Stewards chase beer snakes amid raucous Headingley atmosphere

Stewards chase beer snakes amid raucous Headingley atmosphere

Acrowd might normally be expected to quieten during breaks in play, but as the afternoon session paused for drinks the volume on Headingley’s famed Western Terrace increased. People cheered as a man dressed as a lobster downed a pint of beer. A group in yellow blazers bantered with an adjacent group wearing orange cassocks, two flocks of brightly coloured parrots screeching loudly enough to be heard on the other side of the ground.

Meanwhile, Yorkshire’s decision to ban beer snakes, the comically long stacks of empty pint pots so beloved of cricket fans, forced luminous-jacketed stewards to engage in a series of slow-motion chase scenes with unruly cup-collectors, one of whom was amateurishly but unmistakably disguised as Scooby Doo. The England team have been restyled as great entertainers but the fans’ response has been: hold my empty beer. And also this one. And several dozen more. And now run!

These races were surprisingly hilarious – though clearly not for the stewards, who, by tea, had completely given up, allowing a single supersnake to slither unchecked most of the way down the stand for as long as it took for those involved to become bored of supporting it.

In search of more fun to divert them from New Zealand’s afternoon run-accumulation and an ever-strengthening wind a Boris Johnson impersonator sprinted along the front of the stand, pursued by half a dozen fans in police outfits, to a chorus of pantomime boos. But none of these came close to being the day’s most raucously received runs.

There was predictably roaring approval for England’s late-innings cameos as they built a slender first-innings lead of 31. Stuart Broad raced to 42 from 36 balls before perhaps getting a little greedy, milking the first five balls of a Tim Southee over for 12 runs before misjudging the last as it arrowed towards the top of off. Jack Leach came in and sent the first two balls he faced to the rope, those cheers still echoing when he became the last man out a few minutes later.

But England’s innings had two great heroes, and it was a vicious cruelty that Jonny Bairstow and Craig Overton were destined to depart shaking their heads with regret over the milestones they had failed to reach. Overton, 89 overnight, never rediscovered the fluency of the previous afternoon and added eight more off 30 deliveries before falling three short of a century.

His innings ended with a consoling arm around his shoulder from his batting partner and an angry swish of the bat as he crossed the rope. The crowds acclaim rained upon and fell away from him like water from a duck.

Bairstow hit 24 boundaries on his way to 162 but perhaps the greatest cheers greeted two singles, one off Neil Wagner to bring the first-innings scores level, the next off Trent Boult to give England an advantage that had seemed outlandishly improbable when he and Overton met in the middle with England 55 for six.

He added 32 off 31 balls on the third morning, with three fours including a gleeful bash through the covers off Boult, before miscuing Michael Bracewell to long off just as thoughts had turned to a double century and he stood five away from his highest Test score. He paused before he left the field, removed his helmet, raised his bat, and acknowledged the applause of a ground united in adulation of a beloved son of Yorkshire.

Unknown to most of those present, there was a notable contrast here. Watching on, having returned to Headingley for the first time since the start of the racism scandal that his allegations set in motion, was Azeem Rafiq. But the former Yorkshire Twenty20 captain’s revelations have provoked so much flux and flak that his visit had to be carefully choreographed to avoid potential protest, the 31-year-old ushered in after the morning rush, departing before the post-play peak, and in the intervening period unable to move around the ground.

The extent to which fans here bear any animosity towards him is hard to gauge – those this correspondent has spoken to have had none, desperate as they are for a line to be drawn under the affair and for the club to move on – but there was no chance of an informal opinion poll being held. There are some tests for which even Headingley has no appetite.