England captain Ben Stokes has confirmed that his team’s “responsibility” for the game goes beyond the field of play as they prepare for the Headingley Test, which at one stage was threatened by devastating accusations of institutional racism in Yorkshire.
Zim Rafik’s statements about institutional racism and discrimination during his tenure as a White Rose player generated unwanted front-page coverage of cricket following his speech before a parliamentary committee last year.
Further accusations against Yorkshire, as well as other counties, followed what will go down in history as a dark moment of reckoning for the sport when the England and Wales Cricket Board at one point suspended Headingley’s right to host international cricket.
We know that as international cricketers we have a responsibility both on and off the pitch.Ben Stokes
The financial setbacks associated with this sanction could have killed the club as a going concern, but they were eventually lifted after initiatives put forward by newly appointed chairman Lord Kamlesh Patel convinced the ECB that the problems were being properly handled.
The story is far from being told, with ECB disciplinary charges brought against the club and “a number of individuals”, but the return of the test side over the next five days represents some form of business as usual.
Patel, oddly enough, was only conspicuous by his absence during training at Headingley, and as the Yorkshire management did not show up again, Stokes had to answer questions about it.
Only a few weeks into the role and with an ongoing series of trials, it might not have been fair to expect him to carry the load.
“I have my own responsibilities in the team that I manage at the moment,” he said. “And we have a responsibility both on and off the field to do what we do.
“We know that if we continue to do good things on the field, we are going to bring a new circle of fans to the game. That’s all we can do, that’s what we’re good at, going out and playing cricket and winning games. But we know that as international cricketers we have a responsibility both on and off the pitch.
“I’m sure we have a lot of things to do in the future – as the England cricket team and myself as captain – for which we will be held accountable.”
Stokes team mate Kane Williamson also had his say, having played overseas for Yorkshire for four seasons from 2014 to 2018. room.
“It was incredibly sad to see what was happening,” he said. “I can only hope that something positive will come out of this and the realization that this is set to move forward in a positive way.
“There is no place for racism or discrimination in sports or society. I have been here several times and have enjoyed my time in Yorkshire. There have been some issues that have only recently become known and you can only hope that they will heal.
“There has been a huge amount of information around the world… efforts to keep that awareness and make it more inclusive, whether in sports or other workplaces.”