Exclusive: Yorkshire's last four chairmen launch blistering attack on ECB ahead of Headingley Test

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Exclusive: Yorkshire's last four chairmen launch blistering attack on ECB on eve of Headingley Test - GETTY IMAGES
Exclusive: Yorkshire's last four chairmen launch blistering attack on ECB on eve of Headingley Test - GETTY IMAGES

Yorkshire’s last four chairmen have launched an extraordinary attack on the England & Wales Cricket Board on the eve of the Headingley Test, denouncing its handling of the club’s racism scandal and demanding an independent inquiry into the whole affair.

In a dramatic intervention ahead of an occasion the county was previously banned from staging over the crisis to engulf it, Colin Graves, Steve Denison, Robin Smith and Roger Hutton declared the ECB unfit to expose the full story behind Azeem Rafiq’s damning accusations of abuse and the botched handling of them.

They did so after voicing a litany of concerns over the disciplinary proceedings opened against the club and individuals charged last week over the scandal, something into which they said they had little input despite leading Yorkshire between them for almost the whole of the period spanning Rafiq’s allegations.

Among those claims about the case that threatens to completely overshadow England’s return to the scene of some of their greatest triumphs were:

  • That the ECB inquiry had taken too long and was “putting people through even more pain”;

  • That there had been no sign of Rafiq being punished himself over an anti-Semitic slur that emerged in November, despite him admitting to it;

  • That Yorkshire were being “tried twice”, having already been stripped of major matches and forced to make sweeping changes to get them back;

  • That the names of those charged had been leaked even before the ECB announced they would not be identified;

  • That Mark Arthur, Martyn Moxon and other senior figures at Yorkshire had escaped action for allegedly triggering the scandal by failing to deal properly with Rafiq’s complaints;

  • That the ECB’s inquiry completely ignored its own refusal to investigate almost two years ago.

Graves, who was himself chairman of the ECB for five years until 2020, rescued Yorkshire from financial ruin two decades ago before becoming executive chair of the county between 2012 and 2015.

Proclaiming he would “fully support” an independent inquiry into the current scandal, he said he was “very disappointed” charges had been brought against both the club and the likes of former England players Michael Vaughan, Matthew Hoggard, Tim Bresnan and Gary Ballance.

“I just find it unbelievable that they’re putting these people through even more pain,” Graves said.

“Once again, these people’s names are dragged through the mire, which I think is unfair.”

He added: “It hasn’t been handled very well at all. It could’ve been handled much better, much quicker, and I think it’s leaving a lot of nasty tastes in people’s mouths.”

Colin Graves - PA/ALAMY
Colin Graves - PA/ALAMY

Denison, who succeeded Graves at Yorkshire before stepping down in 2018, said: “The ECB don’t move fast enough and they’ve been so scared of their own shadow that they’re almost paralysed and can’t act.”

On the governing body’s silence over whether Rafiq faced action over his own anti-Semitic slur, he added: “I’m sure that the ECB’s thought process was: ‘S---, we’ve got a cut-and-dried case here. But if we hammer him now, he’s perceived as the victim in all of this, so it’ll look like we’re hammering the victim before we’ve got round to having a go at the “perpetrators”’.”

Denison said he had emailed both recently-departed ECB chief executive Tom Harrison and Yorkshire chairman Lord Patel last week to offer to help “in any way that I can” with exposing the full story behind the scandal.

He added: “They haven’t even bothered to give me the courtesy of acknowledging the emails – which kind of says it all, really.”

'It just breaches a fundamental principle of jurisprudence'

Smith, who returned to chair the club between 2018 and 2020 having also served in the role between 2003-06, said: “It seems to me that the club is tried twice on the same facts.

“It just breaches a fundamental principle of jurisprudence. No one can be tried twice on the same facts. It’s very, very unsatisfactory.

“I’m personally on notice from the ECB that conduct of mine will be subject of the proceedings but that I’m not personally charged, nor will there be any personal finding against me, which is rather a hybrid situation.

“It needs a good, independent judicial look at it. Until all these facts go before someone of unquestioned repute and impartiality – a judge, retired judge, someone of that standing – the full truth will never emerge.

“The ECB have already decided on Yorkshire’s guilt and imposed these sanctions. How on Earth can they now, in this second set of proceedings, take a contrary view? It’s just not going to happen and everyone knows it’s not going to happen.”

Hutton, who quit as Yorkshire chairman after the scandal erupted in November, said he would be assisting the club with responding to the charges but was forced to approach them himself to do so, adding that he had heard nothing from the ECB.

He said the latter’s handling of the case was “so far from any judicial process, it’s breathtaking”, adding: “I’ve spent my life in the law; I’ve never seen anything quite like it myself.

“I’m not quite sure what the scope of the investigation is, but my best understanding is it doesn’t relate to any of the actions or inactions of the ECB itself.”

Concerns were also raised about Yorkshire’s own handling of their toxic legal battle with staff sacked in the wake of the racism scandal after it emerged earlier this month the club had admitted unfair dismissal complaints lodged against them were “well founded”.

Just last week, England limited-overs specialist David Willey accused the county of prioritising repairing their reputation at the expense of their own players’ well-being after it was confirmed he was returning to his native Northamptonshire at the end of the season.

Denison said: “I’m not sure whether it’s the club or whether it’s just Kamlesh trying to protect his own reputation but well played, David, for saying that.”

The ECB declined to comment on an ongoing regulatory process, although a source pointed out Harrison had left before Denison had emailed him. Lord Patel did not respond to a request for comment.