as a bowler’s wicket, it seems utterly improbable that I should spend a day there during which 382 runs would be scored, in three successive unbroken century partnerships. Yes, 382 runs, in a single day of County Cricket, without a single wicket being taken. At Headingley! How did this come about?
This was, of course, taking place during a Roses Match, there being no other game below Test Matches that could lure me to Headingley. It took place over the 1st, 3rd and 4th August 1987, in the days when County Cricket was still all three day games. Lancashire scored 356 all out in their first innings and Yorkshire, beginning their reply on Monday, had reached 125 when the second wicket went down in the middle of the afternoon session.
I was sat on the top deck of the Winter Shed, as usual, enjoying the sun, and a good, exposed tree-top level view towards the centre of Leeds. That’s how I picked up early on the clouds beginning to mass.
The ground was still in sunshine, but the clouds in the distance were merging into an increasingly dark mass, and they were drawing slowly nearer. The combination of approaching dark clouds and a clear, sunny sky overhead is a definite sign of trouble, and I decided to gather my things together and make a break for the Football Stand and the only realistic shelter in the ground if it started to pelt down, which I was convinced was going to happen with at most the next thirty minutes.
I walked around the concrete track, mingling with the Tykes, diverted to the Gents down the side of the Football Stand, quickly exercised the facilities and emerged out the other end into the Rugby Ground. I’d been here often enough to know what to aim for so it was a simple case of across and up, through the door (once the ongoing over at this end finished) and slip into a seat. Once you were in the charmed half-circle reserved for members, you were never challenged for a member’s card.
From here, I could no longer see the advancing cloud, but the sky above the cricket ground was getting increasingly dull, and I was congratulating myself on my fore-sightedness. And then it started. Big, heavy, single drops, splattering on the walkway, quickly turning into a continuous rain that had the Umpires halting play and signalling for the covers to come on, whilst the players started to disperse, rapidly, in the direction of the old Pavilion.
For this season only, the MCC were carrying out an experiment with leaving pitches uncovered during breaks in play. This had been the old way of things, and it had led to tense situations were the breaks were extended whilst the pitch dried sufficiently for play to resume, but came back as a ‘sticky dog’, a pitch on which spinners could work marvels, making the ball rear, spit, turn and misbehave in a way only possible on a drying-out pitch.
But for many years, breaks in play resulted in groundstaff racing out to cover everything in sight on the square: pitch, run-ups, the works. The result was play resuming much quicker after rain, but on blander pitches.
This season’s experiment was a hybrid. Run-ups etc. would still be covered, permitting play to resume quickly, but the wicket was left uncovered, to try to give the bowlers an old-fashioned chance.
And the rain came down, There was no thunder or lightning, not any that I recall, but the rain came down in a solid, unbroken wave, hard, heavy, sluicing, solid. I watched it in awe, as with horrible speed it took over the walkway, water rushing along it, one, two inches deep, as the fall far exceeded the capacity of Headingley’s drainage. Those supporters who had not been able to take shelter like me were trying to hunch under raincoats, with the rain turning the seats beside them slick with water. Others huddled in the limited shelter of overhangs, or under the Winter Shed stairs. It was a good, old-fashioned deluge.
And it ended after about thirty minutes, the rain abruptly turning to a trickle, as the storm cleared Headingley and moved away north. No longer swamped, the drains eventually conveyed away the copious surface water. The next question was when would play resume?
There was half the day left but, without even a halt for Tea, the Umpires took one look at the pitch and called play off for the day.
Thus we returned for the final day of the match, with Yorkshire on 168-2, Richard Blakeley and Kevin Sharp having already added 43. They batted on until declaring, having extended the score to 250. The undefeated Third Wicket partnership had added 125 runs
Lancashire started their Second Innings 106 runs ahead. With two full innings to play, the chance of a result was very slight, but with some fast scoring, it might be possible to engineer a target for a run-chase. The young Mike Atherton, still FEC, was promoted to open with Geehan Mendis and the pair ran up 180, exactly 100 to Mendis, runs before declaring without a wicket loss.
This set Yorkshire a notional target of 287 to win, but there hadn’t been the remotest sniff of a wicket in the day, everybody knew the game was heading to a draw as soon as the Laws permitted the acknowledgement, and at least one member of the crowd would have been bitterly disappointed if a Lancashire breakthrough had interrupted this quite unique spectacle.
And so batsmen’s averages continued to prosper whilst bowlers’ averages continued to be dumped on from a great height as this astonishingly blanded-out pitch performed to the last. Yorkshire duly racked up 102 runs for no wicket before the game was ended as soon as decently possible. To think that thirty minutes of rain should produce such a devastating effect.
Full days of First Class Cricket in which no wicket falls are very rare (except when it’s raining) and those instances I can recall have been when two batsmen have resisted, or commanded, the whole day. That one innings might conclude without a wicket on the day and the next remain wicketless until the close seems at least possible, but three? Each celebrating century partnerships? Even cricket’s equivalent of Roy of the Rovers would jib at trying that one on.
It’s my only experience of a wicketless day, and it added a layer of charm and fascination to a day that would otherwise have been an exercise in tedium: pure cricket, played for the sake of delivering the ball, with no aim or end in sight but the eventual entropy of time: not that much fun to watch, to be honest. Instead, I watched an unlikely feat unfold.
And, as I said at the outset, for it to happen at the Batsman’s nightmare that was Headingley was the icing on an improbable cake for me.
It’s never happened since. When it did, I was there.