Yorkshire CCC: Lord Kamlesh Patel prepares to lead White Rose on unifying ‘journey’
LORD KAMLESH PATEL surveyed the reputational wreckage of Yorkshire County Cricket Club and outlined his determination to rebuild the organisation into “the beating heart of English cricket”.
In a hugely impressive first press conference as the new Yorkshire chairman, Patel took the first steps towards achieving that aim in the wake of the racism scandal that has devastated the club, seen it lose the majority of its sponsors and resulted in an unprecedented suspension from international cricket.
Patel’s message was honest, compassionate, unifying and clear: everyone must work together to make Yorkshire CCC a club for all.
The 61-year-old said that he wanted to find the next world stars such as Joe Root, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli and Babar Azam from within the county’s culturally rich and diverse communities. It was a message – and a transparency – that might have averted much of the damage of recent days had Yorkshire adopted that approach from the start, after former player Azeem Rafiq first raised his allegations in August last year.
Patel, who had only been chairman for 72 hours since Roger Hutton’s departure when he addressed the cameras in the Headingley Long Room, said that he had already spent about six-and-a-half hours talking to Rafiq, asking the 30-year-old to “sit on my shoulder” and “challenge me” throughout the rebuilding process.
Patel did not dismiss Yorkshire as institutionally racist, as many have, saying that he needs to discover the facts before forming a judgement.
He also suggested that there was a way back for anyone who had previously transgressed, such as the former England batsman Gary Ballance, who admitted using racial slurs to Rafiq in the context of two best friends trading insults socially.
“You only have to look a few months back with Ollie Robinson,” said Patel, referring to the England bowler who was found to have posted historically offensive tweets.
“It depends what the context is. If they think it’s just banter, then there isn’t a place for them here. If they reflect on it and it was a moment where – as Ollie Robinson did – they realised they made a big mistake (then maybe it’s different).
“We’re going to have to go on a journey (at Yorkshire). I’m a social worker. I believe human beings can change.
“If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have worked with drug users and people locked up in prison cells.”
Patel said that he would speak to the Yorkshire players to get their input.
“I want to see all the players and listen to them,” he said. “I’m sure many have reflected on what’s happened in the past and what’s gone on.
“I want to speak to every player – including those now away on international duty. I want to do this as diligently as possible.”
Patel, who was brought up in Bradford, having left Kenya with his family at the age of one, wants to bring everyone together.
“I’ve been appointed with a clear remit of righting the wrongs of the past and making sure that this club is an inclusive home for aspiring players in the future,” he said.
“In years to come, I want to find the next Joe Root, the next Tendulkar, the next Kohli, the next Babar Azam here playing for Yorkshire.
“What I’m saying to those young people is that the door’s wide open, and if we make mistakes along the way, we’ll listen to you and we’ll change.
“But come and live your dreams here.
“Why should you go somewhere else? Why should you have to go somewhere else?
“This club is for everyone in Yorkshire and also beyond. I would expect a few lads from Surrey and elsewhere to come, for example, because this is going to be the best cricket club in the world.”
Patel’s qualifications to tackle racism are beyond reproach.
He shared a little of his personal experience.
“When I was a child, I was a really fast runner,” he said.
“Do you want to know why? Because almost every weekend a local group of skinheads would like to go out and engage in P**i-bashing. You had to run or you got beaten up.
“Cricket saved me. I was a tiny, scrawny kid, but I became captain of the school cricket team and that gave me a different standing. I didn’t get beaten up anymore.
“Thanks to my PE teacher, I went up to play in the Bradford League and other leagues around Yorkshire.
“I love the game, and I believe in sports as a real driving force for good, for bringing us together and uniting us. That’s the light I want to bring back here.”
It was the perfect message, perfectly pitched and passionately conveyed.
There is a long road ahead but, with Patel at the wheel, there is hope on the horizon.