NatWest T20 Blast Finals Day | Paul Childs


Thanks to Azeem Rafiq’s tearful evidence to the House of Commons committee, and the support he has received from other black professional cricketers, racism in English cricket is now an established fact and has to be faced and dealt with.

Much as I love cricket, having played a bit at Cambridge and for an RAF team and later sat on the MCC Committee, I fear the charge is undeniable. Not, in my experience, a nasty, violent racism of the kind you still find in some American police forces and among right-wing groups. No one has died or been subject to physical violence.

It is more a casual racism, meant perhaps as banter, but nonetheless deeply hurtful to those to whom it is applied. It shows a lack of respect for non-white people that may have its roots (whether the speaker realises it or not) in colonialism.

It is no coincidence that it should have come to light in Yorkshire, because the county always claimed a superiority over all others and insisted for many years that a Yorkshire player had to be born in the county.

It is a small step from exclusivity of that kind to demeaning people who don’t belong and thus to racism.

Going back some decades to when I lived in Sheffield, I remember being struck by the fact that a Yorkshireman’s normal way of accosting a friend would be rough and often insulting – and that was between white men. An outsider could wrongly mistake that joshing for abuse, which, even if true, is no defence if the joshing takes the form of demeaning someone because of his colour or racial background.

In his later years I got to know Len Hutton, the great Yorkshire and England opening batsman, whose innings of 364 against Australia is still (83 years later) the highest score by an English player in a Test match.

At Old Trafford in 1990 Len saw the 17-year-old Sachin Tendulkar score his maiden Test century, saving the game for India, and could talk of nothing else when we met soon afterwards at the Oval.

He rated Tendulkar as the next Don Bradman. Like Bradman, he said, the Indian had tiny feet and his stance at the crease and his shot-making reminded him of the great man. A few weeks later, Len sadly died, and I spoke at his funeral to Sir Lawrence Byford, a former Chief Inspector of Constabulary who was about to become chairman of Yorkshire cricket.

He told me of the trouble he was already having with the die-hards on the Yorkshire committee, such as Brian Close, Fred Trueman and others.

When I mentioned Hutton’s high opinion of Tendulkar, his face lit up. “They are opposed to any foreign players in the Yorkshire team,” he said,” but if I tell them that Len rates Tendulkar as the next Bradman, I’m sure I’ll get round them.” And so it proved: Tendulkar became Yorkshire’s first overseas player.

I remember once talking to the chief executive of an English county about an overseas player on his books and being startled when he said: “He tried to get a bit uppity with me, so I sat him in my car in the car park and told him that if he didn’t behave, I’d have him back cutting cane where he came from.” The man he was talking about was one of the greatest cricketers in the history of the game.

I feel sorry for Michael Vaughan, because it is very hard to rebut a charge when it is one man’s word against another’s. “You lot” is a regrettable phrase, but it doesn’t rank very high (or should it be low?) in the lexicon of racial abuse. Sacking him from the BBC would be extremely harsh on the present evidence.

It has always puzzled me that the word “Paki” should have become so racially charged, since it isn’t very different from calling a Briton a “Brit,” a Welshman “Taffy” or Australians calling an Englishman a “Pom”. But it has been used so often as a pointed insult that it clearly gives offence and should be avoided.

Returning to the time I lived in Yorkshire, I became friends with a freelance journalist called Allan Kassell – an editor had once asked him to call himself “Castle” in his newspaper by-line, but he staunchly refused. After he visited my digs, my landlady came to my room and said: “That man you invited here - he’s a Jew, isn’t he? My husband says we don’t want any Jews in this house.” I left the lodgings the same day.

Leeds, Bradford and other cities must be full of wrist and finger spinners of Indian, Pakistani or Bangla Deshi origin. But the fact that they are not prominent in Yorkshire cricket may be that they are deterred by their likely reception or by racism in selection or talent-spotting. Rafiq told MPs that 30 per cent of Asians play recreational cricket but only 4 per cent are admitted to the professional game.

One who did make it to the Yorkshire and England dressing-room was Adil Rashid, but when he left Yorkshire he was heavily attacked by Sir Geoffrey Boycott for choosing to make his fortune on the international one-day circuit.

The article wasn’t racist, but I wondered if Sir Geoffrey would have berated a white player across two pages of a newspaper, or how he would have felt himself if he had been accused of greed for taking a better financial offer to further his career.

Len Hutton is only one of Yorkshire’s legendary players of the past who would be ashamed that their county had been banned from staging international matches because of racist bullying by its coaching staff and players - conduct evidently condoned by its board of directors.

The MCC, the soul of cricket, has given a strong lead against discrimination by appointing the great Sri Lankan batsman Kumar Sangakkara as its first non-white and first foreign President and following that by appointing its first female President, Claire Connor, the former England women’s captain and an Ashes winner.

Although black footballers get abused by the crowd, one rarely hears these days about inter-racial quarrels on the field or in the dressing-room. This may be because there are usually more blacks in a soccer team than in a county cricket team and they are often the best players. Or it may be the effect of the campaign, Kick Racism Out of Football, which has been active now for nearly 30 years. Let us hope that county cricket can reform itself more quickly than that.

Black footballers are no longer an isolated and voiceless minority, as the national campaigns of Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford have shown. Maybe Azeem Ratiq’s brave and tearful testimony revelations has ensured that black cricketers will now have a voice of their own and will not take abuse any more.