Cricket hits all-time low after week of shame with fear of worse to come

·4-min read
Ex-cricketer ‘deeply ashamed’ for messages and is a ‘different person today’ (AP)
Ex-cricketer ‘deeply ashamed’ for messages and is a ‘different person today’ (AP)

It’s cricket’s offseason. Although you have been forgiven for thinking otherwise after a week that has seen the sport relentlessly hog the headlines. For all the wrong reasons.

Whatever happens next, this will go down as one of the most tumultuous periods in the history of the national summer sport. And the bad news just keeps on coming.

Azeem Rafiq’s testimony to the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee on Tuesday was always going to be explosive, how could it not be given everything that had gone before.

But if the ECB and the wider cricket world were expecting a few pounds of Semtex, what they got was something far more sizeable. Rafiq’s sometimes tearful evidence detonated something akin to a nuclear reaction.

In the days that have followed, journalists have received more official statements and heartfelt apologies in their inbox than the number of sixes hit in The Hundred this summer. One of them from Rafiq himself after it emerged that he had posted anti-Semitic comments on social media more than a decade ago.

Alex Hales has apologised for his reckless and foolish behaviour while also facing allegations of racism (PA)
Alex Hales has apologised for his reckless and foolish behaviour while also facing allegations of racism (PA)

It’s a week that has laid bare just how deep-rooted racism is in English cricket – a sport often held up as one that represents the very best of British values. That now appears laughable. The Spirit of Cricket has been tarnished almost beyond repair.

It’s not just Yorkshire – a county that has already seen its sponsors running for the hills – that will be left counting the cost. As well as those implicated in the scandal, there must be concerns for the long-term commercial health of a game. The largely pathetic response to the crisis will hardly fill commercial partners with optimism for the future.

Rafiq told Tuesday’s Committee that he wouldn’t want his son “anywhere near cricket”, after his experience at Headingley.

He’s unlikely to be alone in that. Others, of all ethnicities, will doubtless think twice about involving their own children in a sport where racism and bullying appear endemic.

Rafiq has exposed English cricket’s racist tendencies (Getty)
Rafiq has exposed English cricket’s racist tendencies (Getty)

One cricketer from a high-profile county, told Independent Sport that nothing he had heard on Tuesday surprised him. He also said that the fallout so far is nothing compared to what might follow.

He has a point. The Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket (ICEC) opened a call for evidence from the elite and grassroots game on 9 November and have barely had time to draw breath since.

“Since launching part one of our call for evidence last week over 1,000 people have already come forward to share their experiences with us,” said ICEC chair, Cindy Butts.

Rafiq said he felt obliged to be a “voice for the voiceless”, and if the reaction to his testimony is anything to go by then the culture of silence that proceeded his evidence is about to be shattered.

The ECB, meanwhile, continue to lurch from one crisis to another. It has been suggested that moves are afoot in the counties to attempt to remove Tom Harrison from his role of CEO in a governing body that gives the impression of having a remit beyond its capabilities.

After Harrison’s own session in front of the DCMS Committee, one county CEO told Independent Sport that there were times he had to walk away from his television in frustration as three senior ECB members scrabbled around for credible answers to the crisis.

So low is confidence in the organisation that sports minister, Nigel Huddleston, raised the possibility of an independent regulator being created if the ECB failed to tackle the issues raised by Rafiq and other whistleblowers who, before now, had been reluctant to come forward.

Tim Paine’s resignation has plunged Australia’s Ashes preparation into disarray (PA)
Tim Paine’s resignation has plunged Australia’s Ashes preparation into disarray (PA)

If the ECB had channelled as much energy into fighting racism in county dressing rooms as they did into getting The Hundred off the ground, then it’s highly unlikely the sport would find itself in this position. Instead of getting its house in order, though, the custodians of the English game decided to create an almost entirely new estate.

Then, just when it looked as though the week couldn’t get any worse for the sport, Australia’s captain – a man charged with rebuilding the image of the Baggy Green following sandpaper-gate in March 2018 – resigned after it emerged that graphic texts, not to mention images, were about to be made public.

Suddenly Tim Paine, Australia’s supposed Mr Clean, looked decidedly grubby. There will doubtless be some England supporters who see Paine’s demise as a bit of light relief. In reality, though, his mistakes merely emphasise the state that cricket finds itself in globally.

His Hobart press conference was a fitting end to week of hell for a sport that has hit an all-time low.

Given the speed of its descent, it would be foolhardy to think that it has now reached rock-bottom.

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