Azeem Rafiq, the former Yorkshire cricketer who lifted the lid on discrimination in the domestic game, insists that it is right for Headingley to host today’s Test match between England and New Zealand despite the charges hanging over the host county.
The England and Wales Cricket Board suspended Yorkshire as a host of lucrative international fixtures in response to Rafiq’s allegations last year but reinstated the county in April after it approved a series of wide-ranging reforms.
Last week the ECB charged the club and a number of unnamed individuals with bringing the game into disrepute following a wide-reaching investigation, however, but Rafiq says that needn’t mean blacklisting Headingley again too.
“I felt that Test cricket or international cricket was something that should be returned and my clear reason for that is two-fold,” Rafiq told City A.M.
“I don’t think fans should suffer because of failures of leadership over a long period of time, and secondly I think the club needed the support to be able to drive through the change that was required.
“It’s a balance of challenge and support – [hosting the Test] is important for the survival of the club.”
The fallout that followed Rafiq speaking up about his experiences in domestic cricket and the accounts of others that emerged subsequently have forced significant change not only at Yorkshire but at the highest level of English cricket.
While Lord Patel has been parachuted into Headingley to lead a new era for the county, the ECB remains in search of both a new chair and chief executive.
As England play the third and final Test against New Zealand today, Rafiq insists Yorkshire’s new leadership does offer a fresh start for the county.
“Five days at Headingley can show that not only is the club starting to move forward in its leadership, but those that attend and support staff can already be shown signs of the club moving in the right direction,” he added.
“International cricket is always an opportunity to show what you’re about and I hope under this leadership, under this new management at YCCC, that Headingley is going to show what the future looks like.”
Rafiq: We shouldn’t be moving on
The ECB has published criteria which counties must meet to prove they are implementing change and becoming more inclusive – while the return to form of England’s men under new coach Brendon McCullum and captain Ben Stokes has stolen the headlines – but Rafiq insists it is too soon to stop talking about the issue.
“I don’t think we should be moving on, to be honest,” Rafiq said. “There are sections of the game up and down the country that want this conversation to move away and move on.
“You’ve got to stay in the problem for a period of time to get the solutions. I think it’s important when there is an acceptance and willingness to do things in a different way and be better, that then there is support to drive change.”
England have already wrapped up victory in the three-Test series before today’s final match against the Black Caps, following last week’s thriller at Trent Bridge.
“It’s been outstanding and it’s been entertaining,” he said. “I was lucky enough to have a day at Lord’s and then watch the conclusion at Trent Bridge.
“I’ve seen that Jamie Overton is coming in [to the team] so there appears to be a lot of pace on show. I think it’s an exciting time for the England team.”