HENRY DEEDES watches Azeem Rafiq put cricket to the sword

As tears fell, what a stain on the game of Compton and Edrich: HENRY DEEDES watches Azeem Rafiq put cricket to the sword with racism claims

A 30-year-old man slumped on his elbows before a panel of MPs, reduced to a sobbing wreck. 

Even the steeliest of hearts would have found the image a distressing one.

But for those with links to professional cricket, the sight of Azeem Rafiq clumsily wiping away tears with his handkerchief as he described the racist abuse he suffered during his playing career at Yorkshire should have been truly troubling.

A moment to step back, self-reflect and wonder what on earth has happened to the game and its assumed gentlemanly ideals.

At several points during Rafiq’s account to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee he had to stop and compose himself as he explained that the treatment doled out by his own teammates left him contemplating suicide. 

For those with links to professional cricket, the sight of Azeem Rafiq clumsily wiping away tears with his handkerchief as he described the racist abuse he suffered during his playing career at Yorkshire should have been truly troubling, writes HENRY DEEDES

During one particularly emotive moment, the hearing had to be paused for five minutes.

At times, it was impossible to listen to his testimony without wincing. ‘P***’ had been a regular form of address.

Yet it was his response to a question from Steve Brine (Con, Winchester) about how he would feel if his children followed him into the game which should set teacups rattling in pavilions up and down the country. 

‘I don’t want my son anywhere near cricket,’ he said unhesitatingly.

No one is under any illusion that professional cricket today has much in common with the genteel days of Compton and Edrich, of warm beer and cucumber sandwiches on the boundary.

Thanks to microphones, we know just how foul modern players can be on the pitch. And, back in the dressing room, ‘strong characters’ thrive. For ‘strong characters’ read ‘boorish thugs’ in some cases.

But the picture painted by Rafiq yesterday depicted something far more insidious. 

It was of young Asians being actively excluded and humiliated. 

Principal villain was Yorkshire’s captain Gary Ballance, whom Rafiq described as ‘Yorkshire through and through’ 

Of senior players branding them as ‘elephant washers’ and ordering them to ‘go sit by the toilets’ in the dressing room.

Little wonder so few minorities go on to play at the top level.

Rafiq described how, as a young Muslim growing up in Bradford, it was always his dream to play professional cricket. But even during his teenage years he was singled out for abuse.

He recalled being pinned down at his local club when he was 15 and having red wine poured down his throat. 

After that he took to drinking to try and fit in. Opposite sat the DCMS committee’s cricket-mad chairman Julian Knight (Con, Solihull), open-mouthed, gasping away like a fairground goldfish.

Nobody expected Yorkshire to come out of this as employer of the year but some of the staff sounded as though they’d have made Brian Glover’s bully boy PE teacher in Kes look like dear old Mr Chips.

Nobody expected Yorkshire to come out of this as employer of the year but some of the staff sounded as though they’d have made Brian Glover’s bully boy PE teacher in Kes look like dear old Mr Chips 

After Rafiq’s wife lost their unborn child, the treatment he received from the club was ‘inhuman,’ he said.

The day after the tragedy occurred, he said that director of cricket Martyn Moxon took Rafiq aside at a meeting and ‘ripped shreds’ off him.

Principal villain was Yorkshire’s captain Gary Ballance, whom Rafiq described as ‘Yorkshire through and through’.

Hmm, well not quite. Ballance arrived in England from Zimbabwe aged 17 via a scholarship to Harrow School. 

He had a nasty habit of referring to any person of colour as ‘Kevin’, it was claimed. 

This apparently inspired Balance’s England teammate Alex Hales to name his dog Kevin on account of it being black-haired. 

Ballance has denied the allegation but admitted calling Rafiq a P***.

Hales, you might recall, lost his England place after failing a drugs test. Clearly, at the time, not a person much troubled about upholding the reputation of his sport.

After Rafiq’s wife lost their unborn child, the treatment he received from the club was ‘inhuman,’ he said

A handful of good guys emerged. Yorkshire’s former coach Jason Gillespie sounded a decent sort. So too did Ex-England bowler Matthew Hoggard, who rang Rafiq immediately after he went public to apologise for everything he had to put up with.

England Test captain Joe Root, we were assured, is a ‘good man who never engaged in racist language’. 

However he claimed that Root had been involved in socialising on nights where he, Rafiq, was called ‘a P***.’

The committee treated their guest’s evidence almost without question. Only the slightest of googlies was bowled by Damian Green (Con, Ashford) who asked why Rafiq returned to the club after a stint playing for Derbyshire. Rafiq explained he was out of contract and simply needed a job.

Does he think racism has ruined his career? A question posed by John Nicolson (SNP, Ochil). ‘Yes I do,’ Rafiq replied. ‘But maybe what was written for me was this.’

And with a shrug of the shoulders, the tears came once again.

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