THE official opening today of the revamped Park Avenue cricket ground has been hailed “a very special day for Yorkshire Cricket and Bradford”.

England captain Joe Root was on-hand to cut the ribbon formally opening the first stage of the multi-million pound development, consisting of eight new artificial practice wickets and a community pavilion on the site of the former Bradford Park Avenue football pitch next to the ground.

The ambitious bid to restore the ground to its former glory is a partnership between the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), Yorkshire County Cricket Club (YCCC), and Bradford Council, with work mapped out in five stages up to 2019.

Around 200 local schoolchildren played games on the famous outfield joined by a host of guests and dignitaries at the event, which Mark Arthur, YCCC chief executive, said marked the end of the first phase of a “landmark project” for the club.

“I’m absolutely delighted it’s come to fruition, this is a very special day for Yorkshire Cricket and Bradford,” he said.

“You stand on a disused cricket ground that has hosted 306 first-class matches since 1881 but has lain fallow for 20 years and you think, can’t we do something with this?

“We had something within a mile of the city centre with a large British-Asian population who are mad for their cricket. That’s where the germ of the idea came from for having a first-class cricket ground for the community.”

The second phase of the project, which included upgrades to the main ground and scoreboard, is now also complete, paving the way for further work that would bring the ground up to first-class standards.

Mr Arthur comfirmed that alongside elite international women’s and disabled cricket, plans also included the return of Yorkshire first team fixtures to the ground for the first time since 1996.

He said: “We’ve laid 11 new first-class pitches, there are six still to do, built a new scoreboard and groundsman’s facilities, and we now have probably the most inspirational outdoor nets anywhere in the country.

“Hopefully the community will understand what we’ve got here and what can be achieved.

“If through this facility we can get the first Bradford Muslim girl to play for England in ten years’ time, won’t that be fantastic.

“We hope in the future to hold women’s international cricket here, Yorkshire Diamond’s women’s cricket, England disabled cricket, and probably one day of Yorkshire cricket per year, a 50-over game. The rest of the time it is for the community to use.”

The final three phases of the project include the building of a new County Cricket standard pavilion, a 250-capacity restaurant, more than 5,000 new seats, and ECB-standard floodlights.

Mr Arthur said: “For the next stage we need to raise another £5 million to refurbish the ground, the spectator facilities, and a new pavilion that is capable of hosting international cricket, but also disabled facilities.

“The money will be a combination of private and ECB funding. We’re all waiting to see what happens with the next round of TV negotiations and there is a pledge from the ECB to improve facilities nationwide, and this is obviously a landmark project.”

As part of work funded by Sport England, the ECB targeted Bradford as one of five cities in which to engage more closely with South-Asian communities, with an initial focus of increasing the number of pitches available for community use.

The governing body’s chief executive, Tom Harrison, said: “It’s a fantastic achievement so far, and the vision is so powerful for what it means to the local community. You can see what it means to have a fantastic first-class cricket facility on the doorstep.

“This is a huge step in the right direction and we look forward to making sure the vision is carried through to completion, so that we get this becoming once again part of the narrative of Yorkshire’s cricket summer.

“It’s got such a rich history this ground, some of the most memorable performances we have had in English cricket have been played here, so it’s something to be cherished.”

Kersten England, chief executive of the Council, said the opening of the new facility was “another milestone in the resurgence of Bradford.”

She said: “For those that know anything about this ground, it is absolutely woven into the history of cricket in God’s own county.

“We are only halfway, as our vision is to have international matches, women’s matches, and disability matches played here. In a city built on textiles, cricket is part of our fabric so we're delighted to have been part of that vision.”

Yorkshire cricketing legend Dickie Bird, another guest at the event, said he had many “wonderful memories” of the ground.

He said: “Why it’s so special to me is because I got my highest first-class score for Yorkshire here against Glamorgan, 181 not out.

“When all this is finished, you’ll be in a position to hold first-class cricket here. It’d be great for the community and it would be nice for the Bradford people to watch first-class cricket. It would be marvellous.”