Tom Harrison faces the prospect of a county rebellion and possible calls to resign amid growing anger over the England and Wales Cricket Board’s handling of the Yorkshire racism scandal.
Harrison, the governing body’s chief executive, will head into a game-wide meeting at the Oval on Friday under significant pressure following his bruising time in front of the digital, culture, media and sport select committee on Tuesday.
The 49-year-old struggled to justify the response to Azeem Rafiq’s allegations of racism at Yorkshire last year. MPs criticised the ECB for its decision to let the club run its own investigation, only stepping in to suspend Headingley from hosting Test matches and start its own probe once it became clear that no action would result.
Harrison and the ECB insisted this was down to the governing body’s role as the sport’s regulator. But one senior county administrator told the Guardian there is a growing belief in the game that this “train wreck” session in parliament has only served to highlight the structural flaws in the sport’s governance and the need for reform.
Though the fates of executive roles at the ECB are technically decided by its independent board of directors, the meeting on Friday to discuss the sport’s ongoing crisis could lead to enough of the ECB’s 41 members – the 18 first-class counties, the National Counties and MCC – pushing for change at the top.
This occurred when Ian Watmore was forced to resign as ECB chair last month after the controversial decision to call off the planned tour of Pakistan by England’s men and women and his struggle to lead on the issue of next year’s county structure.
It may be that with Watmore still to be replaced – Barry O’Brien is interim chair, but missed the DCMS select committee due to ill health – Harrison survives, even if the £2.1m bonus pot he and other senior executives are due to share next year, in spite of financial losses and redundancies, remains a source of much disquiet in the game.
While Harrison battles to remain in place, Rafiq has reiterated his call for Yorkshire to remove Andrew Gale and Martyn Moxon but show clemency towards Gary Ballance if the former England batsman displays remorse.
Speaking the day after his landmark evidence session, Rafiq shared a belief that “the floodgates” could now open for “hundreds or thousands” of similar allegations of racism in county cricket and urged the sport to listen to and support those who come forward.
Certainly the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket, set up by the ECB in March to probe discrimination from the professional level down to the grassroots, has received more than 1,000 responses since its call for evidence began on 9 November.
This will feed into a report due for publication next summer but at Headingley things will have to move quicker. Both Gale, the Yorkshire head coach, and Moxon, the director of cricket, were implicated in Rafiq’s evidence and the former England Under-19s captain sees no way back for the pair.
“I don’t think Martyn and Andrew can [continue],” Rafiq said during a round of broadcast interviews. “I don’t think it’s possible for Yorkshire to move forward with them in there, with them knowing full well what role they played in that institution. They had an opportunity yesterday to come down here under parliamentary privilege to get their side of the story across and they didn’t.”
Gale is suspended by Yorkshire as it looks into an antisemitic tweet posted 11 years ago but in the 57-page witness statement published by DCMS is accused by Rafiq of using racist language and being “aggressive and rude” towards himself and Adil Rashid in ways “he wasn’t with white players”.
The 37-year-old, who swapped the captaincy for the head coach role in 2016, has so far declined to comment. But, along with Moxon, alleged to have not acted on Rafiq’s initial reporting of racism and bullying, he is unlikely to survive the expected clearout of backroom staff under the club’s new chair, Lord Kamlesh Patel.
Rafiq was more optimistic about Ballance, however. The former club captain is accused of regularly using racist language, including the word “Kevin” to describe people of colour, and could yet be forced out despite signing a new three-year contract in September.
“I think Gary – if he apologises properly, has some sort of acceptance – I feel he should be given some sort of accountability, whatever that may be,” Rafiq said. “I think he should be allowed to play.”
Alex Hales, said by Rafiq to have named his black dog “Kevin” in reference to Ballance’s use of the word, released a statement on Wednesday denying the rumour and spoke of his respect for the former’s spinner’s plight.
Meanwhile, Tim Bresnan is the subject of an inquiry by his employers Warwickshire, having apologised to Rafiq for bullying but also denied the alleged use of racist language at Yorkshire that emerged in Tuesday’s evidence.
The 36-year-old former England seamer was hailed as a key dressing-room influence during this year’s County Championship title victory but Warwickshire’s chair, Mark McCafferty, and Stuart Cain, the chief executive, are now keen to speak to Rafiq to hear more details of their time together. According to a club source, Bresnan has now pulled out of a teammate’s stag party this weekend in order to “lie low”.
Essex are also conducting investigations into two separate allegations of historical racism at the club, while other counties are braced for similar cases in the coming weeks as the sport’s reckoning continues.