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Headingley loses Emerald as title sponsor as Yorkshire racism crisis deepens

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Cross-party group of MPs calls for new investigation in wake of revelations

A series of sponsors of Yorkshire County Cricket Club – including Emerald Group, the title sponsor at Headingley Stadium, and long-term partners Yorkshire Tea – have cut their ties with the club in protest at their handling of the Azeem Rafiq racism case, while a group of Yorkshire MPs have signed a letter calling on the ECB to launch a new investigation into the club’s handling of the affair.
The crisis engulfing the county comes after ESPNcricinfo revealed details of the report into Rafiq’s claims of institutional racism, in particular the conclusion that the use of the word “P**i” could be perceived as “banter”. It is a revelation that led Sajid Javid, the UK health secretary, to call for “heads to roll” in a reply to the story on Twitter.
The club’s chairman, Roger Hutton, has since been called to appear before the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee, along with two senior executives, Mark Arthur and Martyn Moxon. Rafiq is also expected to give evidence on November 16, where parliamentary privilege may enable him to divulge further details that have yet to come to light.

The damaging revelations have now persuaded one of Yorkshire’s most prominent sponsors, Emerald Group, to end their four-year naming-rights deal at Headingley.

“We have today taken the decision to remove our brand association with Yorkshire County Cricket Club and Headingley Stadium,” read a press release.

“We do not tolerate any form of racism or discriminatory behaviour and the damaging effects this has. Our intention remains to continue a financial commitment to the stadium itself, which is also the home of Leeds Rhinos rugby, as we believe this supports the aims of diversity and inclusion in sport along with a range of charitable community endeavours.

“Emerald will however no longer sponsor Yorkshire County Cricket Club. We hope that YCCC will listen and respond with serious action to eradicate racism from the club and uphold the values we all expect.”

In a subsequent press release, Yorkshire Tea announced that it too would be ending its association with the club with immediate effect. Anchor Butter is another brand that has confirmed, via Twitter, that it will have “no further activity” in support of the club.

“We were upset to read about the experiences of Azeem Rafiq during his time at Yorkshire County Cricket Club,” read Yorkshire Tea’s statement. “We wholeheartedly believe that cricket should be a sport for everyone, but his experiences and the way the panel report has been handled don’t reflect that.

“Our current partnership with YCCC was naturally coming to an end but we have taken the decision to end it with immediate effect.”

The political pressure on Yorkshire has also been ramped up in an open letter, signed by a cross-party group of 34 local politicians, including the mayors of South and West Yorkshire, Dan Jarvis and Tracy Brabin.

“The disgraceful treatment of Azeem Rafiq has brought Yorkshire County Cricket Club into disrepute,” wrote Jarvis, who is also the MP for Barnsley Central. “It’s appalling that anyone has to suffer racist abuse in the workplace, and then for that abuse to be repeatedly dismissed as ‘banter’ is utterly unacceptable.

“The English Cricket Board needs to act urgently to rectify these failures, eradicate the scourge of racism from cricket and restore the reputation of cricket in Yorkshire.

“Azeem Rafiq has been courageous in speaking out and has my full support. There is no place for racism anywhere.”

Brabin added: “As a county, we often celebrate our strong sporting heritage and love for cricket, however this has shamed Yorkshire Country Cricket Club and I know our communities will stand shoulder to shoulder with Azeem and be utterly embarrassed.

“Inquiries by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the English Cricket Board are welcome, but they should not have been needed.”



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More WBBL matches could move to primetime as viewership hits new records

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The crowd for the final in Perth set a new benchmark for a standalone WBBL match

A WBBL final which brought a record crowd and record TV ratings could herald a shift towards more primetime matches in the future as the tournament looks to its next stage of evolution.

Perth Scorchers claimed the title on Saturday in front of 15,511 spectators at Optus Stadium which set a new benchmark for a standalone WBBL match. It also had the largest average broadcast audience in the competition’s history with 535,000 put it ahead of the 2018-19 final which was played ahead of a day of men’s Test cricket.

This was the first season where every match was available on television and overall CA said it was the most-watched edition. While Alistair Dobson, the general manager of Big Bash Leagues, believes the weekend festivals, which see multiple matches at the same venue, will continue to be an important part of the tournament there will be a push to exploit more evening time slots.

“Ultimately the ambition was of getting every game on TV and we were really thankful we could do that this year,” Dobson told ESPNcricinfo. “The next evolution is to optimise those blockbusters and there’s an opportunity for us to explore more primetime matches, whether that’s Thursday or Friday nights, and working with our broadcasters to build up some big annual marquee matches which I think is the obvious next step for the competition.”

The new finals structure, which gave the team who finished top of the regular season direct entry into the final, meant there was a week to promote the match in Perth.

“I think it worked exactly how we intended to give us a full week’s build-up but also rightfully rewarding the team that finished first with the biggest advantage which we felt was warranted,” Dobson said. “The atmosphere and noise just showed how passionate the fans are and think the quality of the game did it justice as well.

The season started in a Tasmania-based hub due to border restrictions in Australia and barring a brief lockdown in Hobart was played without significant problems although two major markets – Melbourne and Sydney – were unable to stage games.

“Firstly just being able to play and getting all eight teams together in Tasmania was no mean feat,” Dobson said. “But then the quality of the cricket throughout, the quality of the overseas players, it was amazing to have such a great group of Indian players, they brought a whole new dimension, alongside all the other players.

“Matched by the depth of talent in Australia, a lot of the really big household names were easily matched by a lot of players we are all getting to know a lot better.

“In reinforces the WBBL as the No.1 cricket league for women and it’s really important we maintain that position in the future.”



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Recent Match Report – South Aust vs Queensland 10th Match 2021/22

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Renshaw hammered 156 from 109 balls after Gurinder Sandhu’s hat-trick had restricted the home side

Queensland 4 for 275 (Renshaw 156*, Bryant 68) beat South Australia 274 (Carey 101, Sandhu 4-44) by six wickets

Ashes hopeful Alex Carey blasted a century for South Australia in a timely return to batting form but it wasn’t enough to prevent a six-wicket loss to Queensland in their one-day clash at Adelaide Oval.
Carey top-scored for his side with 101 from 93 balls and combined with Henry Hunt (61) for a record-breaking 159-run opening stand before Gurinder Sandhu‘s second career hat-trick helped Queensland bowl out the hosts for 274.
Matt Renshaw, who is part of the Australia A squad, anchored the Bulls’ run chase with a career-best unbeaten 156 from 109 balls and received good support from Max Bryant (68), with the pair putting on 177 for the fourth wicket.

It was Queensland’s second win from four matches in the one-day competition this season, while South Australia are struggling with a 1-3 record.

In the mix to replace former captain Tim Paine as Australia’s Test gloveman at the Gabba next month, Carey had failed to reach double figures in any of his previous six innings for the Redbacks this season.

He made a patient start to his innings before blasting his second 50 in just 30 balls, charging to his second one-day century of the season. He smashed a huge slog-sweep six off Marnus Labuschagne but was eventually bowled by the part-time legspinner when attempting to cut a delivery that wasn’t quite as short as he had expected.

Queensland quick Sandhu finished with 4 for 44 from his nine overs, with Matt Kuhnemann also impressing as the final six South Australia wickets fell in the space of just 15 balls.

Like Carey, Travis Head was hoping to impress national selectors, but he was dropped twice before his luck ran out on 29, caught by Mark Steketee off Kuhnemann.

Queensland’s run chase began slowly and they were in trouble early when Test squad members Usman Khawaja and Labuschagne fell cheaply. Labuschagne departed in stunning fashion when he was run out by Hunt’s direct hit from a tough angle.

But Renshaw’s composed knock steered the Bulls home. Featuring 15 fours and five sixes, his century came from 91 balls with his third fifty taking just 16 deliveries as he plundered Wes Agar.



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Abu Dhabi T10, 2021 – Phil Salt, Tom Banton show off their credentials

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Across a weekend of triple-headers, there has been an exhibition of opening batting on display

Across a weekend of triple-headers at the Abu Dhabi T10, there has been an exhibition of opening batting on display. No doubt, the shorter boundaries have helped, especially in a format whereby the risk of losing a wicket is also considerably less.

Nevertheless, it has still required an absolute clinic of hitting. On Saturday, Moeen Ali struck 77* off 23 and Kennar Lewis 65* off 32 for the highest partnership in T10 history, racing to a target of 146 without losing a wicket. Then the Bangla Tigers and the Deccan Gladiators chased down scores of 90 and 95 respectively, with almost half their overs remaining. Hazratullah Zazai, with 46* off 16 and Tom Banton, with 46 off 18, the pick of the bunch.
Phil Salt missed out on Saturday due to a slight knock, but on Sunday he cashed in once again. The Team Abu Dhabi opener carried on his rich run of form with a devastating knock of 63 from 20 deliveries to confirm their spot in the play-offs. Salt’s half-century in 15 balls trumped Moeen’s 16-ball effort as the fastest of the tournament.

If there was any doubt as to whether the injury could have affected him, Salt erased it instantly. In the first over of the chase, he blasted 21 runs off the five deliveries he faced, clipping away his first and last ball from Nuwan Pradeep to the boundary, and smashing two sixes in between.

In a tournament with some of the biggest names in world cricket, Salt has been one of the standout players. The game he was injured in and the game he missed subsequently have been the only two games that Team Abu Dhabi have lost this season.

Across the seven games he’s played, Salt has scored 237 runs at a strike rate of 237. Only Rovman Powell of the Northern Warriors stands above Salt with 267 runs, albeit he has played a game more.

Amongst anyone who has scored at least 100 runs in the Abu Dhabi T10, no batter possesses a better strike rate than Salt. In fact, no one has scored more boundaries than his 17 fours and 21 sixes.

Salt may be the star so far, but he insists that continuously working on the mental side of the game is crucial to his development and he has relished the chance to pick the brains of players like Chris Gayle.

“Something you do when you’re playing well is that you pick your areas based on instinct” Salt said. “Chris Gayle, I’ve chewed his ear off. He’s got so many tools that I want to add to my game… The most impressive thing and a few guys have it, is that ruthless mentality that someone like Chris has, in the way he takes the game on.

“If I can just keep tapping into things like that, the biggest improvements to be made and the lessons to be learnt are from those guys, in terms of how they deal with the game upstairs.”

Asked where he sees himself across formats domestically and internationally, Salt said: “It’s something I used to struggle with, really wanting to get on to the next stage. I still do want it just as bad, but I’m very aware now that the only way to get there is to take it day by day by day. I know that’s a really boring answer, but I’ve found that’s the most effective way to improve and not get ahead of myself.”

Salt’s tale bears a hint of similarity with that of Banton, whose unbeaten 46 against Delhi Bulls included seven fours and two sixes. Two players brimming with talent, with aspirations to regularly represent their country, yet coming to an understanding with their opportunities and their experiences thus far, that ultimately it is something that will find its way, rather than something that can be chased.

Whilst Salt made his international bow in perhaps fortuitous circumstances with three ODIs against Pakistan, Banton was unfortunately part of the England playing group that was forced to isolate before that series.

Banton was the breakout star of 2019 and an England call-up followed – he was part of Eoin Morgan’s white-ball set-up for the best part of a year between November 2019 and September 2020 – yet bubble life and quarantine took its toll on him.

A blistering 47-ball century in the T20 Blast against Kent served as a reminder of his ability, but a second-ball duck in the final against the same opposition summed up a somewhat disappointing and challenging year in which he was also released by Kolkata Knight Riders.

“I had quite a big break. For the whole of October, I didn’t play any cricket – nothing whatsoever. I just lived a social life and saw a lot of friends and family, which I felt was quite important, and now I feel like I’m enjoying it again,” said Banton.

“I’d love to get back in the squad but I’m not going to put too much pressure on myself to be there next year. I just want to enjoy my cricket and I think if you’re in that headspace, the rest will take care of itself.”

For the pair of them, knowing that Morgan is around, will no doubt add some extra motivation as the Abu Dhabi T10 enters its final week.



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