Skip to content

A New era at Yorkshire

Nicholas Rowland

In November 2020, Azeem Rafiq first revealed the torment of racism, usage of derogatory language and institutional racism that he had endured whilst at Yorkshire County Cricket Club throughout his time at the club especially in his early days there and then it emerged that a cover up had occurred. It was found that Rafiq had suffered bullying and had been the victim of racial harassment as well as the P word being used. Furthermore, prominent ex-teammates of Rafiq’s were supposedly found to have contributed to the abuse.

This sparked an introspective look by the sport itself from the elite level all the way down to the grassroots. A new era has now commenced at Yorkshire County Cricket Club with a new Head Coach, a new chairman and a new hope that the Club can be more representative of both the community and the county. Rory Dollard, Cricket correspondent at Press Association, shared his thoughts and opinions on the racism and the future for Yorkshire cricket in an interview.

When asked where he thought Yorkshire are now, Dollard said “on a PR level, on a human level, they’ve probably gone as low as they’re likely to go” given the shocking and all-encompassing nature of the revelations. According to Dollard, the way Yorkshire prove they have learnt is “through action, action, action”.

One consequence of the aftermath has been the bringing in of new coaches such as Ottis Gibson, a permanent head coach at the Club, who has experience at England and South Africa. “Yorkshire have got themselves one of the best head coaches in county cricket”, Dollard noted, a sign and statement of hope and certain optimism. Gibson during his time at South Africa, faced many a scandal, therefore he has experience in the area, and he is recommended and regarded highly by some of the England bowlers he has worked with. This, after all the misery, is a definite sign of progress and Yorkshire will hope that on the pitch, progress is made. When asked about trophies, Dollard thought “that silverware would help them” and it would brighten the feeling around the club. This needs to be matched off the field too because as Dollard remarked, “the reputation has been entirely devoid of cricket” and more about the culture at the club because of its exclusionary practices. It has been about politics and power.

A necessity for the future at Yorkshire is making themselves more known and trusted within the community, both in the immediate area outside Headingley and in the rest of the county too. Dollard said that “they need to be in the community working in a way that won’t show on the pitch for years to come”. This includes working with communities to encourage younger BAME players, more procedures to ensure the eradication of racism and improving the process of reporting abuse to avoid a cover up occurring.  The hiring of Lord Patel, an Asian man, as the new chairman at the club, has done much to ensure diversity and representation at the top of the club. Dollard was also complimentary of Lord Patel who enacted necessary changes quickly upon his arrival. When asked whether Yorkshire could be trusted again, he replied that the “best thing for the club would be to not expect to ever be trusted again.” The Club must earn trust. Yorkshire Cricket need to prove themselves and lessen the feeling of suspicion around them from others in the cricketing world.

Dollard raised the issue of Yorkshire’s participation in Division 1 of the County Championship when its latest iteration starts in April: “there’s no reason why Yorkshire shouldn’t begin to force the issue” especially given that they have talented players such as Harry Brook and Jordan Thompson who are both on England’s radar. This is caveated by the fact that Yorkshire will start the season behind their fellow competitors and are unlikely to win the County Championship.

In response to the scandal, the England and Wales Cricket Board banned Yorkshire from hosting international matches, but the financial pull of England matches means that if they are not reinstated, Yorkshire could cease to exist. Dollard felt the board at the Club have a responsibility to “keep Yorkshire Cricket Club alive”, an indication of the severity of the scandal. Dollard remarked in stark terms that “you can’t be an inclusive cricket club if you don’t exist” suggesting he expects the matches to be restored to Headingley.

Dollard had recently returned from covering the Ashes in Australia and noted the scandal’s impact on England’s performance at international level. He referenced Joe Root’s remark that any success of England’s in test cricket “is in spite of county cricket, not because of county cricket” noting that it was “a pretty damning statement for the England test captain to make”. This was an alarming statement from Root but reflected the discussions the debacle provoked. Dollard referenced the white ball reset that occurred in 2015 and said that the same needed to happen to English cricket for the test team to return to past glories of the Strauss era. But, like the Yorkshire revival, this is also one that will take a long time and meanwhile, “we’ll see a lot of adverts for the Hundred”, the ECB’s latest white ball competition.

There can be no doubt that English cricket is in a state of flux and Yorkshire is at the centre of major changes in the sport. Rafiq’s bravery in exposing the inequalities in the sport will hopefully lead to a brighter and more stable future for the game and for Yorkshire Cricket. Rory Dollard will undoubtedly chronicle these changes.

What do you think?