A week before the start of the Championship season, window cleaners with long-armed squeegees were scrubbing Headingley’s pavilion, but it has proved far more difficult for Yorkshire to emerge from the grubby haze left by Azeem Rafiq’s allegations and their aftermath.
Eighteen months after the club published a summary of the report into Rafiq’s claims, on the day of the cancelled Old Trafford Test against India, the process is still in limbo. The Cricket Disciplinary Commission is expected to give its verdict on Friday – Yorkshire have pleaded guilty on four counts, including a failure to address systemic use of racist and/or discriminatory language over a prolonged period – but the announcement of any sanctions is not expected until later.
This leaves Yorkshire starting the second season in a row with the threat of a hefty points deduction hanging over their heads – after a disappointing 2022 season that ended with final-day relegation to Division Two when an inspired Liam Norwell bowled Warwickshire to victory against Hampshire. But with the sun shining on a lush Headingley, the director of cricket, Darren Gough, was phlegmatic about new Yorkshire taking a hit on behalf of old Yorkshire.
“It’s hard to speculate what they [the CDC] are going to say,” he said. “I think the frustration is clear to see, as we are going into another season. I just hope we’re not here next year and saying that we are waiting for our brief.
“I don’t think things will fall apart [if we get a points deduction] because we’ve put things in place. We’ve done a lot of work and the club is in a better position. We were all disappointed last year that we were relegated, nobody more than me. I was absolutely distraught.
“We put a lot of love into it last year, a lot of work, but there was a lot of hurt going around, a lot of negative energy from everywhere and it affected everyone at this cricket club. So what we’ve done is created a positive atmosphere, they’ve worked their socks off this winter, the players have been awesome and they understand the job we’ve got to do.”
Yorkshire played their hand early in the overseas market, poaching the impressive Shan Masood from Derbyshire as club captain and signing the New Zealand enforcer Neil Wagner.
But things are never that simple at Headingley. Wagner picked up hamstring and back injuries while on international duty and Masood would miss the first few games of the season if called into Pakistan’s white-ball squad.
His countryman Saud Shakeel, who set his nose to the grindstone so effectively during England’s tour, is expected to sign for the early season so long as visa issues can be sorted – much-needed batting ballast with Joe Root and Harry Brook due to miss most of the season with IPL and England commitments, Tom Kohler-Cadmore leaving for Somerset and David Willey returning to Northamptonshire.
A question also hovers over Jonny Bairstow and whether he will take the gloves as he attempts to grab back his England place after the golfing accident that left him with a broken leg and dislocated ankle at the height of early Bazball.
The head coach, Ottis Gibson, said the ECB had not been in touch with instructions, though it was clear that Bairstow was keen to regain his place behind the stumps. But with Bairstow unable to run in anything but straight lines, and the medical team suggesting the end of May as a date for full fitness, it will be a tough battle for him to be ready for the first Ashes Test at Edgbaston on 16 June.
The club remains in a huge financial mess, with £15m owed to the Graves Trust, of which £500,000 is due in October with the rest a year later. Tanni Grey-Thompson has stepped up as interim chair until a permanent replacement is found, with Colin Graves lurking in the shadows.
But Gough remains as buoyant as ever. “We hope we can carry on, play cricket, win the title, that’s the dream. But we don’t know. We’d just be guessing, wouldn’t we? When it happens, we can deal with it. Until then, it’s just ‘play’.