Bradford becomes a symbol of Yorkshire pride at last
The unveiling of new net facilities at Bradford's Park Avenue ground sent a message of togetherness and decency in troubled times that went beyond cricket
A day of Yorkshire pride began, as it had to do, with a brief silence for those who had lost their lives across the Pennines at Manchester Arena in Britain's worst terrorist atrocity since the London bombings 12 years ago. And then, as if in answer to those who seek to tear communities apart, Yorkshire officially celebrated plans to revive Bradford Park Avenue in a way that aims to glue them together.
Park Avenue had become a sad, largely derelict, site long before it staged its last county match in 1996. Folklore has it that this was always Yorkshire's most unforgiving crowd and there was much not to forgive as a city fallen on hard times with a fast-growing immigrant population lost the cricket ground that should long ago have become a symbol of hope.
Thanks to a partnership between Sport England, Yorkshire, the ECB and Bradford Council, the story is now about the future, as well as the past. Bradford has been targeted by the ECB as one of five cities in which to engage more closely with South Asian communities and the benefits are already clear to see. There is much to do, much funding to secure, if a £5.5m plan - in five stages - is to reach fruition, but stage one has been accomplished with the completion of eight practice wickets at the bottom end of the ground where Bradford Park Avenue FC once played.
Mark Arthur is a Yorkshire chief executive with a strong community commitment. If anybody can quicken the day in which those of South Asian heritage queue to watch Yorkshire play Twenty20 then he can. "There have been many attempts to regenerate this famous old ground," he said. "We came along here a couple of years ago because there was a vast shortage of playing space in the Bradford area for local cricketers and we said, 'Why don't we do something special here - something inspirational - which will get the community involved in this traditional cricket club?'"
England Women will play here as well as England Disabled Cricket and, if a combination of public and private finance is forthcoming, the return of county cricket is a distinct possibility. If investment is measured by the potential accrual of social benefit then it deserves to happen. Arthur, who secured funding for a major redevelopment of Headingley last month, will hope to succeed once more.
The square is under the supervision of Nasa Hussain, a groundsman of avuncular figure and equally avuncular mood, who was once part of a Bradford League title-winning side at Undercliffe. "They said I bowled dibbly-dobblies," he volunteered. When he first worked on Park Avenue, it looked more like an allotment, but the soil was still good and slowly the grand old ground re-emerged. His satisfaction in his work is unmistakable. Now he wants to grow Yorkshire cricketers, not turnips.
For Yorkshire old-timers, wandering around the outfield on which they had once played, happy memories were stirred. Geoff Cope, the former England offspinner, his faithful guide dog alongside him, recalled how his flat six into the sightscreen against Robin Jackman in a one-day game against Surrey led the bowler to exclaim from a prone position how the shot was irrefutable evidence that it was time to retire.
And there was Dickie Bird, of course, hamming it up like a good 'un as he retold the story of his career-best 181 not out against Glamorgan - the opponents blessed with the finest attack on earth, the ovation from the crowd deafening, the praise from the Yorkshire greats such as Trueman, Illingworth and Close unstinting - until the moment when Brian Sellers, Yorkshire's formidable chairman, entered the dressing room as he took his pads off and then, without drawing breath, and said: "Well, Birdie lad, tha's played well but we've dropped thee into t'second team next week."
There were cricketers so young at Park Avenue that they had never heard that anecdote before. Theirs were the voices that mattered most of all as they were thrilled to see the unveiling of a community hub that aims to grow participation numbers among players of predominantly Pakistani origin in a city that is largely starved of cricket facilities at state schools.
Bradford, for too long dismissed as Leeds' down-at-heel neighbour, is the youngest city in Europe - one in four of its population is under 16, driven by the South Asian influx. There are young cricketers here, in fact there are a lot more than cricketers, many of them yearning for the opportunity for advancement.
It bears repeating at times like this that England Test cricketers are overly drawn from three main resources: the northern counties, where the game is less class-based, private schools and relations of former cricketers.
"The main thing is they actually have somewhere to come and play their cricket in Bradford. There are a lot of faces here that I know from my younger days"Adil Rashid
Adil Rashid is someone who made it. He is a hero in his home city and, less than 24 hours before England's opening ODI against South Africa down the road at Headingley, both he and Joe Root were among those on hand for the opening ceremony. Rashid fulfilled so many requests for selfies that long before the end he didn't know which of his two cricketing looks to employ - the broadest of smiles, or the one where he tries to appear stern in the face of adversity.
"It makes me proud knowing there are facilities and coaching here," he said. "Hopefully they can go onwards and develop their game, but the main thing is they actually have somewhere to come and play their cricket. There are a lot of faces here that I know from the younger days."
Across the throng of youngsters it was just possible to see David Byas, a Championship-winning captain and Yorkshire's head coach when Rashid made an outstanding Championship debut, against Warwickshire in Scarborough 11 years ago. Byas, not one for fripperies, refused access to Rashid after the match, fearing - perhaps understandably - that the publicity would be too much, before offering an assessment that was not as much guarded as locked down.
Many Yorkshire administrators have voiced ambitions to revive Park Avenue and seen them abandoned long before the artist's impression has gathered dust. Arthur knows much is yet to be done. The second phase - upgrading the ground to first-class level as well as renovating the scoreboard and groundsman's store - is within reach. Then come more challenging ambitions:
That is for the future. In Bradford, on the warmest day of the year, the cries of pleasure of young cricketers told of a joyful present. While the speeches dragged on, the games on the outfield provided alternative entertainment. One young lad cried out, "Can we play football here too?" only to be quietly admonished by his mates who thrust a bat in his hand: there is always one rebel.
It was a scene that you wanted to bottle up and send to Manchester with a message that togetherness and decency can and will prevail.
David Hopps is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps