The lowdown on Headingley
Let me kick off this week by providing you with a heads-up on Headingley.
It is undoubtedly one of the most historic and traditional grounds, having been built in 1890, but due to a stunningly dramatic turnaround in a test match in 1981, it will forever be remembered as the venue where England defeated Australia in a cliff-hanger by 18 runs. A rampant Bob Willis ripped the heart out of the Australian middle-order, returning last innings figures of 8-43 after a mercurial Ian Botham slammed Dennis Lillee and company to all parts to the tune of 149 runs to set up victory. That astonishing Ashes victory, beating odds of 500/1, was the stuff of nightmares for any aspirant cricketer growing up in the land down under. Just ask me!
Headingley has always had the reputation of being a venue where seamers prosper. It really is quite simple. Cloud cover produces testing conditions for the batsmen as the ball swings, but when the sun shines, runs flow. To further support that theory, in the last five test matches those who are not tweakers have captured about 85% of the sticks to have fallen. Curiously the art of batting can be quickly affected as the weather closes in and clouds abound therefore altering atmospheric conditions. History has proved that in no time batting has become treacherous as seam and swing take centre stage.
The extended weather forecast, which is a national obsession in this part of the world, is reporting that the first day of the test may well be the sunniest. We will have to wait and see but a couple of days prior to the test commencing the track looks like it may well be on the less lethal side. Come Thursday morning, if cloud cover is present, things may alter.
In the last test outing here in 2010 Australia paid a severe penalty upon winning the toss against Pakistan when they elected to bat under overcast skies. They were abruptly routed by swing assisted rogues, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir, for a paltry 88 all out.
South Africa will have good memories of this ground having been victorious twice by very healthy margins on the last two occasions they fronted in 2003 and 2008. England on the other hand haven't played at Headingley since 2009, and then lost to Australia. Actually since 2004, England have played five tests in Yorkshire and lost two.
Headingley has a massive reputation as a result venue. Remarkably there have only been two drawn tests since 1980 and none in the last 10. Make no mistake, the toss will be crucial come Thursday morning. The groundstaff have again been hampered by unpleasant cold, windy and wet weather. Of the skippers who have called correctly over the last 10 tests, six have recorded a positive result.
Interestingly, closer scrutiny of recent test matches confirms that the team that bowls first wins.