Yorkshire out to change cricket after winter spent learning from mistakes

Darren Gough says the club ‘can't forget’ the Azeem Rafiq racism scandal but want ‘to make sure it doesn’t happen again’

As the ground staff brushed the remaining snow from the outfield at Headingley, Yorkshire’s senior coaching team – interim managing director of cricket, Darren Gough, head coach, Ottis Gibson, and captain, Steve Patterson – sat in the cold press box to reflect on a tumultuous six months and the upcoming season.

Thursday night’s extraordinary general meeting, which overwhelmingly approved the structural changes demanded by the ECB in the wake of the Azeem Rafiq racism scandal, has given the club some financial stability after the ban from hosting international cricket was lifted.

The EGM, said to be held in a business-like atmosphere, approved the appointment of Lord Patel as chair, the appointment of six non-executive directors and removed the Graves Trust’s powers, despite the disdain of the former chair, Robin Smith.

Gough, clad in Kukri-sponsored kit – Yorkshire lost their deal with Nike in the winter – spoke with emotion about the future of the club he first played for in 1989 as a bustling teenager.

“When I took over in January I saw almost fear in the players’ faces and confusion, but I’ll tell you what, three months later what I have seen and witnessed, is a team that work for each other. They have worked their socks off to get into a position where they are excited about the season … and I am immensely proud of them , and I told them so before we went to Dubai [on a pre-season tour.]”

“They understood that not just Yorkshire, but I think cricket in general, needs to change. Sport, society, needs to change. All I can do is put things in place, along with Ottis and the players, we’ve been educated on a daily basis, by people that write articles, by reading, by watching, by communicating.”

“People are going to make mistakes, they’re going to continue to make mistakes. But it’s about forgiveness, it’s about education, it’s about moving forward together to make us great again. We want to be on the front and back pages for the right reasons, and we haven’t been. We’ve got an opportunity now with the people we’ve got in place for other cricket clubs to say, that’s how we want to do it going forward. We can only try and make that happen. It’s sad what’s happened, we can never take it back, we can’t forget what’s happened, it’s about learning from it, moving forward and make sure that situation doesn’t happen again.”

Headingley during the 2019 Ashes Test
Headingley will be able to hold international cricket as a result of Thursday’s vote. Photograph: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images

Yorkshire have signed Pakistan’s Haris Rauf for the first six Championship games and his countryman leg-spinner Shadab Khan for the T20 Blast. Gibson is on a mission to persuade Adil Rashid to play some red-ball cricket. The club are also trying to sign an overseas batsman, with Gary Ballance on indefinite leave with ongoing mental health problems, Tom Kohler-Cadmore an injury doubt after a concussion in the Pakistan Super League and Joe Root unlikely to play until the end of April.

Visiting teams can expect to find seamer-friendly conditions awaiting them. “We’d like some help for [Haris Rauf] off the surface for sure,” said Gibson. “I don’t think our batsmen would like to hear that. He bowls 150kph anyway so he doesn’t need that much help but when teams come to play here we want to make this this place a fortress.”

The club remain unsure whether or not they will be docked Championship points, a possible sanction from the independent investigation led by the Cricket Disciplinary Commission. “To do it halfway through a season wouldn’t be the best,” said Gough, “but in football they’ve done it with Derby.”

Meanwhile, the African-Caribbean Engagement programme is going to expand nationwide with ECB backing. The programme, first established by Surrey in 2020 under the leadership of Ebony Rainford-Brent, and aimed at engaging young people from the black community, will expand to Nottingham, Manchester, Leeds and an additional London borough, after successful uptake in Birmingham and Bristol in 2021.

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“Although we started small in south London, we always envisaged this programme was going to have a big national impact,” said Rainford-Brent. “To be in six cities and on both sides of the Thames in London within two years of existence proves that our model is starting to change the game.”

The ECB funding comes as part of an update to its 12-step racism and diversity action plan established in the wake of Rafiq’s allegations which will also see the expansion of the ECB’s community talent champion programme, offer a further 3,000 foundation coaching bursaries and conduct a review of dressing-room culture in professional cricket.


Tanya Aldred

The GuardianTramp

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