Spectator sport

Yorkshire cricket: the long view

13 November 2021

9:00 AM

13 November 2021

9:00 AM

The new chairman of Yorkshire County Cricket Club played a blinder in his first innings, consistently hitting the boundary and finding a settlement to defuse the troubling allegations made by the county’s former player Azeem Rafiq. It’s a pity he wasn’t moved up the order earlier, as Yorkshire’s performance in the storm over allegations of racism has been truly dreadful.

Cricket really needs to move beyond this as pretty soon a significant minority of the England team will be of Asian origin. Yorkshire was always a players’ county, seeing itself as a plain-speaking republic. But speaking as you find has its drawbacks, as does ‘banter’. Complaints about other counties are coming down the tracks.

Martin Luther King Jr. might not have been much of a cricket fan but he was on home ground when he spoke about the arc of the moral universe bending towards justice, though he admitted it was a long arc. A brilliant new book about the MCC’s controversial tour of the West Indies in 1953-54 illustrates quite how long: in Who Only Cricket Know, David Woodhouse writes a compelling account of a historic series marked by tantrums and turmoil, racism and riots, class conflicts and colonialism — and some great cricket.

The series was billed as ‘the World Championship of cricket’, involving some of the greatest players in history: besides the captain, Len Hutton, the tourists included Denis Compton, Peter May, Tom Graveney and Trevor Bailey, as well as Fred Trueman and Brian Statham and the spinners Jim Laker and Tony Lock. For the hosts there were the ‘Three Ws’ — Worrell, Walcott and Weekes — as well as the spin twins Ramadhin and Valentine.

But as one correspondent put it, the ‘colour question’ followed MCC around the Caribbean ‘like an evil shadow’. This was perhaps inevitable, says Woodhouse, when the Caribbean islands were straining for independence, but the attitudes of the Yorkshiremen in the party didn’t help. Hutton initially refused to fraternise. West Indians, he said, were a ‘temperamental race of people’.

Trueman was accused of using racially aggravated language, allegedly calling an umpire a ‘cheating black bastard’, though he developed genuinely friendly relationships with the Three Ws, as well as many black and Asian cricketers. He defended his language as ‘on field’ banter (not that he would have used that word), and is supposed to have said afterwards: ‘And there’s nowt o’ colour prejudice in it — if you weren’ black I’d have called you a cheating white bastard.’

The fact remains that although countless Asian cricket-loving families have settled in Yorkshire since the 1950s, the first cricketer of Asian origin to play for the county was Sachin Tendulkar in 1992. And he wasn’t born in Bradford: he was the county’s first overseas player. The first Yorkshire-born Asian had to wait another 12 years: Ismail Dawood (a wicketkeeper batsman), who later sued English cricket, with John Holder, over discrimination he faced as an umpire.

After being named in the Rafiq scandal, the former Yorkshire and England captain Michael Vaughan wrote a revealing account of life at Yorkshire. ‘I never heard racist abuse but [it] was a hard dressing room. As second team players we had to knock on the dressing room door before entering. If you had a big nose, were bald, or carried a bit of weight, they would be commented on.’ Well that sounds a load of fun.

Racist abuse might be the most egregious outlier in sport’s league table of abuse but that there is still no ‘out’ gay player in the Premier League is remarkable. Now is as good a time as any to try to eradicate all forms of abuse, whether ‘bants’ or otherwise. In fact, particularly ‘bants’.

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