Michael Vaughan vindicated but no winners in racism case that ends up as a major defeat for ECB
After his feted playing career as an Ashes-winning former England captain, June 22 2009 was due be an entirely forgettable day for Michael Vaughan.
At 34 and creaking, he was poised to retire when he turned up at Trent Bridge as a favour for his injury-ravaged younger Yorkshire team-mates.
Eleven years on, however, that T20 Cup fixture against Nottinghamshire would threaten to overshadow his entire 80-plus Test career. Azeem Rafiq's incendiary "you lot" claim in the summer of 2020 was a bolt out of the blue for a figure once described by the England and Wales Cricket Board as their "best possible ambassador".
Finally, almost three years on, his reputation is restored by the Cricket Discipline Commission ruling that "significant inconsistencies" had been brought by the same governing body that once lauded his talents.
'It has been both difficult and upsetting to hear about the painful experiences which Azeem has described'
Vaughan suggested he harboured no ill feeling – even against Rafiq – as he welcomed the decision to clear him in a statement at 10am on Friday. “The dismissal of the specific charge that concerned me takes nothing away from Azeem’s own lived experiences," he said. “It has been both difficult and upsetting to hear about the painful experiences which Azeem has described over the past three years."
But an assessment of the case against him published by the CDC half an hour later appeared less forgiving for those who came after Vaughan. "His position has been clear at all times: he did not say these words, and he would not have said these words," the panel wrote before finding the case "not proved".
The CDC took immediate issue with the wording of the charge that Vaughan said “there’s too many of you lot, we need to do something about it” towards Rafiq, Adil Rashid, Rana Naved-ul-Hasan and Ajmal Shahzad. The CDC observed that Vaughan had been "consistent" at all times in his denials, but the phrase alleged by his accusers had varied. “There’s too many of you lot, we need to have a word about that," was another version offered. "There are significant inconsistencies in the evidence of both primary witnesses, AZR [Rafiq] and ADR [Rashid], in this regard," the report says. "These are recognised by the ECB in the manner in which it closed its case."
'Due process had been sent on holiday'
As the verdict goes on, it becomes clear Vaughan's legal team, led by Christopher Stoner KC, had landed killer punches.
"Due process", Stoner said three weeks ago, had been "sent on holiday" by the ECB.
Nobody other than Rashid, the England spinner and friend of Rafiq, at Trent Bridge for the T20 match could credibly back up Rafiq's claim, the panel had been told.
The CDC accepted that claim and was blistering in its criticism of the citing of a report suggesting Naved-ul-Hasan had also backed Rafiq. The article published by a cricket website in Nov 2021 "contradicts the words in the charge" and is "probably second-hand hearsay at that".
Tim O'Gorman, chairman of the CDC panel, is described by Tom Harrison, the recently departed ECB chief executive, as a "great mate". But friendships were rightly forgotten in his 10-page take down of the governing body's case.
The ECB had brought a weak case around 'an afternoon now nearly 14 years ago'
The CDC said its findings "do not in any way undermine the wider assertions" from Rafiq". But with Shahzad dismissing the claim entirely, the conclusion was the ECB had brought a weak case around "an afternoon now nearly 14 years ago". "This is not a case which necessitated a conclusion from the Panel that anyone has lied or acted out of malice," the CDC added. "Far from it, the panel had to consider whether the case as presented to it by the ECB, in light of all the evidence, was sufficiently accurate and reliable, on the balance of probabilities, to rule out mistake. It was not."
There were other guilty verdicts from the CDC, prompting Rafiq to claim partial success for his dossier of allegations. John Blain, Tim Bresnan, Andrew Gale, Matthew Hoggard and Richard Pyrah were found to have used the term “P---”, despite their denials. Gale and Hoggard were additionally found to have used the nickname ‘Rafa the Kaffir’ towards Rafiq, and Hoggard to have used the phrase “token black man” to refer to wicketkeeper Ismail Dawood.
"This comes in addition to the other reports, panels and inquiries that found I and others suffered racial harassment and bullying while at Yorkshire," Rafiq said.
However, for the ECB, the verdict can be seen only as a major defeat. Rarely in its history has the CDC ruled against charges. Richard Thompson, the ECB chairman, was left calling for a period of "reconciliation" where, "as a game, we can collectively learn and heal the wounds and ensure that nothing like this can ever happen again.”
Vaughan, in contrast, emerges from the hearing with his reputation restored. While the ECB had been willing to trash his reputation on the basis of claims brought by Rafiq, the CDC referred to Vaughan's standing in the game as a factor in its deliberations. The panel said it "gives some weight" to Vaughan's own evidence in which he said: “I have been in cricket for 30 years now and, you know, whether it has been in the broadcast unit since 2010, I have not had a team member come to me with a comment that I could have said or would have said to put them in a state of mind that wouldn't allow them to go out and perform."
The ultra competitive Vaughan once revelled in winning more England matches than any captain before him. But, after this hearing's damning indictment on the game’s rulers, celebrations were limited after his biggest victory of all. "There have been no winners in this process," was his own conclusion.