Yorkshire took an important step on the road to staging international matches again when the England and Wales Cricket Board lifted its Headingley suspension on Friday.
The ECB has been impressed by the work done to change the culture of the club since the appointment of the new chair, Lord Kamlesh Patel, in November and said it had conditionally reversed its decision to strip the county of hosting privileges over their handling of racism and bullying allegations by former player Azeem Rafiq. If Yorkshire meet two further conditions by the end of March, the county will be able to host the third Test against New Zealand in June and July’s one-day international against South Africa.
The news was welcomed by Rafiq who said the ECB had made the “correct decision”, but Yorkshire still need to comply with the ECB’s two outstanding demands which call for the club to resolve “issues relating to rules changes and decisions at the club which have been subject to procedural flaws”, along with the removal of Yorkshire board veto and observer powers held by the family trust of former chair Colin Graves.
The first demand relates to the late-notice cancellation of an extraordinary general meeting of members due to take place last week, owing to a failure by the previous leadership to file rule changes with the Financial Conduct Authority.
The role of the Graves Trust – a major creditor of the club which is controlled by Graves’ family – has been under scrutiny since another ex-chair, Roger Hutton, said it had vetoed his attempt to remove former chief executive Mark Arthur and former director of cricket Martyn Moxon over their response to the Rafiq investigation.
Rafiq said: “This is the correct decision by the ECB – under Lord Patel the club has shown a real willingness to change and has already come a long way. His leadership has earned the club another chance, but the reforms must continue and we must see real change.”
Lord Patel said: “I welcome this decision and thank the board of the ECB for supporting the return of international matches at Headingley. We have worked night and day to bring about tangible change at Yorkshire, and the removal of the sanctions has validated and reignited our drive for positive progress.
“I would like to thank the ECB for its support and its robust challenge throughout the process. It has been a difficult period for Yorkshire County Cricket Club, and there remains a lot of work to be done, but the level of scrutiny has pushed us towards implementing action which will not only transform this club but can lead the way forward for the sport as a whole.”
Barry O’Brien, the interim chair and cricket nonexecutive director at the ECB, said: “The board welcomed the hard work and actions taken by Yorkshire County Cricket Club towards putting the club on a new path. Alongside the progress already made, we considered many factors in reaching our decision.
“Amongst them, the impact on fans who have bought tickets in good faith and the young people who will benefit from Yorkshire’s improved outreach and pathway provisions. Finally, the board was mindful that the return of international cricket will support continued change and progress at the club.
“I very much hope that the traumatic events that have taken place at Yorkshire over the past several months and years will act as a catalyst for increasing the pace of change throughout the game.”
Julian Knight, the chair of the digital, culture, media and sport select committee which heard harrowing testimony from Rafiq last November, said: “It’s right that Yorkshire should host international fixtures again but on the strict proviso that key governance reforms are voted through. Lord Patel needs the support of the ECB and the wider cricket community in his battle to change Yorkshire’s culture and I’m pleased that this seems to be happening.”