Lord Patel, the Yorkshire chair, has admitted that the club would have gone bankrupt had it not been cleared to host the third Test, which got under way beneath a blazing sun at Headingley on Thursday.
Yorkshire were originally suspended from hosting international cricket last November as the ECB investigated Azeem Rafiq’s allegations of racism at the club. Lord Patel’s appointment was formally approved the following day, and as extensive and often controversial changes to staffing and practices were introduced the ban was provisionally lifted in February. This Test was confirmed only after members overwhelmingly ratified Patel’s proposed changes at an extraordinary general meeting on 31 March.
“Being totally honest going back to November this seemed a very distant opportunity. It seemed a bit of a pipedream,” he told the BBC. “When I first came into the job I was determined to make it happen. I thought it would run a lot smoother than it did. It was far, far tougher.
“[The scandal] was huge. It hit all of the press. The politicians were engaged. It hit the governing body. It affected the whole of English cricket and it brought in the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Understandably when I walked through the doors all five of those groups were saying Test matches aren’t coming back here. It was because of that panic situation that people didn’t [appreciate] that actually if Test matches or international matches didn’t come back here we were going to go bankrupt. We literally were.”
Yorkshire were charged with bringing the game into disrepute by the ECB’s Cricket Discipline Commission last week, with hearings scheduled to start in September and potential sanctions including points deductions, fines or relegation – but no threat to future international fixtures. Patel said: “I am hoping the line will be drawn after we have given our evidence, we are suitably sanctioned and we move forward.”
Though Patel’s reforms were passed by a reported margin of eight to one at the March EGM and he reports overwhelming support from those supporters he has met, some of the club’s former chairmen have been very vocal in their dissent and he said he has received some “phenomenally racist” abuse from fans.
“I do have a small but substantial bag of letters that if I was to take to the police I think people would be prosecuted,” he said. “We have a very small but very vocal group of individuals that do not accept that racism happened at this club. I think we have to move beyond that denial. Racism happens in society. It certainly happened at this club. We know there is misogyny, discrimination, power imbalances and these things happen. It happened here badly.”
Patel now hopes that the changes he has introduced at Yorkshire – which he calls “the biggest cricket club in the world” – will serve as an example for others. “I think we can provide a blueprint for the rest of the counties,” he said. “That is not to say the rest of the counties aren’t doing great work, but what we need is systemic change. It is not just about initiatives. If it is not broken don’t fix it. If it is broken don’t tinker with it – make radical changes to make it right.”
Changes at the club continue: at last month’s AGM the appointment of six new board members, including Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, was ratified, and they will advertise imminently for a new chief executive. There is also a desire to reduce their financial dependency on the ECB.
“There are two or three challenges ahead,” Patel said. “One of those is finance. We lost 43 sponsors [as a result of the Rafiq affair]. The majority have come back, and some new ones have come. That says something about our reputation. We need to not just focus on the ECB or cricket payments – we need to become a viable sporting venue.
“I see a huge amount of excitement. It is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to really make a difference and we have to capitalise on it.”