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Former Essex County Cricket Club player Zoheb Sharif says he was released by the club due to the colour of his skin.
The 38-year-old leg spin bowler was a regular in Essex’s Second XI after making his debut in 2000 until his departure in 2004, which he told Good Morning Britain earlier today was due to a culture of racism at the club.
Sharif’s allegations come during a reckoning for English cricket in the wake of an internal investigation by Yorkshire County Cricket Club into claims made by Azeem Rafiq, who yesterday gave harrowing evidence to a Digital, Culture, Media and Sports select committee of MPs. Subsequently, cricket players from ethnic minority backgrounds have been detailing the racism they have suffered over the years.
Sharif told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “I was let go in 2004, so I spent most of my time in 2004 in the reserve team and I was told to perform. I think the stats are out there, I averaged over 100 in the second team.”
When asked if players in the senior team were performing at the same level, he replied: “Not many, not many. I think the next first-team players who went on to have good careers at the club were averaging 16 at the time.
“I can only put [my release] down to my race. I was told by a committee member: ‘No matter what you do, you will not play first team, no matter how well you do.’ And this was off the back of me scoring a lot of hundreds in the second team.”
Sharif’s story might be new to viewers, but Essex have already been informed of what his allegations. The club’s response, though, has disappointed Sharif.
“The county are aware of my so-called allegations against them,” he explained. “I've not really heard anything. I don’t think Essex has formally launched an investigation yet. I spoke a little bit to the chairman of Essex, but I don’t know if they have officially launched [an investigation].”
The Rafiq case has led to a slew of sponsors withdrawing their financial support from Yorkshire, the England and Wales Cricket Board barring the club’s Headingley ground from hosting international fixtures, and a flurry of resignations from board members.
“I hope they are [taking my situation as seriously] as in Azeem’s case,” Sharif said. “But it’s not just me as well – there are others who have come out as well at Essex.
“My experiences go back about 20 years now, to when I made my debut, and I was unfortunate enough to make my debut the day after the 11 September attacks.”
Sharif’s allegations of racism at Essex go far beyond his removal from the team, with the 38-year-old saying: “I was labelled ‘bomber’ straight away coming into the changing room, and it was made worse by the fact that it was raining during the game so it spent a lot of time in the changing room.
“So, that ‘bomber’ nickname just stuck. It was accepted across quite a few individuals who would say these sorts of things. And obviously as a young kid your dream is to make your professional debut, but straight away I came in and it was ‘bomber’ – it just didn’t stop, this went on for all the time I was there, and that transitioned to ‘curry muncher’.”